Casey Stoner started 2009 in stellar form, but can the Aussie keep his advantage over Rossi in Japan?
Casey Stoner (Ducati) leads MotoGP heading into Round 2 of the 2009 championship at the Motegi Circuit in Japan. In an eventful opening Grand Prix in Qatar, Stoner netted 25 points with the Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici GP9 in a resounding victory after a rain-delayed race. Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo rounded out the podium on their factory YZR-M1s.
The race weekend at The Twin Ring Motegi kicks off just 11 days after Qatar, placing a premium on preparation time for both the technicians and riders, who must adjust to a very different sort of track. Compared to the fast flowing opening round in Losail, Motegi demands hard braking and emphasizes low-gear, heavy accelerations.
For several years now the Motegi circuit has been one of the final dates on the Grand Prix calendar and the scene of great drama. Casey Stoner claimed the 2007 title at Motegi, as did Valentino Rossi in 2008. The Ducati Marlboro Team has enjoyed past successes at Motegi with a hat-trick of wins for Loris Capirossi between 2005 and 2007 and second place for Stoner in 2008. Now the Motegi circuit will set the tone at the beginning of the year.
Rossi scored the win during last year’s Japanese GP, which capped a five-race winning streak for the Doctor in 2008. The Italian will be focused on besting Stoner after finishing second under the Qatar floodlights. Rossi complained of losing traction in the latter laps at Qatar, so the Yamaha team is actively trying to improve their bike’s settings in order to give Rossi and Lorenzo consistent traction throughout the race.
Rossi’s teammate, Jorge Lorenzo, is third with 16 points. The Spaniard has scored only one podium before at Motegi, with a third in 2006 on the way to the first of his two 250cc titles. Last year he was less than two seconds shy of Dani Pedrosa’s third-place time.
Colin Edwards took fourth at Qatar for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 satellite team. The Texan looks to improve on his seventh-place finish last year at Motegi with the Yamaha M1. The Texas Tornado looked good at Qatar, charging up from ninth after Lap 1 to his eventual fourth. The American will be looking for his first career podium at Motegi.
All six Honda riders finished in the points at Qatar and have higher expectations for the RC212V on the home Motegi track. MotoGP tire suppler Bridgestone has traditionally been very strong at the circuit and with all the Honda riders now on the Japanese rubber, hopes are high for an entertaining race across the field. The best among them was Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso in fifth place. Dovi was in a podium position as late as the seventh lap at Qatar before being slowed by a front grip issue he hadn’t encountered in practice or qualifying.
After controversially side-swiping factory rider Dani Pedrosa, Alex de Angelis (San Carlo Gresini Honda) closed to within 2.6 seconds of Dovizioso for sixth in Qatar. The 2008 campaign for the San Marino rider was marked by ups and downs and a strong finish in the Japanese Grand Prix would show that he’s capable of consistent results in ’09.
Loris Capirossi dominated Motegi while racing for the Ducati factory team. Rizla Suzuki would like to see more of the same aboard the GSV-R.
Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi will be looking to exalt the GSV-R with a podium in honor of the 100th anniversary of Suzuki in Japan. Capirossi became a three-time winner at the Twin-Ring Motegi Circuit with Ducati, but past experience doesn’t always translate into success. The Italian can only improve upon his disappointing DNF crash at Qatar. On the other hand, teammate Vermeulen took a hard-fought seventh in Qatar. The Australian could use the momentum coming into Japan, where his race-best has only been 11th.
Privateer Ducati rider Mika Kallio (Pramac Racing) will try to maintain the same level of his impressive eighth-place debut. The Finnish rider has shown a particular affinity with the Japanese track, winning twice in 125cc MotoGP and once in 250cc Grand Prix.
Toni Elias will be returning to the Japanese track where he scored his final podium on a Honda in 2007. Elias left Qatar knowing that improvements needed to be made to both the machine and his riding, and he arrives at Motegi eager to put new strategies to test.
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V) had a career best second place at Motegi in 2007, but was hobbled by a wrist injury last year. The 28-year-old Frenchman is now in perfect health and doesn’t expect the front end problems he and many others suffered in Qatar to hinder him in the stop-and-go Japan circuit.
Nicky Hayden will be looking to rebound from a particularly rough extended-weekend in Qatar. The Kentucky Kid recovered from a host of setbacks to battle from 16th on the grid to finish 12th in Qatar. The 27-year-old has raced Motegi the last five consecutive years, with a pair of fifth-place finishes his top achievements.
