Takaaki Nakagami came to within 0.022s of becoming the first Japanese rider in 16 years to land a MotoGP pole position as he consolidated his eye-catching start to the 2020 season by securing a maiden front row start at the Red Bull Ring.

The young Japanese rider has emerged as something of an understated revelation this season thus far, Nakagami already claiming career best fourth place finish last month in Jerez, while he is one of only two riders – together with championship leader Fabio Quartararo – to have finished each race inside the top ten this year.

Though he couldn’t quite do enough to secure the first Japanese pole position since Makoto Tamada at Motegi in 2004, Nakagami is still well placed to notch up another milestone with a podium the crystal-clear target from second on the grid, but a challenge is confident of fulfilling.

“I am happy with the weekend so far, from FP1 we looked consistent, then from morning to afternoon the conditions changes quite a lot Friday and today but we managed well, and we are always in the top five.

“This is so good, any position we have is good. We were working on the race pace in FP4, still we are missing a couple of tenths for each lap but we are still working on the way and I hope we can prepare a better set-up and electronics tonight.

“In MotoGP now the lap time is so tight, everyone is so close so it is important to start on the first or second row, but I haven’t done it [before]. This year always I couldn’t get higher than third row, so always it is difficult to get the position at the beginning of the race.

“At the end I always catch and overtake into the top ten, but this weekend we have a really good opportunity to aim for the podium… not necessarily win the race, out first podium is the target but if there is a chance for victory then I will try it.”

Nakagami’s upturn in form is proving to be one of the scant positives to take from Honda’s season thus far with Marquez out through injury – at least two more months as was revealed today - Cal Crutchlow recovering and Alex Marquez still learning the ropes.

While perhaps ironic given he is riding the 2019-spec LCR Honda RC213V, HRC is now looking to Nakagami to keep its points’ tally ticking over as the de facto team leader. Though he admits to feeling an increase in pressure, he is taking it on board positively.

“After he had the injury in Jerez, I do feel more pressure from HRC but I don’t use the factory bike, I use last year’s bike. This bike is great, the potential is there. I hear from Cal they struggle with the 2020 bike, so we are focused on our strategy and how we can improve the potential of this bike [still].

“The data we have from last year is Marc’s and we always analyse it, but I am enjoying this moment because we are competitive and having a strong weekend, hopefully we can work on what we have [to go quicker]”

 

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