Becoming the first rider to break into the 2m 04secs bracket at Suzuka, Nagashima’s effort 2m 04.942secs on the factory Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade he’ll share with Takumi Takahashi and ex-MotoGP rider Iker Lecuona makes the #33 machine the bike to beat in Saturday’s pole position-deciding Top 10 Sueprpole session.
A remarkable return to prominence for Nagashima, who has maintained a very low profile since exiting Moto2 at the end of the 2020 season, though intermittent rain would affect three of the six 20min sessions held across Q1 and Q2, it appeared unlikely anyone would get close to his benchmark.
Set during the first 20min Q1 session earlier in the day, Nagashima’s lap went comfortably beneath the erstwhile record of 2m 05.168secs, achieved by Jonathan Rea during qualifying in 2019.
Rea, however, was not given the opportunity to respond as rainy conditions – that at times affected just parts of the 5.8km circuit – fell during his 20min segment in both Q1 and Q2, hampering the WorldSBK champion and every other ‘red’ nominated rider, including Suzuka 8 Hours rookie Lecuona.
With the final order determined by the average of the best laps from the two fastest riders, while YART Yamaha’s Niccolo Canepa and Marvin Fritz lapped quicker than HRC’s Takahashi, Nagashima’s dominance assured HRC the top spot by 0.3secs.
YART Yamaha booked its place into Superpole as the top EWC entry, though HRC’s dominance around its home venue is reflected in Canepa being the only other rider to set a time in the 2min 05s.
Despite doing without a trademark single lap stormer from Rea, the Kawasaki Racing Team could still rely on Leon Haslam and Alex Lowes to land third on the timesheets, ahead of the top domestic JSB1000 entry Astemo Honda Dream Racing, headed up by Kasuke Sakumoto, Kazuma Watanabe and Taiga Hada.
FCC TSR made it three Hondas inside the top five courtesy of strong laps from Josh Hook and Gino Rea, with Mike di Meglio the unlucky ‘red’ rider unable to make an impression on proceedings.
Behind them, sixth place BMW Motorrad World Endurance Team – the only ‘fully foreign’ entry competing without a Japanese rider, bike or tyres – was one of the few to improve their standing from Q1 to Q2 thanks a big gain from Markus Reiterberger in the latter session.
A trio of domestic Honda teams filled positions seventh, eighth and ninth in the order of Honda Dream Sakurai, SDG Racing and Honda Suzuka, with the tenth and final Superpole spot going the way of the EVA 01 Webike Trickstar Kawasaki containing MotoE rider Hikari Okubo, Yuto Sano and endurance veteran Erwan Nigon.
While no team got away with the ill-timed turn in the weather at the end of each session, the inclement conditions were particularly impactful for defending EWC Champions Yoshimura Suzuki SERT after Sylvain Guintoli sat out both Q1 and Q2 to rest a hand injury.
However, his status as a ‘blue’ rider meant SERT had no representative during the first phase of Q1 and Q2 when track conditions were at their best. As a result, it was forced to combine Gregg Black’s best lap in the dry ‘yellow’ session with Kazuki Watanabe’s best from a damp ‘red’ session.
Suzuki – which last month announced it will shut down its 2020 and 2021 title-winning EWC operation at the end of the season – has since confirmed Guintoli will not participate in the Sunday’s race. It is the second blow to SERT this week after its other rider Xavier Simeon was ruled out through COVID, with Gregg Black called up to fly out and replace him just in time for qualifying.
Though Suzuki has a reserve on standby in Suzuki BSB rider Christian Iddon, its communication makes no mention of him, suggesting it will make do with just Black – part of the 2021 EWC winning line-up – and Suzuka specialist Watanabe, who is guesting for this event only.
While the grid for Sunday’s race – which begins at 03.30 UK time and can be followed with a live text commentary here on Crash.net – is now determined from positions 11 down to 45 following Q2, the top ten will now go through to ‘Superpole’ on Saturday.
Two riders from each team will get one chance at a fast lap each with the times combined to determine pole position and the remainder of the top ten for the traditional endurance race ‘sprinting’ start.
Top ten order remains provisional, full Q1 and Q2 combined results to follow