Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi stormed to pole position for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Japan after clocking the fastest time in qualifying Saturday, resuming his campaign to overtake championship leader Marc Marquez.

The Yamaha man timed 1min 43.954sec at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, as he attempts to close a 52-point gap against Honda’s Marquez, who will start from second on the grid after finishing 0.180sec behind the Italian, his closest championship rival.

Defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo overcame a spectacular crash earlier in the day and earned the third fastest lap in qualifying to claim a spot on the front row, clocking 0.267sec after his Yamaha teammate.

The second row will be occupied by Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow and Suzuki’s Aleix Espargaro.

Rossi said his team had struggled to find the right setting for their machine through the week, while he himself felt weak.

“I am not at 100 percent. I am a little bit sick and not fantastic physically,” the Italian said. “Before (the Saturday afternoon practice) we did a great job as a team, we found a good balance. It will be important to start from pole.”

“It’s fantastic. It is my third pole position of the season,” he said.

His Yamaha teammate Lorenzo was also content with his performance after being launched him from his bike earlier in the morning. He was later airlifted to a local hospital to check for head trauma. 

He was quickly declared fit for the race, although he was not able to stand up immediately after the crash. 

“Honestly, I was scared,” Lorenzo said. “I thought I injured my left foot. It was a muscle problem. I still have a little bit of pain.”

However an adrenaline rush allowed him to push past the pain during the qualifying session, Lorenzo said.

Lorenzo’s crash came a day after a nasty fall during Friday’s practice by Dani Pedrosa, who broke his collarbone and flew back to Spain for an operation.

Marquez also voiced his satisfaction, claiming that he is doing better than he had expected on the circuit where he had never won in the premier race category.

“Pole position is a little bit better. But you know I feel really good this weekend. Much better than what I expected before the start,” Marquez said.

“After the crash of Dani and Jorge, it was better to take care,” he added. – Agence France-Presse

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