Factory Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo claimed pole position for the Japanese GP ahead of title rival and current points leader, Repsol Honda rookie Marc Marquez. Lorenzo and company qualified in wet conditions at the Twin Ring Motegi, with American Nicky Hayden securing his best qualifying position of the season in third. Meanwhile, fellow American Ben Spies surprised the paddock by announcing his retirement from racing.
MotoGP’s usual Q1 and Q2 15-minute sessions were scrapped owing to Friday’s cancellation of practice because of fog. Instead riders took to the track in one extended 75-minute qualifying session. Marquez and Lorenzo set the pace, with the Yamaha man besting his Honda rival by 0.65 as he laid down his best lap on a drying track late in the session.
“I’m really happy, it was not so simple because my last memory of the rain was Assen. At the beginning I was a little bit scared and didn't want to crash,” said Lorenzo in a team press release. “We were lucky to have the extended qualifying time to get used to the track. Little by little I got confidence and finally I felt really good with the bike and the grip of the track, especially under braking. It doesn't matter if it’s wet or dry tomorrow, it’s not my problem to think about it, I have to ride in whatever conditions we have. A wet race would be better for the championship though!”
Marquez has the opportunity to be youngest-ever MotoGP champion with a victory on Sunday and Lorenzo finishing third or worse. Saturday marked the first laps Marquez has turned at the Japanese circuit in the premier class.
“It is the first time that I’ve ridden here in MotoGP at Motegi and in addition it was wet and I didn’t have time to set the bike up, but nevertheless I think we had a good session,” said Marquez. “We achieved our aim of a spot on the front row. Tomorrow’s race is forecast to be dry, and it will be interesting as nobody has had time to find a good setup.”
Hayden, who is leaving the factory Ducati squad for a production Honda mount in 2014, was running a front row pace throughout the session as the GP13 performs better in the rain.
“We know our GP13 works well in the wet, and it’s nice to be on the front row here in Japan. If I’m honest, I’m a bit disappointed because at times in the session I was very fast and really had good feeling; I thought even pole position was a possibility, but in the last part of the session, the other guys really stepped it up, and as the track dried out, I wasn’t able to improve,” said Hayden. “We know it’s going to be much more difficult if it’s dry, but I’ll try to get a good start and put up a fight for as long as I can.”
Marquez’s Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, leads Row 2 ahead of Lorenzo’s teammate, Valentino Rossi. Pedrosa is the only other rider besides Lorenzo with a mathematical chance at the 2013 crown. Hayden’s Ducati teammate, Andrea Dovizioso, rounds out the second row starters.
Gresini Honda’s Alvaro Bautista and LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl start Row 3, the German rider returning from a leg injury. The prototype Hondas are followed by the Aspar ART of Aleix Espargaro. Pramac Ducati replacement rider Yonny Hernandez completes the top 10 qualifiers.
The other big news in the paddock involved Pramac Ducati’s Ben Spies, who announced his retirement from racing. The former AMA and World Superbike champion ends his GP career during a dismal 2013 campaign that has seen the Texan compete in only two races. Multiple shoulder injuries have hampered the 29-year-old, his last action on track a season-ending crash during a practice session at Indianapolis.
2013 MotoGP Motegi Qualifying Results:
1. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1'53.471
2. Marc Marquez (Honda) 1'54.129
3. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1'54.539
4. Daniel Pedrosa (Honda) 1'54.542
5. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1'54.732
6. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) 1'55.036
7. Alvaro Bautista (Honda) 1'55.135
8. Stefan Bradl (Honda) 1'55.610
9. Aleix Espargaro (Aspar) 1'55.719
10. Yonny Hernandez (Aspar) 1'55.998
11. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha) 1'56.058
12. Katsuyuki Nakasuga (Yamaha) 1'56.125
13. Bradley Smith (Yamaha) 1'57.114
14. Colin Edwards (Forward Racing) 1'57.297
15. Andrea Iannone (Ducati) 1'57.347