After languishing in fifth place throughout free practice, dramatic changes to the Factory Yamaha of Jorge Lorenzo allowed the reigning MotoGP champion to beat all but Casey Stoner in qualifying.
Lorenzo finished the hour-long session just 0.256sec behind the Australian and ahead of the other Repsol Hondas of Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa. Nevertheless, Lorenzo - who will start the race 44-points behind Stoner in the championship - believes the RCVs still holds an advantage.
“We changed the bike completely for this afternoon, improved it a lot and our lap time was unbelievable!" smiled Lorenzo. "We are quite close to the Honda, which at this track are so competitive.
"We have improved today but Motegi is still a tough track for Yamaha riders," he warned. "If the other riders do a perfect race it is almost impossible to win, but anything can happen.
"Now I can say I am ready for the battle and we will put on a good show for all the Japanese fans who have come to see us race!”
So where had the time been found?
“Jorge is able to stop the bike properly now so that's a big improvement," explained team manager Wilco Zeelenberg. "Maximum lean angle grip has also improved so he can now stop the bike and turn and accelerate. We are quite happy; I think we have something to fight with tomorrow which is important. I have to thank the team who worked really hard to make the step forward with the bike.”
Team-mate Ben Spies experienced another exhausting day of riding as he battles to recover from a serious bout of food poisoning caught before travelling to Japan.
Despite his reduced fitness and stamina level the American put in a huge effort in both morning practice and qualifying to take fifth on the grid and a second row start for the race.
“I've had a lot of support from the guys at Clinica to get me back towards 100% fitness," said the American. "I'm just glad now to be on the bike, a couple of days ago I didn't think I was going to be able to ride.
"I'm really happy to have got into the middle of the second row today and I hope things get even better for tomorrow, we'll see how it goes. Yesterday I was pretty weak on the bike, this morning I felt a bit stronger and this afternoon I felt ok with energy levels, I was just fighting a lot of stomach cramps. I'm doing the best I can for my crew and the paddock and all the fans who are here to watch us.”