Nakagami nabs magnificent maiden MotoGP™ pole at MotorLand

Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) kept his fine form rolling on Saturday at the Gran Premio Liqui Moly de Teruel, taking a maiden MotoGP™ pole position and becoming the first Japanese rider on pole in the premier class since Makoto Tamada at the 2004 Valencia GP. The number 30 also makes it three maiden polesitters this year, a first in a single MotoGP™ season since 2013, and ends Honda’s longest premier class run without a pole since they returned to the class in 1982. It was close in the end though, with Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) just 0.063 off as the Italian starts second; the only other man in the 1:46s. Aragon GP winner Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) took an ominous third place to start the Teruel GP a good few places higher up the grid than last weekend, locking out the front row.

In Q1, however, all eyes were on Ducati. With every Borgo Panigale machine set to fight it out in the session, there was plenty at stake… and it started well enough for Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) as he held onto the provisional fastest lap after the first runs. Then though, a stunner came in from Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) as the Spaniard pulled clear at the top… and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) looked set to move through too. But then, a last lap dash from Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) ensured there was going to be one Ducati in the fight for the top 12 – with the Frenchman taking second right at the flag and moving through along with Pol Espargaro. That left Aleix Espargaro set to line up 13th, Miller 14th and Championship contender Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) in a difficult P17 for race day.

The action was back underway soon enough for Q2, and it was a familiar name at the top after the first runs as Nakagami came straight out the blocks with a 1:47.072. It was also a familiar name in second, with Morbidelli just half a tenth off once again. Zarco impressed as the Q1 graduate slotted into third early on before the calm before the storm returned to pitlane, first runs done.

With just five minutes left on the clock, the field filed back out. Mir was 4.5 seconds off after failing to set a competitive lap time on his opening run, Aragon GP podium finisher Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was P11 and Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) seventh, with a lot at stake in the final few minutes. With two minutes to go though, everyone was still setting grey sector times for the time being, with no one able to go quicker…

That left Mir with a one-lap shot at picking up places from P12. Pol Espargaro found time in Sector 2 and was on a personal best time, Viñales had also found time, but all eyes then returned to Nakagami. The Japanese rider was 0.239 up in Sector 3, and Honda have been mighty in Sector 4… would it be a 1:46? It would. Coming across the line, Nakagami set a phenomenal 1:46.882 to move the goalposts significantly, and ultimately secure his maiden MotoGP™ pole position.

Quartararo was threatening but had a second wobble coming onto the front straight to go P5, and just behind the Frenchman, Rins did improve even more to take third. On his last lap, Viñales also went quicker – but it wasn’t enough to threaten Nakagami or for the front row. Morbidelli, meanwhile, did threaten slightly – but it wasn’t quite enough as the Italian ended the session 0.063 off.

That guaranteed a maiden MotoGP™ pole position for the LCR Honda Idemitsu rider, and he’ll be one to watch on race day. Morbidelli takes his fourth front row start of the season in second, with Rins retaining P3 and looking a little threatening after his win last weekend from 10th on the grid…

Viñales is forced to settle for fourth, with Zarco keeping P5 despite a crash late on for the Frenchman, his earlier laptime proving stunner enough. Quartararo will start from sixth, just pipping LCR Honda Castrol’s Cal Crutchlow.

Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) slots into eighth alongside the Brit, getting the better of Pol Espargaro by just 0.010 as the Q1 graduate starts ninth. Tenth place went to Alex Marquez as the rookie took his best qualifying result so far – better than last weekend, when he took another podium – with Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) right behind him, also a best ever for the rookie number 27.

So where’s Mir? After some late drama that looked like the Yellow Flag for Zarco’s crash would cancel a number of laps, including that of the Championship leader, it looked like he may have to settle for his first effort – over four seconds adrift. But the laptimes were reinstated after it was shown the Yellow Flag hadn’t been out for the likes of Mir, Oliveira, Crutchlow and Alex Marquez… but it didn’t prove a key aide. By just 0.021, the Championship leader is forced to settle for P12 – and will have plenty to do on race day. But then, we’ve seen some sensational comebacks this season already…

This season continues to be a stunner in MotoGP™, and the grid for the Gran Premio Liqui Moly de Teruel looks set to deliver another classic come Sunday. Can we have a ninth different winner? Who will gain in the title fight? Can Nakagami make more history? The lights go out for the premier class at 13:00 (GMT +1) – earlier than normal – and remember daylight saving changes where they apply!

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