Andrea Dovizioso, winner here in Japan last year, seems ready for a redux in 2018. The factory Ducati rider and second-place holder in the championship finished the third dry practice in the same way he finished the first: the top of the timesheet.
Dovizioso's llate charge to a 1'45.107 at the Motegi circuit in Japan on Saturday put him just clear of second-fastest Cal Crutchlow but left him almost two-tenths of a second in front of championship leader Marc Marquez (4th). Johan Zarco continued a strong weekend as the top Yamaha in third.
Championship leader Jorge Martin sent a message to the other riders Saturday at the Motegi Twin Ring circuit in Japan: Catch me if you can.
Martin, under a sunny sky and in fine form, became the only Moto3 rider to drop into the 1'56s in Saturday's FP3 with a 1'56.911 that put him one tenth clear of the field and left him as the odds-on favorite for another pole position in the lightweight class. Marcos Ramirez grabbed second followed closely by early session leader Marco Bezzecchi (3rd).
Will we see a Ducati vs Honda showdown at Motegi? After the first day of practice at the Japanese track, it looks like that is still on, though we lost one potential protagonist. Jorge Lorenzo went out to test how well his injured wrist would hold up, but found his wrist unwilling to play ball. He did two out laps, but couldn't cope with the immense strain which the braking zones at Motegi – the toughest on the calendar – put on him. After those two laps, Lorenzo decided to withdraw from the Japanese Grand Prix.
"Yesterday my feelings weren’t very positive and unfortunately today I had confirmation not only of the pain, but also that there was a serious risk of making the fracture worse," he said afterwards. "On hard braking I couldn't push with my left wrist and I had a lot of pain in the left corners and especially in the change of direction. I wasn't fast, I wasn't comfortable and I wasn't safe, so there was no meaning to continue."
Despite the loss of Lorenzo, Ducati are still in a very comfortable position, Andrea Dovizioso having finished the day as fastest, despite sitting out FP2. The Italian wasn't alone in that choice: Marc Márquez, Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, and Jordi Torres all elected to skip the afternoon session, which started out damp, the track never really drying out fully by the end of the session, though half the field managed to squeeze in a couple of slow laps on slicks on a drying track at the end of the session.
Once upon a time, disciplinary measures in MotoGP were simple. If a rider was felt to have transgressed the rules, they were hauled up before the Race Director and given a punishment, and that was just about the end of it. Sometimes, riders appealed against those judgments, and sometimes, the FIM even found in their favor.
But times change, cultures change, social mores change. What was once regarded as acceptable is now frowned upon. Physical contact and riding with the intent to obstruct others became less and less acceptable. Suspected transgressions were examined more closely and judged more harshly. The increase in the number of cameras covering the track, and the vast improvement in resolution and picture quality, helped identify more potential offenders. In turn, this created more pressure on Race Direction to punish these transgressions.
Then came Sepang 2015. When the two biggest names clash on the track amid a bitter personal feud, then the pressure on the series organizers to treat the situation with kid gloves becomes almost unbearable. In the fallout of that ugly incident, Race Direction was reorganized, and the disciplinary duties moved to a separate body, the FIM Panel of Stewards. The official explanation was that this would allow Race Direction to get on with the job of managing the race, while the Stewards could focus on assessing whether a particular action needed to be punished or not.
The Forever War
Iker Lecuona set the fastest Moto2 lap time on Friday at Motegi as the circuit finally dried sufficiently for riders to push hard on full slicks -- at least for the early part of the afternoon session. Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia slotted into second, a tenth of a second from the leader's time. It also was the Kalex rider's first posted time of the weekend as he didn't emerge from the pits in the mixed conditions of FP1. Agusto Fernandez rounded out the top three.
In mixed conditions that saw one-third of the field spend more time in the pits than on the track, Dani Pedrosa seized the top time of the session at the Motegi circuit in Japan. Pedrosa's 1'48.136 topped second-place Scott Redding's best lap -- also set at the end of the drying, afternoon FP2 -- by more that half a second but still remained three seconds from the top laps of FP1.
On a damp track, Marco Bezzecchi topped the second free practice at the Motegi circuit in Japan as lap times fell well short of the morning’s dry session. Bezzecchi’s 2’05.403 was eight seconds shy of the best lap of FP1.
Not in unusual fashion, the intermediate class got the worst of both worlds, enjoying barely five minutes in fully dry conditions before raindrops started falling, on and off throughout the session but not significant enough to decisively stop play. This allowed for three short runs for most of the grid who did not want to risk too much but some longer bouts of bravery were repaid as well.
The lovely weather was generous with the premier class and allowed them a fully dry playground for the first practice session, although clouds were starting to gather as the action hotted up. The morning started with Johann Zarco in charge of proceedings but while the grid was struggling to follow the early leader’s suit into the 1:46s, Marc Marquez promptly did eight tenths of a second better and raised the bar for the opposition.