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Movistar Yamaha Continue Battle with Elements in First Japanese FP Sessions

Free practice

Today Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi prepared for an intense weekend at the Twin Ring Motegi track. The teammates searched for grip in the rainy first free practice sessions and took 11th and 12th place respectively in the combined timesheets, ahead of Sunday’s Motul Grand Prix of Japan.

The weather was the biggest challenge for Viñales this morning. He found himself starting Yamaha’s home GP weekend in the pouring rain, and he had to up his pace gradually, careful not to cross the limit. Despite the treacherous conditions, which made it harder to get heat into the tyres and caused impaired vision due to the spray, he started working on his YZR-M1’s setting. The Spaniard took ninth in FP1 with a 1’56.917s best lap, 1.499s from the front.

The Yamaha Factory rider looked more confident during the second 45-minute session. Working on corner entry and minimising rear spin, he found a better pace, posting multiple 1’57s laps to ultimately secure 11th place with a fastest lap of 1’56.376s. He was again 1.499s from the leader and ended up in 11th position in the combined results.

Teammate Rossi took his time in FP1 to get up to speed at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit. The track’s various heavy braking zones make it vital to get the tyres up to temperature. Despite still recovering from his leg injury, the nine-time World Champion made progress, especially towards the end of the session, and finished 19th with a lap of 1’58.618s, 3.200s from first.

With the weather conditions barely improving for FP2, the Doctor made some changes to increase downforce. He started working on the feeling of the rear of his bike going into the corners, and was able to improve his time by more than two seconds to a 1’56.435s by the end of the day. He finished less than 1.558s from the top, good for 12th position. The result also keeps him in 12th place in the combined times, ahead of tomorrow’s sessions.

Maverick Viñales
Position: 11th – Time: 1’56.376 – Laps: 34

“It’s been challenging throughout the year to be strong in the wet. We didn’t find a good set-up so far. The gap to the front is quite big, so we have to try to better the setting of the bike to improve the rear grip. It’s a pity, because the conditions weren’t really tricky and the grip level of the track was good. We still have tomorrow’s sessions to find a solution.”

Valentino Rossi
Position: 12th – Time: 1’56.435 – Laps: 33

“I’m in some pain, but it’s not a big problem. Unfortunately we struggle, because today we had two complete practices in the full wet and we could work on the setting, but both sessions were not fantastic. We are a bit in trouble, the bike is a bit difficult to ride and we don’t have enough rear grip, so it’s difficult. We hope that the conditions become better, or we try something tomorrow and we’ll see.”

Massimo Meregalli
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP – Team Director

“We weren’t expecting to face such difficulties today. Unfortunately, we struggled with a lack of rear grip, especially on corner entry, even though the grip level of the Motegi track is always good. Our performance level in wet conditions continues to be a point of improvement. We tried to solve this issue during today’s wet sessions, but we didn’t get the breakthrough we hoped for. Since we weren’t ready to exploit the extra soft tyre, as we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy its full advantage, we decided against using it, also because of the small quantity that we were given. The weather conditions are expected to remain the same, so we’ll continue to keep pushing in the rain, because we’re eager to make a big step over the weekend for Sunday’s race.”

Zarco Fastest Yamaha on Wet Day 1 at Motegi

Johann Zarco showed his formidable form in the wet by closing the opening day of the Motul Grand Prix of Japan in 5th position. With rain expected for the entire weekend, Zarco got straight into gear and began undertaking the key setup work in preparation for Sunday’s race. He notably finished the day only 0.407 back from the top three and as the leading independent rider.

Meanwhile, Kohta Nozane, who is stepping in for Jonas Folger at this round, lit up the Twin Ring Motegi circuit with a highly promising display on his MotoGP debut. The young Japanese rider delighted his home crowd by powering to 13th in the afternoon and now he confidently awaits the second day of action, which begins with FP3 at 09:55 local time or 02:55 in central Europe.

Johann Zarco
Position: 5th – Time: 1’55.468 – Laps: 31

“I am feeling good and I’m happy to be in Japan. It’s a shame to have the bad weather, however, I think that it could be an advantage for me. FP1 went well but then it was even better this afternoon. The others riders were really fast and Dovizioso rode an incredible lap time, yet I am not far back from him so I am pleased. I still need to work more with the team in order to feel as strong as possible on the bike because you can be fast for one lap, but the most important thing is to be quick on every lap, especially if it rains. I am working on it and I need to keep focused so let’s see if we can improve in FP3 tomorrow, however, to be in the top ten at the moment is the main point. When it rains, it can be quite tough on a full power MotoGP bike because of the water on the track and there’s a lot of spinning. Yet, we can see that the tyres are working really well and, along with the suspension and the bike, we have a strong feeling because this circuit has very good grip. If it stays like this for Sunday, it will be advantageous but we are working positively already.”

Kohta Nozane
Position: 13th – Time: 1’56.453 – Laps: 35

“Day one went quite well and it was enjoyable as well as exciting to compete against the fast MotoGP riders and this is good. I am confident in myself and although it is only the first day and it’s too early to say which position I will finish in, I feel positive. Motegi is my local racetrack as my home is not so far from here. Tomorrow, it will be cloudy and the conditions could be dry, so the other riders will be faster. However, I am really enjoying this moment and I will try my best for the race on Sunday.”

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