Martin throws down early gauntlet in FP1 at Japanese Grand Prix

Jorge Martin led the way in the first free practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix. Image: Supplied

Jorge Martin led the way in the first free practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix. Image: Supplied

Pramac Ducati’s Jorge Martin led the way in the first free practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix from surprise package and MotoGP rookie Augusto Fernandez at Motegi.

Martin, who closed the deficit to Francesco Bagnaia in the title race to 13 points last weekend at the inaugural Indian Grand Prix after a Sprint victory and runner-up finish, set the fastest time in 1:45.192s.

The Spaniard switched to a hard compound front in the last 15 minutes and claimed the top spot before running wide at Turn 3 into the gravel and tumbling off.

Last year’s Moto2 champion Fernandez was 0.138s behind Martin on the GASGAS Tech 3 KTM with Indian GP winner Marco Bezzecchi, third in the championship and 44 points down on Bagnaia ahead of this weekend’s 14th round, third on the VR46 Ducati.

Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez, third in the Sprint race last weekend at the Buddh International Circuit, was 13th, with team-mate Joan Mir enjoying another strong practice result in fifth as he built on his confidence-boosting performance in India.

Pramac Ducati’s Johann Zarco took an early excursion into the gravel without major incident as the session got underway, while Aprilia’s Maverick Viñales set the early pace from Marquez and Bagnaia, whose championship advantage was whittled down after he slid out of second place in India.

Fabio Quartararo had a big moment on the factory Yamaha when he was almost flung off the M1, but managed to stay upright as he held fourth in the times, with Bagnaia going quickest on the Lenovo Ducati from Martin and Viñales.

All the riders were using the medium front and rear tyres, except Alex Rins who was on the soft compound front as he returned to action on the LCR Honda for the first time since sustaining leg fractures at Mugello in Italy in May.

Bagnaia’s 1:45.631s gave him a slender advantage of 0.095s over Martin as the reigning world champion remained at the summit at the halfway point in the session.

Martin then took over when he fitted the harder front Michelin for the last 15 minutes, with his time of 1:45.192s going unchallenged.

The Pramac rider was four-tenths up on Bagnaia in second with Bezzecchi third, 0.618s down on Martin’s time with eight minutes left to run in FP1.

Inside the final two minutes, Fernandez jumped to third on the satellite KTM, 0.565s behind Martin before Brad Binder went quicker on the factory KTM to briefly inherit third.

As the chequered flag went out to bring the session to a close, Fernandez bettered his time to slot into second.

Bezzecchi improved his best lap for third at the end, 0.318s off the top, with Bagnaia a further tenth of a second down in fourth.

Mir took fifth on the Repsol Honda, while South African Binder dropped to sixth ahead of Viñales.

Australia’s Jack Miller was eighth, seven-tenths outside Martin’s time, while Quartararo and Raul Fernandez (RNF Aprilia) completed the top 10.

Honda’s Marquez was 13th behind Yamaha’s Franco Morbidelli, while Yamaha test rider and wildcard entry Cal Crutchlow (Yamalube RS4GP) was 18th ahead of home hero Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda).

British rider Crutchlow is making his first MotoGP race appearance since Valencia in 2022.

Ducati test rider Michele Pirro, deputising for injury-hit Enea Bastianini, and the returning Rins brought up the rear of the field in 20th and 21st respectively.

Rins was 2.395s down on the fastest time as he eased his way back after a long layoff.

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