While all eyes were on Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez, who had dominated the timesheets at the Twin Ring Motegi ahead of the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, no-one suspected that Valentino Rossi was about to go and ‘pull the rug from under him’ snatching pole and with his lap time that saw he become the only rider to lap under 1:44 minutes.
Last minute time attack led to pole for the Italian
Finishing no higher than fourth prior to the Qualifying session, he left it until the final minutes to lap at 1:43.954 which was less than 0.2 seconds off the best ever lap completed here by his current teammate Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha) last year. Initially, Rossi’s first attempt at a fast lap placed him in third, a short stop in the pits and wise words from his friend Uccio led to him going out and stealing the show.
Rossi matches the pole record as he tries to rescue the championship
His pole position at Motegi for the Motul Grand Prix of Japan is the 64th of his world championship career. He is joined on the front row by Marquez and his teammate Lorenzo who overcame a huge high-side during FP3 to manage a double front row start for Movistar Yamaha at the Honda track.
To remain in contention of gaining a tenth world championship title, Rossi needs to finish ahead of Marquez, and hope that the Spaniard loses many places to others as he looks to close the 52 point gap. A win in Motegi for the Honda rider, a place where he has never won but should be familiar with as it was built by his Japanese manufacturer for testing and has been used by the elite field since 1999, and 14th or less from Rossi means that Marquez becomes the 2016 World Champion.
Rossi describes the Qualifying session
Talking about his “third pole of the year”, Rossi described how he was “very happy” with the result as it proves that “this year in Qualifying [he] is strong”. In other years it has meant that he has had his work cut out for him when It comes to race day.
The Italian spoke of how they have been “struggling during this weekend to find the right balance” and he also confirmed that he is “not 100% fit” and feels he is “suffering physically” and is “not feeling fantastic”.
However, during Free Practice 4, Rossi spoke of how they “improved the balance of the bike a lot” which led to him doing “a very good lap”. He indicated he has struggled in the final sector as he described “great braking in turn 11” that he felt contributed to his successful lap time. Rossi knows, “starting from pole is always important” and said, “Now we wait for tomorrow.”