Marc Marquez gave no indication of slowing down in FP4, the final practice before Saturday qualifying at the Motegi Circuit. Marquez, while not reaching his blistering FP3 time, still managed to complete a steady stream of low 1'45s to indicate quick race pace for Sunday. In the waning seconds of the session, Aleix Espargaro nearly seized the top time from Marquez but ssettled into a close second, only 19 hundredths of a second back.
UPDATE: Jorge Lorenzo has returned to the grid for FP4.
Marc Marquez, the only rider to drop into the 1’44s at the Motegi Circuit Saturday, easily claimed the top spot in the third practice before qualifying. Marquez set his time of 1'44.987 early in the 45-minute session and didn’t equal it for the duration.
Jorge Lorenzo, who led practice Friday and held the second-best time late into FP3, highsided hard in Turn 2 with five minutes left in the session. The former world champion briefly stood up after the crash and was limping heavily before sitting back down and getting carried off on a stretcher. Later, he limped into the medical center. Minutes after that, video showed him in a wheelchair being pushed to a medical transfer helicopter to be airlifted to a hospital. Look here for updates on his condition and race status.
What is the biggest downside of the flyaways? The three back-to-back races are crucial on the way to the end of the championship. This is the time you need to perform, where you can make the difference by pushing that little bit harder. The downside, of course, is that if you push too far you can lose everything. "Three races in a row is always complicated," Valentino Rossi told the press conference on Thursday. "You can have a small problem in the first race and pay a lot."
Ever since we found out that Yamaha were only going to release Jorge Lorenzo from his contract to test at Valencia after the last race, but not at a private test at Jerez a week later, there has been much speculation as to the cause. Had growing friction between the factory and Lorenzo led Yamaha to block the test? Were Yamaha afraid of just how competitive Lorenzo would be on the Ducati? Or, as the more conspiratorially inclined would have it, was this the invisible hand of Valentino Rossi at work?
The massed media had to wait until Motegi to find out. In the pre-event press conference, Jorge Lorenzo acknowledged that Yamaha had told him that the Jerez test was off the cards. "Well, obviously I would like to make the Jerez test, but it is not a thing that depends on myself. For the moment, looks like I will test in Valencia. Looks like for Jerez, Yamaha is not so keen to permit that." Lorenzo felt disappointed by the decision. "I think that for the years we've spent together, and for the things we've won together, I deserve it. But obviously it doesn't depend on myself and I will respect whatever decision Yamaha will make, because I am a Yamaha rider."
Due to the large number of journalists asking to speak to Lin Jarvis to get his side of the story, Yamaha convened a press conference to allow the assembled media to ask questions. In the space of half an hour, the Yamaha Motor Racing boss laid out in clear terms why the decision had been made. It was a masterclass in the underlying truth of MotoGP: this is a business, with millions of dollars involved, and a tangled web of interest beyond just Yamaha. Yamaha has a duty to its shareholders and its sponsors to hold Lorenzo to the contract they both signed. Helping Lorenzo to try to beat Yamaha on a Ducati would be to fail their sponsors and Yamaha's corporate interests.
Dani Pedrosa has suffered more bad luck at Motegi. For the second time in his career, he has crashed there and broken a collarbone.
The Repsol Honda rider suffered a huge highside at the end of the afternoon FP2 session, being flung high into the air at Turn 11. The Spaniard immediate got up holding his collarbone, and was taken on the back of a scooter to the medical center. There, he was diagnosed with a fractured right collarbone.
Jorge Lorenzo ended the second session of practice at Motegi. The Movistar Yamaha rider jumped to the top of the timesheet at the very end of the session, as the riders all jostled for a shot at Q2.
Fastest man in the morning Andrea Dovizioso could not quite match Lorenzo's pace, the factory Ducati rider jumping up to 2nd, and just nudging Suzuki's Maverick Viñales into 3rd. Marc Marquez could not improve beyond 4th, his final run disturbed by a very low speed lowside at Turn 10.
MotoGP is about to enter the toughest stretch of the season. Three races on three consecutive weekends is tough enough. But three races separated by three, seven plus hour flights, kicking off with a race in a time zone seven hours ahead of the place most riders live. So riders, mechanics and team staff all start off a triple header struggling with jet lag and facing a grueling schedule.
And they are thrown in the deep end from the very start. Only the MotoGP riders can afford to stay at the Twin Ring circuit near Motegi. Most of the team staff stay in Mito, an hour's drive from the track, meaning they have to travel for two hours a day. Up in the hills in the middle of Japan's main island, and sufficiently far north for temperatures to drop in the fall, Motegi is notorious for poor weather. It is usually cold, often damp, and sometimes ravaged by typhoons.