Danny Kent has topped both sessions of free practice for the Moto3 class at Motegi, leading the way on the Husqvarna in both the morning and afternoon sessions. Kent held off a late challenge from Alex Rins, the Honda rider having been quick throughout the session. Miguel Oliveira took 3rd spot on the factory Mahindra, making it three different manufacturers in the top three, with Brad Binder confirming the strong form of the Indian manufacturer in 4th.
Title contenders Alex Marquez and Jack Miller had a much tougher day of it. Marquez ended the day in 7th, half a second behind Kent and Marquez' Estrella Galicia teammate Alex Rins, while Jack Miller struggled to 13th, nearly three quarters of a second off the pace of Kent. It was not for want of trying, Miller running off the track on corner exit several times through the session.
Part of the Japanese round of MotoGP always seems to involve learning a new name for a natural phenomenon. In 2010, we heard of Eyjafjallajökull for the first time, the volcano which awoke from under its ice cap and halted air travel in large parts of Europe and Asia. We laughed as newsreaders and MotoGP commentators tried to pronounce the name of the Icelandic volcano and ice cap (for the inquisitive, Wikipedia has the correct pronunciation), and the race was moved from the start of the season to October.
A year later, in April 2011, it was Tōhoku which was the name on everyone's lips. The massive earthquake which shook Japan and triggered an enormous tsunami, killing nearly 16,000 people and badly damaging the Fukushima nuclear power station. Again the Motegi race was moved to October, by which time the incredible resilience and industriousness had the track ready to host the MotoGP circus. 2012 turned out to be a relatively quiet year, but 2013 saw the tail end of typhoon Francisco ravage the region, causing the first day and a half of practice to be lost to fog and rain.
So it comes as no surprise that the 2014 round of MotoGP at Motegi teaches us yet another new name. This time it is Vongfong, a category 5 super typhoon which threatens the race in Japan. The super typhoon has been described as "the most powerful storm of the year" with recorded sustained winds of 285 km/h, and gusts of up to 350 km/h. It is currently over open water southwest of Japan, but is heading northeast towards Kyushu, the southernmost island of the Japanese archipelago.
The good news for Japan is that Vongfong is expected to weaken as it heads towards Japan, and arrives over much cooler water. Even better news for Motegi is that the typhoon looks unlikely to reach the region in time to affect the race. Vongfong is set to make landfall nearly 1200 km southwest of the Twin Ring circuit, and have weakened dramatically by the time it reaches the area by the middle of next week. 2014 looks like being another year in which Motegi was spared.
That will please Honda greatly. With Repsol Honda riders first and second in the championship, Honda within 10 points of the manufacturers' title, and the factory Repsol squad closing in on winning the team championship – though admittedly, both Movistar Yamahas would have to not score to achieve that at Motegi – Honda would really like to celebrate at home. The Motegi Twin Ring circuit is owned and operated by the Mobilityland Corporation, which is itself a 100% subsidiary of the Honda Motor Company, and so the stakes are high. Motegi is also the main test track used for developing the factory's MotoGP machines, the RC213V having racked up monster mileages around the circuit. The combination of hard braking zones, slow corners, long, fast straights and the occasional fast combo should suit HRC's Honda RC213V down to the ground.
Preview press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams ahead of this weekend's races at Motegi:
While the rider line up for the MotoGP is very near to being settled, there are still a lot of things up in the air in the Moto3 class. Though the teams were all required to submit their official entries, and pay a deposit to secure their rides at Aragon, there were only a few official announcements by the end of the weekend. Enough, however, to make a rundown of the latest developments for the 2013 season.
Though this year's title protagonists will be moving on to better things - Jack Miller to MotoGP, Alex Marquez and Alex Rins to Moto2 - the Red Bull KTM and Estrella Galicia teams are likely to be at the forefront in 2015 as well. With the Red Bull KTM team having signed Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder, they are the team which looks most likely to be fighting for the title, against Team Sky VR46's Romano Fenati. The Estrella Galicia team will have a couple of rookies in Fabio Quartararo and Maria Herrera, while Jorge Navarro will have learned a great deal during his first half season in Moto3 replacing Livio Loi.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the races at the Motorland Aragon circuit:
The track dried out enough for slick tyres and the fog had lifted enough for the slightly delayed twenty-lap race to start.
Heavy fog delayed the start of the Moto3 warm up session by nearly an hour. That has pushed the entire warm up schedule back, though the races should start very close to the normal schedule. The track is soaking from overnight rain, with more rain on the way.
2014 Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Fast Hondas, Yamaha's Defective Tires, Surprising Ducatis, And Unstable Weather
Is Marc Marquez's season going downhill? You might be tempted to say so, if you judged it by the last three races alone. After utterly dominating the first half of the season, Marquez has won only a single race in the last three outings, finishing a distant fourth in Brno, and crashing out of second place at Misano, before remounting to score a single solitary point. Look at practice and qualifying at Aragon, however, and Marquez appears to have seized the initiative once again. He had to suffer a Ducati ahead of him on Friday, but on Saturday, he was back to crushing the opposition. Fastest in both sessions of free practice, then smashing the pole record twice. This is a man on a mission. He may not be able to wrap up the title here, but he can at least win.
The way Marquez secured pole was majestic, supremely confident, capable and willing to hang it all out when he needed. He set a new pole record on his first run of the 15 minute session, waited in the garage until the last few minutes, then went out. He shook off Andrea Iannone, who was trying to get a tow, then when he saw Dani Pedrosa had taken over pole from him, went all out. Despite making a bit of a mess of the final sector, he still took nearly four tenths off his own best lap, demoting Pedrosa to second.
It wasn't just his pole time which was impressive. The race pace he showed in FP4 was fast, a string of high 1'48s and a couple of low 1'49s. The only rider to get anywhere near him was his teammate, Pedrosa knocking out a sequence of 1'49.0s, followed by a handful of high 1'48s. Pedrosa still has a score to settle, and though Marc Marquez is grabbing the headlines, he could find himself with quite a fight on his hands.
Press releases from the Moto3 and Moto2 teams after qualifying at the Motorland Aragon circuit:
Qualifying Results follow.
John McPhee is to remain with the Saxoprint RTG team for another season in Moto3. The Racing Steps Foundation, which supports young British talent, issued the following press release on McPhee's contract:
McPHEE TO STICK WITH SAXOPRINT-RTG AND HONDA FOR 2015 MOTO3 SEASON
RSF reaches agreement for Brit to complete a third season in the 250cc lightweight class
The Racing Steps Foundation has reached agreement at Motorland Aragon today (Saturday) for its Moto3 rider John McPhee (Oban, Argyll, Scotland) to continue with the Honda-powered SaxoPrint-RTG squad in the World Championship next year.
It will be McPhee's third full season in the class with the team.
The Brit - who has secured five top 10 places with the German outfit in the 250cc lightweight class so far this year - has been tasked with delivering regular podium finishes in 2015.
The 20 years-old Racing Steps Foundation protégé said: "I'm delighted to be continuing with the team and Honda next year thanks to continued backing and support from the Foundation.
Juanfran Guevara set the fastest ever lap around Aragon on a Moto3 bike, with a record of 1'57.930, seven tenths quicker than Alex Rins, Alex Marquez and Jack Miller.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the first day of practice for the Motorland Aragon GP: