SIC58 Squadra Corse’s Niccolo Antonelli toughed it out at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan to claim a third pole position of the season in his first race back after suffering a broken wrist and collarbone at the San Marino Grand Prix. Even more impressive was the fact that the Italian had to fight it out of Q1 too.
Although the rain had stopped falling at the Twin Ring Motegi, conditions still required maximum focus and attention. So much so that the four riders who progressed through from Q1 used the experience gained in that session to great effect. Antonelli, the Estrella Galicia 0,0 duo of Alonso Lopez and Sergio Garcia, plus Makar Yurchenko (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race), all ended inside the top five.
The four Q1 graduates had a chance each at sitting at the top of the timesheets but a late flying lap from Antonelli was enough to secure an eighth career lightweight pole. He’ll be joined on the front row by Lopez, a career first front row for the Spaniard, and Antonelli’s SIC58 Squadra Corse teammate, Tatsuki Suzuki.
Yurchenko missed out on the front row, but after crashing out of Q1 only to then pick the bike out of the gravel and salvage a place in Q2, he will be pleased to have taken a career-best grid slot in fourth. It’s also a career-best Saturday for rookie Garcia, who will join Yurchenko on the second row in fifth. World Championship leader Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) will look to extend his title lead from the outside of the second row on Sunday.
Row three of the grid will be fronted by Redox PruestelGP’s Jakub Kornfeil, ahead of Sterilgarda Max Racing Team’s Aron Canet and SKY Racing Team VR46’s Celestino Vietti. The top ten was rounded out by Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3), with the Argentine joined on row four by John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing).
There was disappointment for home hero Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) who, after topping FP3 on Saturday morning, crashed out in the opening stages of Q2 and failed to set a lap meaning he'll line up for his home Grand Prix eighteenth on the grid.
1. Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) – 2:09.293
2. Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0) + 0.086
3. Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) + 0.333
4. Makar Yurchenko (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) + 0.401
5. Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) + 0.407
6. Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) + 0.811
7. Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PrüstelGP) + 0.863
8. Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) + 0.866
9. Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) + 1.057
10. Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) + 1.084
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