Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) was the master of Motegi today, taking his first pole position since the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix here, since when his championship aspirations have been compromised by injuries.
Qualifying day was mostly dominated by typhoon Nanmadol which unleashed torrential rain, thunder and lightning at the circuit situated north of Tokyo, delaying qualifying by around one hour.
The changeable weather is making life very complicated for the paddock. Yesterday was dry and tomorrow is forecast to be dry, so riders will go racing with very little dry-track data, especially considering the fact that they haven’t been here for three years.
However, nothing could take anything away from Marquez, who was fastest in this morning’s soaking FP2 and was in stunning form in the Q2 session, also undertaken on a soaking track, and watched all the way by Honda Racing Corporation President Koji Watanabe. One week after his comeback at the Aragon Grand Prix the 29-year-old Spaniard once again displayed his remarkable talent and super-fast reactions to take the 91st pole of his career, two tenths ahead of his closest rival Johann Zarco. It is 1071 days since his last pole.
Although this pole proves that the six-times MotoGP World Champion has lost none of his spell-binding skills he realises that a 24-lap race around Motegi, built 25 years ago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Honda Motor Co., Ltd, will be a bigger challenge. Although his right humerus (upper-arm) bone is 100% fixed he is still building the muscles he needs to ride a full race at full pace.
Tomorrow’s race is Marquez’s 150th GP start and there is no doubt that he will do his maximum as always and that the Japanese crowd will cheer him all the way.
Honda’s next-best qualifier was team-mate Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), who is also due to make his 150th GP start. The 31-year-old Spaniard qualified 11th, following a nasty tumble in FP2, which brought out the red flags. Espargaro enjoys Motegi – he won the Honda-powered Moto2 race here in 2013 – and will be hoping that a dry track will allow him to use his Honda’s performance to move closer to the front.
Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) will start the race from two rows behind Espargaro, after recording the 17th best lap of qualifying, although he was faster in Q1 than some riders in the later Q2 session. The tricky, ever-changing track conditions didn’t help the 26-year-old Spaniard, who will be hoping that a dry race will allow him to increase his pace to score World Championship points for the fourth race in a row. Previously he has won the Motegi Moto3 races, in 2013 and 2014, and the Moto2 race, in 2017
Although Motegi hasn’t been a straightforward weekend for anyone, it has been particularly challenging for Japan’s number-one motorcycle racer Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V). Last weekend the 30-year-old from Chiba crashed out of the Aragon GP after an unlucky collision with the elder Marquez brother.
That tumble left him with tendon damage to the fourth and fifth fingers on his right hand, requiring him to undergo surgery in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday, the worst start to his home-race week. Despite considerable pain Nakagami is riding well, but a crash during qualifying puts him at the back of the grid. This race will not be easy for him but he will do his best for his fans.
Honda has a Wild Card rider contesting its home race. Official MotoGP test rider Tetsuta Nagashima (HRC Team Honda RC213V) makes his MotoGP debut after months of helping Honda with development of the RC213V. The 30-year-old from Kanagawa rode well today, especially considering the fact that this was his first outing on a MotoGP bike in fully wet conditions, so he did well competing with the full-time MotoGP riders and completed qualifying in 19th. Nagashima used to be a full-time Grand Prix rider, competing in the Moto2 World Championship. He has won a single GP victory, in Qatar in 2020.
Tomorrow is the second consecutive race day in a three-week marathon, between the Aragon and Thai Grands Prix. Riders and teams get one weekend off before the back-to-back Australian and Malaysian GPs before returning to Europe for the season finale at Valencia, Spain, on 6 November. The 2023 MotoGP season effectively starts two days later with a one-day post-season test at Valencia, the last time riders will ride their MotoGP bikes before the first pre-season tests at Sepang, Malaysia, next February.