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A surprise decision kicked off qualifying for the Japanese GP when Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) headed out of pitlane at the start of Q2 on slicks – despite a dry line not yet visible around the whole track. Trying to push on to warm the tyres, the ‘Doctor’ soon realised it was too early.
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“Unfortunately with less water on the track we suffered a lot, and for this reason we risked using the slicks,” said the Italian. “Because the track was becoming dryer, and we were hoping it would dry quickly, but unfortunately it was still too wet.”
That same conundrum was one that Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) came up against in Q2 but later. The reigning Champion was 1.6 seconds clear on wets – not the extra soft wet tyres later used by Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) for pole – and decided to try the gamble to slicks, too.
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“I did a good lap with the soft tyres and was thinking about trying the extra soft, but then I decided to take the gamble and try the slick,” says the number 93. “It was too early in the end, we realised. My laptime on the slicks wasn’t so bad even though I wasn’t pushing. It was possible to have done a good laptime, but it would have been a lot of risk. But I understood a lot of things, and interesting things.”
Not willing to take that risk given the title fight on the line, that information gained – how Motegi feels when it’s on that line between dry and wet – could, however, prove crucial on race day should the weather throw up a flag to flag race. And Rossi also got some experience in the same conditions, saying that even half an hour after the session, the track conditions remained largely unchanged. The gambles, then, could prove to have their silver linings.
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Reigning Champion Marquez was also adamant that the target was the front row and it’s mission accomplished in third, without the decision to try slicks having cost much. Rossi, on the other hand, says he doesn’t know where he could have ended up had he stayed on wets – but that the morning session in worse conditions had seen them make some progress at least. Now, it’s in the hands of the weather for the Movistar Yamaha rider.
“I don’t know what my potential was if I’d done a normal practice in the wet and then in qualifying put on the extra soft,” said the nine-time World Champion, “but I don’t think it a 1:53 was possible for me. Starting from twelfth will be difficult but for us the most important thing is the conditions and understanding them. If it’s fully wet, I think our pace isn’t so bad. With the full wet session this morning we improved the setting of the bike a lot. With more water we can be quite strong, with less we‘re struggling. So we wait and see...”
Lights go out for the race at 14:00 (GMT +9).
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