Jorge Lorenzo pipped his Yamaha teammate and championship rival Valentino Rossi in Japanese MotoGP qualifying in Motegi on Saturday, grabbing pole position with his final lap of the session and putting himself in the best possible position to make up his championship deficit in Sunday’s race.
Lorenzo was peerless for most of qualifying on Saturday, but seven-time world champion Rossi gave him as much as he could handle, taking provisional pole position with his final lap before Lorenzo went 0.081 seconds faster to take the top spot, setting a new qualifying track record in the process.
“I made the maximum and it is a good lap time,” said a happy Lorenzo after the session.
But the two-time MotoGP world champion, who is battling a shoulder injury in Japan, made a point to note that some of his competitors had used his slip-stream to set their times, implying the gap to his competitors was larger than the times reflect.
“The rest of the riders, they caught a wheel to stay close to my lap time.”
Rossi said he had been chasing his bike set-up all weekend and that he made a breakthrough that allowed him to be more competitive.
“We did a good job with the team… This morning I was not so bad, and (then) this afternoon I did a good step forward (with the set-up),” he said.
“I was confident for the qualifying. I did a good strategy (and) I was in the right place. I am very positive looking forward for tomorrow. I can be competitive with Jorge.”
Reigning world champion and current championship third-place man, Marc Marquez, set the third-fastest qualifying time, overcoming pain from the broken bone in his hand to stay competitive on his Repsol Honda.
“This weekend it’s hard for the hand, but also for the set-up of the bike. We are working on that to get more grip and less wheelies,” said the Spaniard.
“We must stay focused, to keep working to stay close to Yamaha. We will see how is the weather, but we will do our best.”
With the championship top-three filling the front row of the grid, and the prospect of rain a real possibility for Sunday, the MotoGP race is set up to be a classic.
During the final MotoGP practice session, earlier on Saturday, IodaRacing rider Alex De Angelis had a heavy crash, red-flagging the session and bringing a fleet of ambulances onto the track. After the Italian rider was stabilized, he was airlifted to Dokkyo Hospital in Mibu, Tochigi Prefecture, where he is undergoing treatment for a lung contusion and further tests, according to the MotoGP website.
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