Andrea Dovizioso arrived in Motegi with one clear goal, or rather to try and defer Marc Marquez's title celebration. No easy task, but not an impossible one either. Saturday's qualifying went to plan for the Italian, who sets his seventh pole of the season, with a time of 1’44”590.
The Borgo Panigale rider has grown over race distance, confident with the tyre. From what we've seen so far at Motegi, it's clear that the GP18 is a sure thing whatever the conditions.
Marc Marquez is forewarned. For the Spaniard it's likely to be a bit between the teeth kind of race, in that, come Sunday, he'll be lining up in sixth place on the grid. We've got used to seeing him on the front row, but here at Motegi, Marc experienced a few more difficulties than usual, concluding sixth (+0.399).
With respect to Dovizioso, #93 suffered through the central section, losing precious tenths. Meanwhile, Johann Zarco secures a place on the front row. We hadn't seen the Frenchman up at the sharp end since Silverstone, but this time his Tech3 M1 proved to be the quickest on track, closing 0.068 from the front. While Zarco steps up, Valentino Rossi's bike takes a step back.
The Doctor failed to shine in qualifying, closing ninth behind Rins, more than six tenths from the front (+0.675). Things went a little better for Maverick Vinales, who will open the third row with the seventh quickest time (+0.550). While the factory M1s play catch up, another surprise on Saturday is Jack Miller in third place, despite him suffering a small crash during the session. In the Ducati camp, the Australian may prove to be an unexpected ally to Andrea Dovizioso, seeing as Danilo Petrucci starts back in fifteenth place. Japan does not appear to smile down on the Italian, far from the frontrunners and unable to reach Q2 today.
Marquez can meanwhile count on Cal Crutchlow, the best Honda rider, fourth ahead of Andrea Iannone. Dani Pedrosa finishes eleventh followed by Takaaki Nakagami, who reached Q2 along with Bautista, tenth at the session's end.