As the flyaway rounds get under way there was Moto2 news before a wheel turned in qualifying with Johann Zarco announced as champion after Tito Rabat declared himself unfit to race following a training accident.
He put in a champions performance at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit to steal a late pole from rival Tom Luthi.
|Rabat out – Zarco becomes Moto2 champion! Photo EG0,0 Marc VDS
First off was Moto3 where an intense battle for pole was won by Romano Fenati, where despite all his years in the lower class and race wins under his belt, the Italian was celebrating his first ever pole position.
UPDATE: The following riders all receive a three place grid penalty for failing to stay inside the new 110% of their own fastest lap time rule:
This means that Enea Bastianini and Nico Antonelli now have front row starts.
The new top ten on the grid is as follows
Sky Racing Team VR46 started Saturday’s qualifying with much to celebrate after a late fast lap from Fenati propelled him to pole, all the more impressive given his tumble in the session.
The Italian set a best of 1m56.484, with a new record once again needed for pole in every class.
Joining the KTM rider on the front row are Miguel Oliveira, initially off the pace after being close to the top of the top of the timesheets all through practice before a late lunge saw him claim second for Red Bull KTM Ajo, and Honda rider Jorge Navarro in third, the Estrella Galicia rookie putting in another great performance at a track which is all new to him.
Niccolo Antonelli had been in charge ahead of qualifying and topped every practice session, but the Ongetta-Rivacold rider had all his problems come at the worst time, a spell in the pits with brake issues and a crash moving him out of contention for the top spots, and into fourth on the grid.
Enea Bastianini is well placed to keep the championship open from fifth, the Gresini rider is one place ahead of title rival Danny Kent who sits in sixth spot, who has his first chance to claim the crown this weekend aboard the Leopard machine.
Row three is filled by Isaac Vinales ( RBA Racing) in seventh, Jakub Kornfeil (Drive M7 SIC) in eighth and Livio Loi (RW Racing GP) in ninth. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) completes the top ten.
Hiroki Ono was the best placed home rider in 12th . Britain’s John McPhee was off the pace in 24th.
At the opposite end of the day, in the darker, cooler conditions Moto2 struggled by comparison for fast times, but Johann Zarco and Tom Luthi unleashed a late battle for the top with new champion Zarco the victor after a stunning record lap.
That time of 1m 50.339 was enough for the Ajo Motorsport rider to get back in front of Luthi who had been consistent in slowly chipping away at his best to get into contention for pole for Interwetten.
Jonas Folger found speed in the closing stages to move up to third for AGR Team and complete the front row.
Sam Lowes starts row two in fourth for speed up after his last effort fell just short of a top three time.
Joining him are rookie Alex Rins in fifth for Paginas Amarillas HP 40 and an impressive sixth for Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia).
Taka Nakagami is the top home rider and will look to push forward for the Idemitsu team from seventh on race day.
Axel Pons had a clear session after his succession of practice crashes to hit eighth on the second AGR Team entry. Sandro Cortese secured ninth for Dynavolt Intact GP and Lorenzo Baldassarri completed the top ten for Forward Racing.
Rain is predicted for race day at Motegi.
For the full Moto3 qualifying result, click here.
For the full Moto2 qualifying result, click here