Dovizioso fires Marquez warning in Japan MotoGP practice

Ducati Team Italian rider Andrea Dovizioso participates in the first practice session ahead of the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Motegi, Tochigi prefecture on Friday. — AFP

MOTEGI, Japan — Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso fanned his flickering MotoGP title hopes by clocking the fastest time in free practice Friday ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix.

The Italian set a quickest lap time of one minute, 45.358 seconds in the morning session at Motegi, edging out Cal Crutchlow (Honda), Johann Zarco (Yamaha) and Honda's Marc Marquez, who can secure a third straight title this weekend.

Honda's Dani Pedrosa topped the timesheets in a damp afternoon session with a 1:48.136 as riders and mechanics kept one eye on the darkening skies.

"We knew the bike would be quick here," said Dovizioso, who needs victory on Sunday to have any realistic chance of delaying Marquez's coronation.

"But we can still improve in certain areas. There's too much talk about how the race could go. We will be competitive — but so will Marc."

Meanwhile, three-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo pulled out of the race after deeming his fractured wrist had not healed sufficiently following a ginger out lap on his Ducati.

Runaway championship leader Marquez, who effectively has his first match point in Japan this week, and Dovizioso opted to stay in the garage for the second session.

Marquez, who leads Dovizioso by 77 points with just a maximum 100 points available from the final four races this season, can join Australian legend Mick Doohan on five premier class world titles depending on where his Italian rival finishes.

The 25-year-old Spaniard would trail Italians Valentino Rossi, who won the last of his seven championships in 2009, and Giacomo Agostini, whose eighth came in 1975.

"Dovi is the man to beat for us all," insisted Marquez, attempting to apply some early psychological pressure.

"He will be fast this weekend so I have to stay focused on him as he's the only one who can pinch the title from me."

Dovizioso, who finished runner-up to Marquez last season, won in Japan last year but even a repeat may not be enough to dash the Spanish star's hat-trick hopes.

Marquez's younger brother Alex suffered a heavy fall after clipping a wet kerb in Moto2 practice, flipping over his handlebars in a sickening spill, but walked away unscathed. — AFP