Valentino Rossi’s hopes of securing a fourth front row start in the last five races ahead of tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix were thwarted by a drying track at the Twin Ring Motegi.
After heavy rain and low visibility resulted in the cancellation of all four practice sessions for the premier class, Race Direction implemented a contingency plan that saw MotoGP qualifying run over an extended 75-minute session.
Rossi and the rest of the MotoGP field finally got on track some 29 hours later than planned and qualifying started on a soaked surface at the Honda-owned 2.983 miles venue.
Torrential rain that had battered the Twin Ring Motegi throughout the day had stopped by the time qualifying commenced, but when the track was at its wettest was when Rossi was at his strongest on the factory Yamaha YZR-M1.
Rossi was consistently running in the top three, but with the rain coming to a halt and the track slowly drying, the nine-times world champion dropped back to fifth with a best time of 1.54.732.
The 34-year-old told MCN: “The starting position is quite good. I am in the top five but I expected a little bit better because when it was full wet I was in top three and I felt better with the bike. Then I tried some different settings and we finally decided on one set-up and with the track not dry but with a lot less water, I expected to improve my time a lot but unfortunately it wasn't so easy. I had more problems. I had more pushing with the front tyre with less water on the track and I lost one or two places. If the forecast is true and tomorrow the conditions are good and dry then we will decide everything in the long warm-up to try and find some solutions.”
Rossi finished 1.261s behind factory Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who delivered a wet weather riding masterclass.
The Twin Ring Motegi is renowned for offering superb grip and feedback in the rain and Bridgestone’s wet compound rubber propelled the Spaniard to an incredible lap of 1.53.471.
That was only eight seconds slower than Dani Pedrosa’s dry lap record and Rossi was full of admiration for Lorenzo’s blistering speed.
He added: “Jorge was impressive and he did the best job out of everyone and this time is just eight seconds slower than the dry record and he improved a lot in the session. It is important in this race for him to start in pole but also Marc (Marquez) did a good lap time. I also expected to do a low 54 low and stay on the front row, but it was impossible.”