Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP‘s Maverick Viñales made a very positive start to the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, taking first place in FP1 and following it up with a second position in FP2 and the combined times. Valentino Rossi kicked off the first of the overseas triple-header weekends focusing fully on riding on used tyres. He secured fifth place in the combined free practice results.
Viñales stuck his M1 in P1 early on in FP1 and then put his energy towards working on his bike‘s set-up to make it match the Twin Ring Motegi track‘s stop-start nature. He gradually improved his time, achieving provisional first place once more 25 minutes into the session, although it didn’t last long. But when a mini time attack started in the final five minutes, the number-12 rider was ready for the fight and reclaimed the top spot. Quartararo put in a late challenge, but the Factory team rider retaliated with a 1‘45.572s, ending the session in first place with a 0.258s advantage over second, for an early Yamaha 1-2-3.
The Spaniard also booked steady progress in the afternoon practice. He spent a large part of the session near the top of the provisional rankings, until the latter stages, when he put in a soft rear tyre for his final outing and dropped a fast time to top the session again for a short while. His best lap of 1’45.085s was 0.321s from the top and left him in second place in the FP2 and the combined free practice standings.
Rossi got off to a positive start at Yamaha‘s home GP. He briefly moved up to third place and started to work on race pace, like he announced he would before coming to the Japanese GP venue. He was eager to work on riding with used tyres, especially as the nine-time World Champion knows like no other how wearing the Motegi track can be. The Italian was so fixed on this task that he did not come in for a fresh set of tyres to put in a hot lap at the end of the morning session, like the majority of the rider field. He took 12th position, 0.848s behind his team-mate.
Rossi continued to test various setting options as well as some tyre specs in FP2, leaving it until the final seconds to put in a hot lap because of an issue with his first bike. Though the second bike had a different set-up, the nine-time World Champion quickly adjusted. The window of opportunity was extremely narrow when he started his fourth and final run just a couple of minutes before the end of the session, but the Doctor remained calm and collected. He crossed the start-finish line for his flying lap with 10s to spare, and gave it his all for a 1’45.466s, to take fifth in the FP2 and combined session results, 0.702s removed from first.
Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team
“I‘m really happy. Today I‘m feeling very positive. We‘ve tried many things on the bike, which is very positive, because we don‘t know what the weather will be like tomorrow. I actually felt really good with the bike all the way through FP1 and FP2. Now we have to make another step, but more mechanically. We need to try to understand the best way to improve. We will try to be fast on the wet. Normally that‘s one of our strong points, and we’re usually amongst the first places. So our main target for tomorrow will be the front row, also in the rain. I had a monitor showing my heart rate today. I can feel my heart beat faster sometimes, especially on braking, where I struggle the most. When you do about 10-11 laps you start to feel it.”
Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team
“We tried to save a bit of time to do the time attack at the end, because the forecast for tomorrow is very bad. Unfortunately, we had a problem with the brakes on the first bike, so we had to take out the tyres and put them on the second bike, which was set up a bit different, but at the end I was able to start my second lap of run 4 with just 10s to spare. I did a good lap and I‘m in the top 10, that‘s very important because it looks like tomorrow the weather will be bad. For the rest, it‘s not so bad. My pace is quite good. As always, we need to understand the tyres, because a lot of riders also use the soft rear, which looks like it‘s a bit faster. We‘ll see. We have to keep working, but my pace is quite good, and the first day was quite positive.”
Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team Director
“We had a productive start to the Japanese GP, which is positive, especially since the weather for tomorrow predicts rain. We had quite a few things that we wanted to try here, so we had to work hard today to fit in most of it. Maverick showed good speed right from the start and is feeling confident overall, which shows in his placements: first and second in today’s sessions. Vale focused on riding on used tyres in both FP1 and FP2. When it was the right moment for the time attack, he had an issue with his first bike, which cost him a lot of time. Luckily, he was able to cross the line 10s before the chequered flag came out and then set the fifth time of the day. Overall, Maverick and Valentino had a good pace, even with a good number of laps on the tyre. Having both our riders firmly in the top 10 after today could be very important, especially considering the weather predicted for tomorrow. The fact that all Yamahas are in the top 6 at what‘s not naturally an easy track for us, shows the steps Yamaha has made. That said, it’s only Friday…”