The Moto3 class was the first to get proceedings underway as they took to the Twin Ring Motegi for their first Free Practice session in the sunshine. Conditions were perfect, and although the championship title had been claimed by Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Brad Binder, it wasn’t over for the rest of the riders as they looked to be quickest ahead of the Motul Grand Prix of Japan.
Binder kicks off the crashes during the first Free Practice session
In fact, unusually for the South African, now 2016 Moto3 champion, he crashed during the opening session. He, Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) and Jules Danilo (Ongetta-Rivacold) all got caught out at turn three of the track, but fortunately they were all okay.
Also during the first Free Practice session, rookie Bo Bendsneyder, who is teammate to Brad Binder on the Red Bull KTM Ajo, crashed at turn one of the track. He was unhurt however Jorge Martin, who crashed from out on his Pull & Bear Aspar Mahindra required medical attention in the track medical centre.
Rookie Bulega quickest after FP1 at Motegi
Rookie Sky Racing VR46 rider Nicolo Bulega, who has had an incredible debut season so far in the world championship series finished Free Practice Session 1 on top. His time of 1:57.523, which was just over 0.4 seconds slower than the Circuit Record Lap set by Alex Marquez back in 2014, was the time to beat. He finished ahead of Brad Binder and Aragon GP winner Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0) who completed the top three as the top Honda behind two KTMs.
Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing) was fifth quickest ahead of Livio Loi (RW Racing GP BV) in sixth. Teammate to the quickest man on track Bulega, Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46) was sixth quickest ahead of Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3), who is fighting for second place in the championship. Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA Racing Team) who recently celebrated his birthday was eighth ahead of Bendsneyder and Mir who completed the top ten.
Free Practice 2 got underway with news of penalties
Free Practice 2 started with the news that Hiroki Ono (Honda Team Asia) was to be penalised three grid positions for ‘irresponsible riding’. It is a penalty that has caught out several riders at previous rounds. To overcome this Ono would have to work hard during Qualifying so that it did not affect his overall result.
Crashes at the start of the session
Juanfran Guevera (RBA Racing Team) crashed out at turn one with 35 minutes of the session remaining. A slow corner with a fast entry, he tumbled through the gravel and both he and the bike had to leave through the support road. Moments later wildcard rider Rei Sato (41 Planning Ioda Racing Japan) crashed at turn six and required attention at the side of the track as he struggled to get back to his feet.
Bastianini made his way to the top of the timesheets briefly before Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold) took over at the top, Bastianini continued to push though as he looked to win his first Moto3 race of the year. As the riders continued to settle down to the previous pace from FP1, Martin, Bastianini and Antonelli continued to bring the quickest time down taking turns at the top.
The 2016 MotoGP champion crashes out again
Unusually again for Brad Binder, the South African had his second crash of the day at turn seven after the front of his KTM tucked underthrowing both him and the bike into the gravel. He was straight up to his feet and had to receive a lift back to the pits on a relief bike.
Rookie means business but was under pressure
Bulega returned to his previous form with just over 23 minutes to go. After a personal best time in the first sector, he smashed the next three and shaved 0.091 seconds off Antonelli’s leading time. On his next lap he was on pace to improve his own time by almost half a second, but again losing a slight bit of time in the final sector he improved this time by 0.3 seconds and became the first rider within the 1:57 minutes with a time of 1:57.778.
Joining him at the top of the time sheet was the likes of Philipp Oettl (Schedl GP Racing), Navarro, Ono and Quartararo. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing Moto3), who recently turned 18, tagged onto the back of the leading rookie.
In a previous lap he was quickest in the first three sectors but struggled in the final one and had to settle for a lower position. With 17 minutes remaining, Ono, aware of his penalty, improved on Bulega’s time and now led with his lap of 1:57.357 despite an untidy attempt at turn 14. He improved this time reducing it down to 1:57.103.
Several crashes and near misses towards the end of the session
Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA Racing) then crashed out of turn nine as he was chased by Livio Loi who was set to go quickest on track (he didn’t due to a poor final sector). Loi hit the back of Rodrigo forcing him to slide out of the fast left hander and Rodrigo stood there in shock as he wondered what went wrong. The bike had to be recovered.
Moments later Mir ran wide into turn five. After receiving a tow down the straight from Bendsneyder, he ran wide into the turn as he struggled to stop. His wheel was spinning as he left the gravel trap and returned to track.
Lorenzo Dalla Porta, who replaced sacked Romano Fenati in the Sky Racing Team VR46, crashed out of turn five with just a few minutes remaining. He slid at the fast turn and both he and the bike went straight in the gravel. Moments later Ono crashed out of turn nine when the front end tucked under on the left handed corner; both riders were able to walk away unharmed.
Also in the closing stages Andrea Locatelli crashed out on his Leopard Racing KTM at turn 10. As he braked, the bike was dragged to the outside of the track before the front eventually tucked and he and the bike both slid out. It was session over for the rider who was unhurt.
Bastianini hot on the pace and became the quickest at the end of day one
In the final stages, Bastianini made his way to the top of the timesheet becoming the first rider to lap under 1:57 despite coming across some traffic in the form of Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0). He lapped at 1:56.892 and continued on with one last chance to improve before the flag went out to end the session.
Bastianini remained the fasted Moto3 rider on track as no-one was able to come near his time set on his 250cc Honda. The Italian was just 0.408 seconds off the best ever lap time recorded here by Romano Fenati in 2015. It was quicker than race pace circuit lap record set by Alex Marquez in 2014.
Ono, despite crashing was the second quickest at the end of day one ahead of Loi who completed the top three, Navarro was fourth quickest ahead of rookie Bulega who was pushed down to fifth but he remained the quickest KTM at the Honda track with his time from the previous session. Mir followed him ahead of the quickest Mahindra Francesco Bagnaia (Pull & Bear Aspar Mahindra) in seventh.
Migno was eighth quickest ahead of Antonelli and Guevara who completed the top ten, Oettl was eleventh ahead of Brad Binder whose time from FP1 was enough to keep him 2th quickest as he was over a second off the pace as a result of losing time with his crash. Quartararo was 13th ahead of Canet and Di Giannantonio who completed the top 15.
Herrera one of two females competing in the Moto3 in Japan
Adam Norrodin (Drive M7 SIC Racing Team) was 6th ahead of Albert Arenas (Peugeot MC Saxoprint) and they were followed by Rodrigo and Bendsneyder, who were both unable to improve on their previous times from FP1. Despite being quicker during FP2, Maria Herrera (MH6 Team) who is not the only female competing in Japan, slotted in in 20th overall at the end of day one.
British rider John McPhee (Peugeot MC Saxoprint) was 21st ahead of Darryn Binder (Platinum Bay Real Estate), Jakub Kornfeil’s time from FP1 on his Drive M7 SIC Racing Team Honda was enough to secure him 23rd placing him ahead of Dalla Porta and Danilo in 25th overall.
Difficult start for wildcard appearances
The other female compeitior in the Moto3 this round Shizuka Okazaki (UQ & Teluru Kohara RT) and Sato who did not return after his crash were placed down at the bottom of the timesheet after lapping over six seconds off the pace.