Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) and Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) scored third-row starts during Italian Grand Prix qualifying at Mugello today.
The 30-year-old from Chiba, Japan, and the 30-year-old Spaniard were both inside the top ten at the end of the first three practice sessions, so they won automatic promotion to the Q2 qualifier, concluding the 15-minute session eighth and ninth, both of them very close to pole position. Nakagami was just four tenths of a second off pole, Espargaro just five tenths off.
Both riders feel confident for tomorrow’s race around this fast, spectacular circuit, nestled among verdant hills close to the ancient city of Florence. Latest weather forecasts suggest that the race will be held in dry weather, although considerably cooler than today and yesterday. Much will therefore depend on tyre choice, with only 20 minutes of morning warm-up to evaluate tyres in the cooler conditions.
As usual, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) eased into the weekend, saving the best of his still-healing right arm and shoulder for qualifying and the race. He therefore finished free practice outside the top ten and therefore had to contest Q1, aiming to finish the session inside the top two to gain promotion to Q2
FP1, FP2 and FP3 had taken place in hot and sunny conditions, but by lunchtime today back clouds were gathering over the Apennine mountains overlooking the circuit and light rain started falling during FP4, increasing in intensity just in time for the Q1 qualifying session, but not enough for rain tyres.
This forced riders to take maximum risk on slicks, with Marquez riding with his usual bravery to end the session second quickest, winning him promotion to the Q2 qualifier.
Light drizzle was still falling at the start of Q2, with Marquez keen to get in some good laps before the rain got heavier. Sadly, during his out lap he rode over a wet patch and was flicked off his RC213V. In fact the rain stopped and the circuit dried out during the remainder of the session, but the best the battered and bruised six-times MotoGP World Champion could do was 12th, for a fourth-row start.
Later in the afternoon Marquez took part in a media conference with Repsol Honda Team manager Alberto Puig to announce that next week he will undergo a further operation on his right arm and shoulder, which have hampered him since his return to racing from injury last year.
Marquez will travel to the USA next week to undergo surgery with a world-renowned expert. He will be out of racing for some while, although it’s impossible to say at this stage when he will come back. His target, of course, is to regain the physical capabilities that allowed his to unleash his amazing riding technique, which has taken him to six MotoGP World Championships and 59 Grand Prix victories since 2013.
His younger brother Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) will start tomorrow’s race from the sixth row, after working steadily forward over the last two days at this particularly challenging racetrack. The 26-year-old former Moto2 and Moto3 World Champion made useful forward steps with bike settings this morning but had a complicated qualifying session, due to the ever-changing weather and track conditions.
There will be no time for MotoGP riders and teams to rest after tomorrow’s race – the eighth of this year’s 20 round (cut from 21, following the recent cancellation of July’s Finnish GP). Instead they will immediately head to Barcelona, Spain, for next weekend’s Catalan Grand Prix.