MOTEGI, Japan (Reuters) - World champion Jorge Lorenzo continued his desperate fight to keep his MotoGP title by taking pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix in a wet qualifying session at the weather-disrupted race on Saturday.
The Yamaha rider swept around the circuit in one minute 53.471 seconds on his 24th of 25 laps to top the timesheets ahead of fellow Spaniard Marc Marquez, who could seal the title in his rookie season on Sunday if he outscores Lorenzo by eight points.
Friday’s entire practice programme was wiped out by fog and wet weather with the rain also forcing the cancellation of Saturday morning’s free practice session and leading to the extended 75-minute qualifying session.
American Nicky Hayden rounded out the front row on his Ducati with Marquez’s Honda team mate Dani Pedrosa, the winner of the race for the last two years, relegated to the second row in fourth place.
A mistake from Marquez’s team blew the 20-year-old’s chance of clinching the title in Australia last weekend when he was disqualified but he gets second chance in the penultimate race of the season on Sunday.
A seventh victory of his sensational debut season, combined with anything worse than second for Lorenzo, would make him the youngest champion in the top class of grand prix racing and he was delighted with second place given the conditions.
“It was quite difficult, it was my first time in Motegi, first time in qualifying without any practice sessions, in wet conditions and I took more risks than usual,” he said.
“But we did a very good job because our target was the front row and we did it. We are hoping for a dry race.”
The Honda-owned track was still slick with rain when the bikes finally got out of their garages for the first time this weekend and Marquez, Pedrosa and Hayden all set quickest times before Lorenzo took charge.
The 26-year-old said it had been tough having to push hard while riding in wet conditions for the first time since he broke his collarbone in a high speed crash in the Dutch round of the championship in June.
“I am very happy to get this second pole position in a row,” said the twice world champion, who won in Australia last week to cut Marquez’s championship lead to 18 points.
”It was hard because the last time I rode in the wet was in Assen, so at the beginning I was careful and not so confident and a bit scared.
“Little by little, I got better and in the end did a very good lap. Tomorrow is probably going to be dry so let’s see what happens.”
Writing by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien