Andrea Migno (Mugen Race) is making a habit of going fastest on Friday of late and the Italian did it again in the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, ending Day 1 on top of the combined timesheets ahead of Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) and John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing). With weather warnings that look set to affect the Twin Ring Motegi on Saturday, that top three could be the trio heading the troops into Q2, too.
Friday was a cloudy grey day but the rain stayed away and it began with title rivals Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) and Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) taking a 1-2 in FP1, despite some drama courtesy of Championship leader Dalla Porta. The Italian first shot a full second clear of the field before then losing control and suffering his first crash of the day near the end of the session, only narrowly avoided by teammate Ramirez.
No harm done, the battle rolled on but it wasn't the two men top of the standings that would ultimately reign the day. Everyone went on to improve bar VNE Snipers’ Tony Arbolino and Estrella Galicia 0,0’s Sergio Garcia, with Migno snatching P1 late in the action to complete his Friday three-of-a-kind. Ramirez took second as top Honda at their home track, and McPhee had a top start to the weekend as he aims to home in on P3 overall by the end of the year.
In the final shuffle - as is customary when the rain could be on the way - it was red sectors everywhere and Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PrüstelGP) took fourth, although the Czech veteran set exactly the same personal best lap as the man just behind him, Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3).
Rookie Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) acquitted himself well - although he is on his second visit to Motegi despite rookie status - and he took sixth overall as one of the biggest improvers in FP2, just half a tenth off the Kornfeil/Rodrigo best efforts ahead of him. Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) was seventh by the end of play and the fastest home hero, but just a single thousandth behind Vietti.
Darryn Binder (CIP - Green Power) put in an impressive Friday to take P8 ahead of Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia), with Buriram winner Albert Arenas (Gaviota Angel Nieto Team) completing the top ten as he edged out Dalla Porta by just 0.003.
Speaking of Dalla Porta, the Championship leader was again just ahead of key rival Canet in FP2, but the two are only 11th and 12th on the timesheets and the Leopard Racing rider again took a tumble at Turn 5 in the afternoon. They were both victim to late improvers but will be happy to at least have provisional places in Q2 wrapped up, where they'll be joined by home heroes Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) in P13 and Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) in P14.
One key name gone AWOL from that list is Tony Arbolino, who was P22 on Day 1 and that after struggling with an arm issue in Thailand. Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) made his return from injury in 19th, one place ahead of Jaume Masia (Mugen Race) doing the same, whereas Romano Fenati's (VNE Snipers) comeback put him in P26.
Filip Salač (Redox PrüstelGP) suffered a big highside on Friday and is to be reviewed before FP3, and the Czech rider also ran afoul of the Stewards in FP1 and was given a pit lane start for riding slowly.
See who can improve - and where the lightweight class will end up on the grid - on Saturday at the Twin Ring Motegi, with FP3 at 9:00 (GMT +9) before qualifying from 12:35...and a weather forecast that could shuffle everything all over again.