The Repsol Honda star’s 63rd MotoGP pole came at the scene of his 62nd, back in the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix.
But Marquez has been through a lot in between, surgery to his right shoulder plus four operations on his upper right arm, mixed with two episodes of diplopia.
Motegi is only the second event of Marquez’s comeback from an invasive bone realignment procedure on the arm and, while his speed is not in doubt, the eight-time world champion insists he’s not a victory or podium contender.
“Of course, I’m really happy to come back to the pole position,” Marquez said. “It’s only pole position, it’s in the wet, but in the situation we are in, with the team and Honda, struggling a lot, it’s really good news for us.
“We need this small achievement, this small motivation and fresh air inside the box.
“I tried to attack and I did a good lap, I didn’t exaggerate [over-ride the bike] and it was enough to be in pole position.
“Also in the wet I feel the weak points of the bike less and I can take profit from that situation.
“But tomorrow [in the dry] will be a different story. We will come back to our natural place, right now.
“Of course, I would like to be in the top, I would like to fight for the podium, I would like to fight for the top five. But it’s not the time.
“Always when I have a small chance, I will try. Because it’s my character and the same as when I arrived in MotoGP. But tomorrow will be a very long race. I already feel on Friday that I will struggle to be consistent and attack in all the laps.
“But we will see.”
Quartararo: Put some money on Marquez for the win
“[Marquez] is strong and made 45.0-45.1 with the medium rear tyre [in the dry on Friday],” said the Frenchman, who qualified in ninth. “For sure that was a kind of time attack, but 45.1 with the medium is really fast.
“He has the speed. He has the pace and he’s starting from the pole. So I think you can put a coin on him for the victory.”
Miller: Marc’s said that 1,000 times before!
Jack Miller, fastest in the dry on Friday, also believes Marquez will be a contender on Sunday.
“I mean of course Marc because he is going well and we all know he can turn it on, on the Sunday,” said the factory Ducati rider, who qualified seventh.
“[I don’t know] whether or not the fitness is there in his shoulder… It’s quite physical around here. A lot of hard braking, a lot of pressing, using your arms to try and keep yourself afloat.
“It’ll be interesting to see what he can do. Of course, he says he’s not [in contention], but you know, he’s said that 1,000 times before!
“I think he’ll be a threat, plus Pecco, Fabio, those guys, the normal lot. Enea [Bastianini] is pretty buried down there but we know he always has decent race pace. Even the KTMs, Binder was strong yesterday and again today and he can generally turn it on a little bit more on a Sunday.
“I think there will be a few boys challenging, especially with the unknowns. I mean, not doing too many laps around here [this weekend] and not being here for three years.
“There’s a lot of unknowns going into the race tomorrow, I like it!”
Marquez: My opponents don’t understand!
Told that his rivals had picked him as one of the favourites for Sunday’s race, Marquez responded:
“My opponents don’t understand on Friday how I was riding! I mean, if the race is 10 laps I will say ‘OK, yes the level is there, the speed is there’. But for 24 laps of the race, I’m not ready.
“I already understand on Friday that I’m not ready to attack all the laps and then I need to be calm because in Aragon I was able to ride like I want and keep constant. But here the problem is I cannot use all my energy in the first laps.”
Marquez: The last surgery was like a victory, but…
Although yet to put a race distance on his ‘new’ right arm due to the opening lap drama in Aragon, and told by doctors it will take until this winter to get the best from his muscles, Marquez already classes the latest surgery as a ‘victory’.
“Already, right now, the last surgery for me is a victory, because I can have a normal life and I don’t feel pain all the time. So for me the last surgery was already a success
“Now we need to understand if for racing, for my professional life, it’s also a success.
“In the wet yes, because today I confirmed that my arm position was in a perfect way and I was able to brake like I want, go in, pick up the bike and I’m very happy about that.
“I can in ride in wet conditions better than dry because the effort of the muscles is less and I was able to keep my arm position as I like. Then in dry conditions everything becomes more difficult because still I’m not ready to attack all the laps.
“But we cannot understand right now what will be the 100% [recovery] of this arm, because they’ve opened the arm in four different places now. So the muscles are also damaged and we don’t know what will be the maximum [recovery].
“This winter we will understand and then I will have the answer. But it’s going in a good way.”
Marquez – who remains the top Honda rider in the world championship (15th) despite missing 8 of the 15 races – has a best result of fourth so far this season.