Honda fans will be anxiously watching Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who continues to recover from injuries to his left knee and wrist that were worsened after taking a hit in Qatar. Pedrosa finished the 2008 Japanese Grand Prix on the podium, but this race will prove more challenging since he won’t be at 100% fitness.
Yuki Takahashi’s second MotoGP race will be in front of his fellow countrymen. Twin Ring Motegi Circuit is home to almost half of the podium positions Takahashi accrued before entering MotoGP, so he should be able to make a stronger showing on the Scot Racing Team RC212V than his 15th place finish in Qatar.
The results in Japan will shape the point standings before the championship heads back west to its traditional European base the following week at Jerez, Spain.
Casey Stoner – Ducati Marlboro Team – 1st in championship, 25 points
”I’ve finished on the podium in every class at Motegi (2nd in 2003 in 125, 3rd in 2005 in 250 and 2nd in 2008 in MotoGP) but there have been other times when things haven’t gone so well. I have always thought that the track is more suited to car racing than bikes, with so many hard braking and acceleration points, but in general I don’t dislike it and if you have a good set-up it can be really fun. We haven’t tested here in preseason whereas we had in Qatar, so we’ll see how we get on starting from zero, with less practice time available. I’m fairly confident; the set-up we found in testing has worked well at different kinds of circuits so we should have a decent base setting to work from at Motegi. In any case, we won’t take anything for granted – we’ll keep working hard together and stay focused.”
Valentino Rossi – Fiat Yamaha Team – 2nd in championship, 20 points
“My memories of last year at Motegi are incredible, because it was such a special victory after two year’s without the championship. This year of course will be very different, it’s only the second race and it will be quite strange going there so early in the championship. In Qatar we had one or two small areas that could have been better, so we will be trying hard to improve our setting during the practice time so that we’re able to run at the front on Sunday. I expect that Stoner will be strong again, so we just need to reduce the gap to him so that we can put up more of a fight. In the past Motegi hasn’t been a great track for me and I’ve had some bad races there, but I think last year cancelled that all out so I hope it can be successful for us once again this year.”
Jorge Lorenzo – Fiat Yamaha Team – 3rd in championship, 16 points
“This is my second year with Yamaha in MotoGP and the second time going to our home! I feel very motivated about racing in Japan. Qatar was a huge beginning for us although I couldn’t keep the same pace as Valentino and Casey. I will try to be much closer to them in Motegi; that is the main aim for this race. Last year I took my last pole position of 2008, but in the race I was fourth after a nice battle with Pedrosa, fighting until the last lap. I hope that this year I will be fighting right at the front.”
Honda will want a RC212V on the podium in Motegi and Andrea Dovizioso might be the man for the task.
Andrea Dovizioso – Repsol Honda Team – 5th in championship, 11 points
“It’s important to arrive in Japan after the experience of one race. I’m happy we raced in Qatar as we have understood more about the bike. During the race some new issues arose and so we have had the time to analyze them. I think during the race we could have done a bit better. We have collected important data and we had time to do auto critica (to analyze the issues in a critical way) and for me it was an important experience. I look forward to the Japan GP. The GP of Japan is the home Grand Prix for Honda HRC, so I’d like to have a good result there. I like the atmosphere on Sunday; there are many Japanese fans supporting Honda and the Honda riders so I look forward to going there. This year Honda celebrates their 50th anniversary of involvement in motor racing and it’s an honor for me to race for the HRC factory in this important year”.
Alex De Angelis – San Carlo Honda Gresini – 6th in championship, 10 points
“Motegi is quite a technical circuit and I like it a lot. The section after the tunnel, which is a series of fast corners, is my strong part. Over the years in 250cc I made so many passes there. It won’t be an easy race for us because there are so many hard acceleration points coming out of slow corners and last year we had a really tough weekend, struggling to find a comfortable setting despite the best efforts of the team. We had a good start to the season in Qatar two weeks ago, so hopefully the base setting is useful here too. If we can work well from the first session and make quick progress with the set-up then we should be able to put in a strong performance”.
Chris Vermeulen – Rizla Suzuki MotoGP – 7th in championship, 9 points
“It is really important to get back on the bike as soon as possible and try to rectify the issues we had in the race at Qatar. The bike was working well all weekend, but it seemed to feel very different in the race. The Factory has been working hard since then and there will be a lot of extra staff at the race in Motegi so we won’t be short of a helping hand! I really want to give Suzuki a good result at its home Grand Prix and I am sure that we will this year. I am looking forward to going there as I really enjoy racing in Japan and will be doing my best to get the bike on the podium!”
