Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) had a superb Saturday at Jerez today. The 29-year-old from Chiba was the fastest rider of them all at the end of the first three practice sessions.
In this afternoon’s all-important 15-minute Q2 qualifying session he was in the midst of the battle for the front row, holding third place as riders completed their first runs and readied themselves for their second runs. Finally he finished the outing in fifth place, a mere 0.148 seconds off the front row.
MotoGP is currently so close and competitive that a good start is vital. Obviously a front-row start is always the objective, but a second row is usually enough to get riders into the first corner in a good position, which gives them the opportunity to go with the fastest riders. That will be Nakagami’s aim tomorrow.
The former Moto2 race winner has reverted to the RC213V chassis he used last year and knows he has a very rapid race pace on used tyres, so if he can make a good getaway and run that same pace tomorrow he has every chance of scoring his first MotoGP podium. At last July’s Andalusian GP at this track he finished fourth, only half a second behind the third-place finisher.
Stefan Bradl (Honda HRC Honda RC213V) is also on excellent form here at Jerez. The 30-year-old German, who substituted for Marquez during his absence from last August to last month, has a Wild Card entry here as part of his duties as HRC test rider.
Bradl tested here before the start of the season and is putting that track time to good use this weekend. The 2011 Moto2 World Champion was third fastest in the first three sessions – making it two RC213V riders in the top three – which took him directly into Q2 alongside Nakagami. However, when he was going for his fastest lap he was thwarted by traffic, so he ended qualifying 12th, for a fourth-row start.
Conditions today were cool and blustery, with gusting winds playing a part in several crashes.
Honda’s six-times MotoGP king Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) made a remarkable return to racing in Portugal two weeks ago, finishing a close seventh after nine months off a MotoGP bike, following an arm fracture last July.
This weekend was also going well for the 28-year-old Spaniard until he fell during this morning’s crucial FP3 session. Marquez was on the second lap of his final run when he lost the front into the high-speed Turn Seven. Marquez was battered and bruised in the tumble but most importantly his right-arm injury suffered no further harm.
Despite pain and discomfort Marquez was back in action in FP4 and in Q1, during which he missed promotion to Q2 by just 0.139 seconds. This was a typically gutsy performance from the eight-times World Champion, whose amazing physical strength is only bettered by his mental strength.
Although he has had two weeks since his Portimao comeback Marquez is still in recovery mode, rebuilding muscle strength in his right arm, so he can manhandle his machine when he rides at the absolute limit. During yesterday’s FP2 session he already felt some tiredness in the triceps muscle in his right arm, so he knows he needs to be patient tomorrow, working step by step from 14th on the grid as he continues his return to full strength.
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) has been enjoying his fourth weekend with Honda. Although the 29-year-old Spaniard wasn’t close to the top of the lap times in free practice he feels he is beginning to fully understand the RC213V, because he is at a circuit he knows very well and because he can study his team-mate’s data.
His progress was also troubled by a crash at Turn 7, during FP4, but nevertheless he fought as hard as he could in Q1. He will start the race from the fifth row of the grid, alongside his team-mate.
Marquez’s younger brother Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) once again showed good pace during longer runs in the free practice sessions, but struggled to use brand-new soft tyres to full effect in qualifying. The twice World Champion (Moto3 in 2014 and Moto2 in 2019) will start the race from the seventh row.
Tomorrow’s Spanish GP is the fourth race of this year’s 20-race World Championship. Once the racing is finished the paddock heads north to Le Mans, venue for the French GP on May 16.