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Yamaha Tops Free Practice Time Sheets at Twin Ring Motegi

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Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi shaped up for an intense battle at the Twin Ring Motegi track today, in preparation for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Japan. The teammates took first and seventh place respectively in the combined free practice times.

Lorenzo was quick to find a solid pace around the Japanese track during the sunny morning practice. He rode his YZR-M1 to second early on in FP1 and spent the majority of the session working on a good dry set-up before posting a best lap of 1’46.181s for third place on his third stint, 0.395s from the front.

The afternoon saw more of the same smooth riding from the Mallorcan. He set the provisional fastest time of 1’46.111s early on in the second 45-minute session. He continued his form as the pace quickened and was the fourth rider dropping into the 1’45s with a 1’45.911s for provisional third place, which he further improved at the very end of the session, dropping a 1.45.151s to wrap up the day at the top of the time sheets with a 0.053s margin to his closest rival.

Teammate Rossi was also on the pace right from the word go. The nine-time World Champion made the most of the first free practice session and put in a total of 20 laps to find a solid race set-up that suits Motegi’s stop-start nature. The Italian held second place for a large part of the session and rode a best lap of 1’46.222s, just 0.463s off the front, for fourth place.

The Doctor lost a little bit of time at the start of the afternoon session due to a loose dummy tank, but he was soon back on his way to continue the search for the perfect balance of his bike. Throughout the session he worked through a couple of set-up changes and tried various tyres specs and improved his time to a 1’45.684s for provisional first place in the final stages, to ultimately finish the day in seventh position with a best lap of 1’45.532s, 0.381s behind his teammate.

Similar to last year, Yamaha’s usual rider line-up is joined by Katsuyuki Nakasuga, four-time consecutive premier JSB1000 class (All Japan Road Race Championship) winner, who also won the Suzuka 8-Hour race two years in a row in 2015 and 2016. He finished his first day as a wildcard for the Yamalube Yamaha Factory Racing Team, riding his YZR-M1 to 17th place in the combined free practice times, with a 1’47.135s best lap.

Massimo Meregalli – Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Team Director

“Today we made a positive start to the weekend in the first two practice sessions. Right away both Jorge and Valentino found a solid starting point in the morning session and had a good pace. In the afternoon, we spent most of the session testing different tyres specifications, both front and rear. It was very important to do it, but this slowed the development of the set-up down a bit. Despite this Jorge has been able to make good use of the fresh soft rear tyre during his last stint, setting the fastest lap of the day. Valentino suffered from a lack of grip at the beginning of the session. When he put in a new soft rear tyre he had difficulties in stopping the bike, especially in the hard braking sections that are quite fundamental here. There’s still a lot of time to further improve the setting on both sides of the garage and we are quite confident that we can make another step tomorrow.”

Jorge Lorenzo
1st / 1’45.151 / 35 laps

“It’s been quite a positive day. This afternoon the conditions dropped a lot in terms of the temperature and that’s why some riders crashed, because it was quite tricky and you need to be very careful with the temperature of the tyre. We were able to improve a lot on the last set of tyres and improved the bike a little bit also in the corners. The bike is working quite well and I’m in good shape, so I’m very motivated to make it a good race.”

Valentino Rossi
7th / 1’45.532 / 41 laps

“It was a mixed day, because this morning wasn’t so bad and I was quite fast, but this afternoon was a difficult practice. We tried the harder tyres, but both the front and the rear didn’t give very good grip so I lost some feeling. At the end we put the softer tyre back in and I improved my lap time, but it wasn’t enough because I’m not very happy with the setting and the balance of the bike. It is very difficult to stop in braking, so we have to work and try to recover. About the tyres, the feeling is not so bad. The lap times are also not so far from last year’s, but this afternoon we unfortunately had a lot of crashes and also some injuries for Pedrosa. This is because in the afternoon it looks like the temperature drops down very quickly and after that it becomes dangerous. Good luck to Pedrosa and for us tomorrow, we will try to modify the balance and we try to be strong.”

Confident Espargaro commences Motegi showdown – Smith makes brave comeback

Monster Yamaha Tech3 team rider Pol Espargaro kicked off the all-important Japanese GP weekend by finishing the opening day in 10th. The Spaniard jumped into gear in the morning as he began adjusting his Yamaha YZR-M1 for Sunday’s race, which will be the 18th Grand Prix to take place at the legendary Twin Ring Motegi circuit. After completing 16 laps, his best time left him in 11th. Then, in FP2, Espargaro carried on his efforts, but he unfortunately fell at turn nine, although he luckily escaped without any injuries. However, the 25-year-old effectively only had 15 minutes of track action due to the fall as he sat out the remainder of the session after the impact and as a result, he completed only nine laps. Yet, he impressively set his personal best on his fifth lap whilst using a hard rear compound, which saw him conclude the session in 10th and just over a second from the leading time. Tomorrow, the 2013 Moto2 World Champion who seized the title at Motegi, will look to make a solid start in FP3 and then qualify strongly at Yamaha’s home race.

On the other side of the Tech3 team pit box, Bradley Smith courageously eased back into riding his Yamaha YZR-M1 as he made his first MotoGP appearance since sustaining a knee injury in August, which forced him to sit out the previous three Grand Prix’s. The main target was to complete as much distance as possible and become accustomed to his MotoGP bike again whilst also building up to race fitness as he rode 13 laps in FP1. In the afternoon, he bravely continued his work and after covering an additional 15 laps, he cut 2.518 seconds from his best time in FP1. The Briton will now rest overnight before returning to the track tomorrow morning for FP3.

Pol Espargaro
10th / 1’46.245 / 25 laps

“Overall, today was a solid start to the weekend. This morning’s result wasn’t incredible but I believe that we still had a good session. In FP2, I went out with the hard rear compound and felt comfortable straight away and so I was posting strong lap times which put me inside the top six. Yet, not long into the session I unfortunately made a slight mistake and lost the front in the ninth corner. This was a pity because we only have one M1 with the chassis that I like a lot so when I went out on my second bike, the feeling was completely different. Therefore, we decided that it was better to wait for tomorrow’s morning session to continue our setup work. Nevertheless, it is positive to end the day inside the top 10. Now we will try to analyse today’s data and maybe we can learn something from Valentino and Jorge, plus with a good rest, I am sure that I’ll be back stronger tomorrow.”

Bradley Smith
21st / 1’48.897 / 28 laps

“First and foremost, I have to say that it was quite emotional to ride my bike again this morning because these last seven weeks haven’t been easy but I finally reached my goal of returning to the track. Many friends, family and physiotherapists have spent a lot of time and effort to help me get fit enough to race again and the only ambition in these past fifty days was to compete in the last four Grand Prix’s with Tech3, so it is great to finally get back to where I need to be. Of course, today has been challenging because my knee is obviously not perfect, however, we made a good step forward from this morning to this afternoon, which has given me a confidence boost. I hope that with a bit of rest, we can achieve more tomorrow. I must give big thanks to the Tech3 team, because the guys have been very patient, plus they modified the bike to suit my needs. Most importantly, the team worked in a fantastic way to keep me calm so I can enjoy my experience back in Japan.”