There are signs here in Thailand that Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) is getting back to his best in just his third race back from a four-month layoff following surgery.
In today’s Thai Grand Prix qualifying session the 29-year-old Spaniard was on course to qualify on the front row for tomorrow’s race, but ended up on row three, only three tenths of a second off the first row.
Fresh from an encouraging fourth place in the Japanese Grand Prix six days ago – the first full race he had completed since the end of May – Marquez was full of confidence arriving at the Chang International Circuit. He attacked the weekend from FP1, which he completed in first place, the first time he had topped a dry MotoGP session since winning the Emilio Romagna GP last October.
Although he is still building the muscles in his upper right arm and re-gaining general on-bike fitness, the important thing is that Marquez can once again use his natural riding position following that surgery in early June. And this allows him to once again push his awesome Honda RC213V to its absolute limits to find optimal braking markers and racing lines.
Yesterday’s physical exertions led to Honda’s six-times MotoGP World Champion managing his energy levels in today’s punishing heat, limiting his riding in FP4 ahead of qualifying. Yet he was still on course for an automatic place in the Q2 qualifier for the front-runners, until he found some traffic at an inopportune moment at the end of FP3.
After setting the fastest time in Q1 he was on course to qualify on the front row in Q2, until a huge moment at the final corner on his last lap lost him crucial tenths and placed him eighth quickest, 0.462s off pole position.
There’s been enough evidence during the weekend to suggest that the 59-times MotoGP race winner could be among the podium contenders tomorrow. Marquez has form at here too, winning the 2018 and 2019 Thai GPs in thrilling fashion, triumphing in two last-lap duels that went all the way to the final corner of the final lap.
The pessimistic weather forecasts that predicted rain through Friday and Saturday didn’t come to pass. The MotoGP grid therefore enjoyed four dry practice sessions before qualifying got underway. Although dry, qualifying conditions were among the toughest of the year, with 30-degree heat and 72% humidity.
The stifling weather has given Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) issues with a lack of rear grip all weekend. The 2013 Moto2 World Champion has never been more than 1.027 seconds off the fastest time in all the sessions but has been struggling to accelerate strongly exiting the track’s numerous low-gear corners. Always a rider that gives his all, the 31-year-old Spaniard has resolved to give it everything in the race, from 19th on the grid.
Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) has attempted to overcome the lack of rear traction, caused by the different spec of rear tyre used for this track, with a variety of different set-ups and riding techniques. But the former Moto2 and Moto3 World Champion struggled to find a consistent rhythm in FP4 and qualified 20th. He will continue working with his team to come up with a strategy for tomorrow’s race, where he will aim to score points for the fifth race in succession.
MotoGP rookie Tetsuta Nagashima (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) made further progress today. The 30-year-old from Kanagawa, who is one of Honda’s official MotoGP test riders, made his premier-class race debut as a Wild Card rider last weekend at Motegi. This time he is taking the place of MotoGP regular Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V), who is undergoing surgery on a right-hand injury sustained at last month’s Aragon GP.
Nagashima, winner of the Moto2 race at the 2020 Qatar GP, set the 22nd fastest time in qualifying with a lap that was an amazing 1.7 seconds quicker than his best time in FP1 yesterday, an impressive performance.
Following tomorrow’s action, MotoGP riders and teams have one week off before back-to-back races at Phillip Island, Australia, on 16th October and Sepang, Malaysia, on 23rd October. The season concludes at Valencia, Spain, on 6th November.