Niccolo Antonelli qualifies on front row in Japan


Red Bull KTM Ajo rider places inside the Top 3 in qualifying for the first time this season, finishing second in qualifying for the Japanese GP. Bo Bendsneyder goes eleventh on another wet day.

Comfortable riding in the wet at Motegi on Friday, Niccolo Antonelli continued to impress in difficult conditions on Saturday, taking an excellent second place in qualifying for the Japanese GP. The Italian bounced back from a heavy crash in FP3 to take his best result on the starting grid this season, to make a first appearance on the front row in 2017. Teammate Bo Bendsneyder was again competitive in the grid-deciding session, claiming a position in the middle of the fourth row with eleventh.

Antonelli showed that he is at ease in wet conditions when onboard his KTM, going among the fastest riders in FP3. However, just after moving into the top spot, 14 minutes in, the Italian suffered a crash at Turn 4 that left him unable to finish the session. He was 13th, with a best time of 2:08.634. Bendsneyder was not able to find the good feeling he had in FP1 yesterday and had to settle for 25th place -2:12.395.

Although it seemed that less water on track would make things tougher for the Red Bull KTM Ajo pair, in qualifying they were able to adapt. With ten minutes to go, Niccolo Antonelli broke into the Top 3 and started to steadily improve his times. It was not until his last lap that the Italian secured second position on the grid, with a 2:09.592. Also on his final roll of the dice, Bendsneyder set his best time of the weekend so far -2:10.383- to place eleventh.

Tomorrow sees the Moto3 Japanese GP start at 11am local time -4am CET. Both Niccolo Antonelli and Bo Bendsneyder will try to get the team’s third consecutive podium at Motegi. The Italian already knows what it takes to win at the track, having done so two seasons ago.


Results (Qualifying Session)
1. Nicolo Bulega (KTM) 2:09.320
2. Niccolo Antonelli (Red Bull KTM Ajo) 2:09.592 +0.272
3. Aron Canet (Honda) 2:09.708 +0.388
4. Marco Bezzechi (Mahindra) 2:09.797 +0.477
5. Enea Bastianini (Honda) 2:09.846 +0.526
11. Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) 2:10.383 +1.063


“Today we started the day losing some of the feeling we had yesterday and suffering a crash, but this did not stop us from being fast in FP3. Then in QP we were back to our best. The truth is, it’s been too long since I was last on the front row. It’s been a difficult year, but we have continued to work race by race and I am very happy to have got here; For me it is very important. Now all this work still has to be completed tomorrow in the race. The conditions can still change, and we may ride in the dry so we must be prepared for any changes. Our goal is to do our best and complete a good race.”

“The qualifying session was not bad at all and we were able to take a key step forward to get this spot on the fourth row. After the last two Free Practice sessions, which weren’t easy, I’m happy about how qualifying went. The feeling I have is good and I have always been riding alone. I can’t wait to start the race. I’m eager to see what conditions we will encounter, since so far we have only ridden in the wet here.”