Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi kicked off the first of the overseas triple-header weekends today with a dry FP1 session and a wet FP2. They secured fifth and ninth place respectively in the combined free practice results as they prepare for Sunday’s Motul Grand Prix of Japan, Yamaha’s home race.
Viñales booked steady progress in the morning practice. He started the weekend off getting re-familiarised with the Twin Ring Motegi track. He never rode on a Yamaha in dry conditions there before, as last year’s race was completely wet. He wisely took some time to warm up the bigger carbon brake disks, which are obligatory due to the circuit’s heavy braking character, before putting his head down in the final 15 minutes to gradually move up and take second place at the end of his penultimate run. He put in a soft rear tyre for his final outing and improved his time to end the session in fifth place with a 1’45.640s lap, 0.282s from first.
The second 45-minute session started out in the wet, but the uncertain conditions didn’t halt the Spaniard’s afternoon riding programme. He was one of the first riders to brave the damp track, diligently working on his bike’s setting. He spent a large part of the session near the top of the provisional rankings, until towards the end, as the track dried, the second half of the rider field also put in a fast lap. The youngster’s fastest time of 1’54.133s was 5.997s from the top and left him in 15th place in the FP2 timesheets. However, as the FP1 results were quicker, he remains in fifth position in the combined free practice times.
Teammate Rossi set the second fastest time at the opening stages of FP2 before starting to test various setting options as well as some tyre specs, knowing the Motegi track is heavy on the tyres. The nine-time World Champion got most of the work done before he decided to put in a hot lap with a fresh medium rear tyre, because the conditions for the remainder of the day remained uncertain. He managed to find time on his very last lap, securing ninth place with a 1’46.329s, 0.971s from the leader.
The Italian’s notions proved to be right. At the start of FP2 it soon became clear no MotoGP rider would be improving on his morning time in the wet weather conditions. The Doctor put all his attention towards improving his feeling in the wet and calmly worked on the balance of his bike. He clocked a fastest time of 1’54.078s, 5.942s removed from the afternoon’s fastest lap, but still holds ninth place in the combined session results.
The Movistar Yamaha MotoGP teammates were joined on track by wild card rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga, seven-time consecutive premier JSB1000 class (All Japan Road Race Championship) winner, who also won the Suzuka 8-Hour race four years in a row in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. He started the weekend securing 15th position in FP1 and climbed up to a promising 12th in FP2 in the wet conditions. The results put him in 15th place in the combined free practice times, with a 1’46.872s best lap, 1.514s from first.
Position: 5th – Time: 1’45.640 – Laps: 34
“It’s been a good day. Honestly, it was really positive because we confirmed that the improvement we made in Thailand was due to the set-up changes and not due to the tyres we used there. This weekend’s tyre works completely different from those in Thailand, but we still came close to the top in the morning, so I’m pleased about today. However, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. I think we have to go ahead with this set-up to try to be better on track. In the afternoon I was trying to work a lot on the wet tyres. This was important because we struggled last year, but this year the bike is better on the wet. The balance of the bike seems to work better both in the dry and the wet. Today we also wore a pink shirt to fight against breast cancer. It’s a nice initiative and it’s something I want to do, because if we can get a bit more support for those who suffer from it, that’s always good.”
Position: 9th – Time: 1’46.329 – Laps: 33
“It’s difficult to assess the situation, because today wasn’t the perfect day to get an understanding. Fortunately we ran in the dry in the morning, but my pace wasn’t fantastic. I had some different things to try in the morning session. On the other hand, Maverick and Zarco were strong, also concerning the pace, so this is positive for Yamaha. Unfortunately in the afternoon the conditions were half-and-half. It was very difficult to understand the situation, but I tried to do some laps, because I had to try something to have an idea for tomorrow. Tomorrow we will try to modify the bike. We will try to understand if we can be fast, and also if we can have a good pace with the used tyre. We had a special end to the day because we changed our team wear for an important occasion. The pink shirts me and Maverick wore at the media debriefs are a part of Movistar’s support in creating awareness for breast cancer.”
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP – Team Director
“We had some positive confirmation today in Motegi. Maverick showed good speed right from the start, so that means the base set-up we found in Thailand is also useful here. Vale didn’t get the start we hoped for in the first session, but he and his crew managed to get things go their way towards the end of the morning. Both he and Maverick had a comfortable feeling in the wet in the afternoon. We tweaked the bike’s balance without too much pressure, as no wet lap times would beat this morning’s efforts. We still have room for improvement. We are confident we can make more steps over the weekend to be even more competitive on Sunday and we hope the conditions will remain dry tomorrow. Every session is important, because you can always gain information. However, as FP2 was wet and the forecast for the race is for dry weather, we lost some crucial time to work on the set-up. We also haven’t finished the tyre comparison yet, to choose a combination for the race, so tomorrow we’ll work some more on that.”