With a lot at stake in Japan for the Moto2 class, as the championship is far from decided, the 600cc riders immediately made their way out on track at the Twin Ring Motegi to begin their first practice session of the weekend.
Pons on top initially in Motegi
The lap times poured in as the riders settled into their groove with Ajo Motorsport rider, and current championship leader by one point, Johann Zarco initially claiming the spot at the top of the leaderboard. When things began to settle it was Axel Pons (AGR Team) who held the position as his time of 1:52.280 became the time to beat.
The first crash of the session came in the opening stages from Julian Simon (QMMF Racing) at turn one. He appeared unhurt as the Marshals helped him to recover; he waved to thank them as he made his way back on to track. Approximately 10 minutes into the session Xavier Simeon (QMMF Racin also came off at a slower corner of the track and also appeared unhurt.
Nakagami struggling to keep the front down
Both Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) and Sandro Cortese (Dynavolt Intact GP) were looking strong. The Malaysian was on target to go quickest however a huge wheelie down the start-finish straight spoiled that for him leaving him with a personal best time. He appeared to continue to struggle with his Kalex as the front was seen lifting whilst he continued round on the racing line.
Several riders fighting for the top spot
Instead Cortese took the top spot moments later until Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), who took his first Moto2 podium at the last round in Aragon, returned to form and went top. It was not long before his teammate Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) came along and stole his thunder with a time of 1:52.21 which was just 0.07 seconds quicker. Morbidelli confirmed his pace with a second consecutive quick lap extending his lead. However along came Luthi midway through the session who took over at the top.
Corsi crashes out
Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) crashed heading into turn 11; a difficult corner with a camber he lost the front as he braked on the approach and continued into the gravel where he tumbled and had to be rescued by the Marshalls. He was able to get straight back to his feet.
Over 16 minutes into the session, the front of Axel Pons’ Kalex tucked under as he turned into turn three which sent him tumbling through the gravel. He was also able to return to his feet.
Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP) had a huge moment as he almost lost it at turn three over 25 minutes into the session. As he pushed on track the back end almost came round on him but fortunately he was able to rescue it immediately.
Nakagami takes the top spot
With just over 14 minutes of the session remaining, Nakagami had managed to get things under control and and was able to set the quickest lap time so far. His time of 1:51.816 was the first time of the day for the 600cc riders under the 1:52 minute barrier as he was 0.3 seconds quicker than Luthi. However as he entered turn one he ran on straight into turn one; as did Morbidelli who went further into the gravel but was able to recover.
Eventually, Zarco, who is hoping to extend his one point lead in the championship in Japan, found his momentum and made his way up to second on the leaderboard in the final third of the session. Meanwhile, second in the championship, Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) was down in 18th; not what the Spaniard needed.
Final quick laps meant changes near the top of the timesheet
Quick laps in the closing stages from Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Team) and Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) found their pace. Lowes moved up to fifth, and was on the pace to go top on his last lap of the session however he got caught up behind Iker Lecuona who is replacing recently sacked Dominique Aegerter for CarXpert Interwetten. It spoiled Lowes’ third sector stopping him from improving.
Nakagami quickest after Moto2 FP1
Nakagami remained the fastest man at the end of Moto2 FP1, his time of 1:51.816, which was just one second slower than the lap records, was 0.159 seconds quicker than Zarco who claimed second with a last quick lap (sector four let him down) and Baldassarri completed the top three.
Luthi was fourth quickest ahead of Lowes, Morbidelli and AGR Team rider Marcel Schrotter in seventh. Corsi was eighth ahead of Marquez and British Leopard Racing Team rider Danny Kent who completed the top ten.
Olivera’s injuries prohibiting him?
Teammate to Kent, Miguel Oliveira, who recently broke his collarbone and was forced to miss the race in Aragon, did take to the track for several laps but then failed to return for the remainder of the session. It has since been confirmed that the Portuguese rider will not compete in the remainder of the meeting as he continues to heal.
There will be wildcard appearances in the Moto2 class from both Tetsuta Nagashama (Ajo Motorsport Academy) who was 26th at the end, Naomichi Uramoto (Japan-GP2) who was 29th and Taro Sekiguchi (Team Taro Plus One) who completed the field in 31st.
False start for Raffin at the beginning of Moto2 FP2
Jesko Raffin (Sports-Millions-EWME-SAG) had a false start at the beginning of FP2. He had to push his bike back down pit lane and get it restarted. Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) crashed at turn 3 and was holding his left wrist as he walked to the safety area at the side of the track. He touched the inside kerb and which caused him to slide out and he was narrowly missed by Baldassarri. He did not return to the track for the rest of the day.
Lowes runs off track
Midway through the session Sam Lowes (federal Oil Gresini Moto2) ran off track at turn 14 as he touched the inside kerb and was thrown up and out of the seat with the back end almost coming round and throwing him over the bike. He managed to brake enough before he hit the dirt and was able to recover and return to the track within moments.
Luthi takes the top spot
Luthi led with 20 minutes to go ahead of Nakagami and Kent who had made his way up to third at the Twin Ring Motegi. Pons soon came along and knocked him down a spot forcing him to fourth ahead of Marquez in fifth.
Luthi then improved on his own time by 0.257 seconds and his time of 1:51.049 was just outside the 1:50 minute barrier. He did beat it on his next lap, improving by almost another half second and reducing his lap time to 1:50.625. Zarco later moved up to third but was pushed down to fourth when Lowes jumped up to second in the last 10 minutes of the session.
Cortese crashes at turn 12
With just four minutes of the day remaining Cortese was involved in a big crash as he came off at turn 12 causing his airbags to go off. The front end tucked under braking early on into the turn sending both the rider and bike flying into the run off area creating a huge cloud of dust. He was able to get up and walk away but it was day over for him.
A late lap from Morbidelli sent him up to second on the leaderboard. However just less than two minutes remained of the session and that could mean anything as the riders make their final surge to try and make it to the top spot.
Luthi fastest at the end of day one in Japan
Only Nakagami was able to make any significant further improvements as he slotted in behind Luthi to take the second spot. Luthi remained the fastest man at the end of day one as his time was 0.275 seconds faster than Nakagami who was just 0.084 seconds quicker than Morbidelli. The three were the only riders during teh day to lap under 1:51 minutes.
Lowes finished fourth quickest ahead of Zarco and Baldassarri in sixth. Despite crashing, Cortese was seventh ahead of Marquez, Marcel Schrotter (AGR Team) and Folger who completed the top 10.
Axel Pons was pushed down to 11th ahead of Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia), Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team), Kent and Simon who completed the top 15, and who was also the fastest Speed Up rider at the end of day one.
Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) was 16th on the leaderboard ahead of Edgar Pons (Paginas Amarillas HP 40), the highest placed Tech 3 rider Isaac Vinales (Tech 3 Racing) in 18th and Simeon and Ratthapark Wilairot (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) who complete the top 20.
Several new faces this round in the Moto2 class
Remy Gardner (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2) followed on ahead of Luca Marini (Forward Team) in 21st, who was ahead of Iker Lecuona who has been brought in to replace Dominique Aegerter aboard the Technomag Racing Interwetten Kalex as he was sacked for signing a contract with the Leopard Moto2 team.
Wildard riders Tetsuta Nagashima (Ajo Motorsport Academy) and Naomichi Uramoto (Japan-GP2) finished 25th and 26th ahead of Xavi Vierge (Tech 3 Racing), Raffin, Robin Mulhauser (CarXpert Interwetten), Rins, wildcard Sekiguchi (Team Taro Plus One) who completed the timesheet in 30th as Oliveria did not set a time due to his injury.