Andrea Dovizioso made a strong start to the Japanese Grand Prix weekend for Ducati by topping first practice but the team are already a rider down after Jorge Lorenzo withdrew from the weekend. Dovizioso, who must outscore Marc Marquez by at least two points on Sunday to keep the championship alive, was lapping close to the race lap record on Friday morning, a stark contrast to his team-mate.
Lorenzo’s status for the weekend was already in doubt after revealing on Thursday that he was still suffering with a broken left radius, an injury sustained in his Buriram high-side. The Spaniard ventured out at the start of this morning’s session but after one lap at half-speed, Lorenzo already appeared to have admitted defeat, shaking his head to his mechanics. Within minutes of returning to the garage, his withdrawal was confirmed by race direction.
Dovizioso gave Ducati some positive news with four minutes remaining, clocking a 1:45.738, and by the time the chequered flag was flying, the Italian had closed to within eighth thousandths of Lorenzo’s circuit record. Cal Crutchlow rounded off a strong morning with the second fastest time, a tenth behind the Ducati, while 2017 polesitter Johann Zarco ensured three different manufacturers would fill the top three places, setting a 1:45.483 on the Tech 3 Yamaha.
Marquez had started the session the strongest, topping the timesheets for the entire morning until Dovizioso’s late burst, although a moment at turn seven showed that the champion-elect was riding close to the limit of his Honda. The Spaniard ended up fourth ahead of compatriot Maverick Vinales with Andrea Iannone completing the top six for Suzuki.
Alvaro Bautista was seventh despite a spill at turn one with Jack Miller close behind in eighth. Valentino Rossi jumped up to ninth in the latter stages with Aleix Espargaro holding the last provisional Q2 place in tenth, something that may prove significant with rain forecast this afternoon.
2018 Motul Grand Prix of Japan (Free Practice 1)
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