Mika Kallio – Pramac Racing Team – 8th in championship, 8 points
“Last year I didn’t make it to go further then the eleventh position, but for sure I have great memories of this circuit in my still short career. I made it to step on the highest step of the podium in three occasions: in 2007 in the 250 class and in 2005 and 2006 in the 125 class. For sure it will not be easy to confirm these results in my debut in the top class, but without a doubt I will give my best to come as close as possible.”
Toni Elias – San Carlo Honda Gresini – 9th in championship, 7 points
“I have always loved Motegi and to race there for HRC gives you an extra motivation to do a good job. We have to be realistic and keep our feet on the ground in terms of our expectations, because the situation we’re in at the moment demands it. But hopefully we can get a little bit of help and with it being a track I like so much we can improve on the performance from Qatar – this is the principal objective. Motegi is a circuit with lots of heavy braking and I have always been good on the brakes, which I think is why my record is so good there, but this is an area we’re struggling with at the moment. So it is fundamental we fix that particular problem because good braking is a weapon we really need here”.
Randy De Puniet – LCR Honda – 10th in championship, 6 points
“Despite the delay of the race I think that our first round at Losail was not so bad. Basically, I expected a better result-maybe between 5th and 8th places-but the top ten is an amazing start for us. We still have to fix the problem with the front tyre, but I do not want to lose too much time on it. We must focus our efforts on the next round. I like the Japanese track and think is more suitable to my riding style. Despite last year’s result due to my wrist injury, I still have good memory about this circuit: I obtained my first MotoGP podium here! Thanks to the base set-up we developed in Qatar, I am sure I will enjoy racing there. The straight is shorter than at the Losail race track and the I like the stop-and-go braking points”.
Dani Pedrosa – Repsol Honda – 11th in championship, 5 points
“I’m looking forward to this weekend in Japan. My leg is improving all the time and the knee is gaining a little bit more mobility every day. I don’t have the full range of movement yet, but I think that by the time we get to Motegi I’ll have about ten degrees more of movement than in Qatar, which should make quite a big difference. My elbow is also getting better after the hit De Angelis gave me in Qatar – there’s still some pain and stiffness but I hope it won’t be a problem in Japan. My priority is still to reach full fitness so that I can ride at 100 per cent, and then we must focus on the machine, because I missed out on quite a lot of winter testing and we’re still not at the level we’d like to be. It’s a case of taking things one step at time – first to get full fitness and then improve the bike step by step. Motegi is a track I like though, and I’ve won races there in the past so I’m looking forward to getting the best result possible at Honda’s home track”.
The Kentucky Kid suffered technical troubles to go with a nasty highside at Qatar, but will be looking for better results in the land of the rising sun.
Nickey Hayden – Ducati Marlboro Team – 12th in championship, 4 points
“My first GP with Ducati didn’t exactly go as I’d hoped but we took some positives out of it – I lapped quicker in the second half of the race than I had done all weekend and above all I felt comfortable on the bike. Hopefully this will help us work out what it is exactly that I need to improve my feeling with the bike because being so far off the pace in practice wasn’t cool! Physically I’m okay – no doubt the race was tough because I was pretty beaten up but I’ve recovered well and I don’t expect to have any problems in Japan. I’ll probably go to the Clinica on Thursday to have the stitches removed and that will be the end of the matter. I’m really keen to do well in this race and even though I’ve always had a kind of love-hate relationship with Motegi – with some good results and some bad ones – it is always a special Grand Prix.”
Yuki Takahashi – Scot Racing Team MotoGP – 15th in championship, 1 point
“Motegi is my home race and I have my fans here. So you can imagine how important a good race will be for me. We used to come to Japan later in the season when it is warmer. I hope the meteorological condition will be good – not too cold. In Qatar I understood several things about my Honda. If you add to it the fact that I know very well this track, you can understand why I’m confident of having a good race”.
Loris Capirossi – Rizla Suzuki MotoGP – DNF
“After what happened in Qatar, we now go to a track that I know well and have had lots of good times at I was very disappointed at Losail but that race has gone now and we have had time to see what happened. I hope I can have a very good result in Japan for the Suzuki guys that have put in all the hard work in the winter to give us a bike that we can now be competitive on. I have won here before and want to do it again, so I will be making sure we get everything right for race-day to give us the best possible chance of achieving that!”