Jorge Lorenzo: “First of all I just want to thank my team, my Mum, Dad and whole family, my friends and all the team workers. Also Yamaha, as it is their home race, it was a difficult race because I didn’t really get a very good start, I think I even finished the first lap in third or fourth. After that I began to catch up the pace. I passed Valentino and opened up a little gap, about a second and a half, and he was following me very hard. I had to ride the best I can to get the victory.”.
Jorge Lorenzo claimed his second career MotoGP victory with an impressive win at Motegi. The sophomore Spaniard proved his championship title aspirations by besting his teammate and the current champion, Valentino Rossi, who finished second. Rounding out the podium was a surprising result from Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa. As for Rossi’s expected rival, Ducati’s Casey Stoner, it was a fourth-place result for the Aussie.
The 24-lap race began with Rossi jumping out from pole position to claim the holeshot. Stoner ultimately missed the podium due to his poor start, which saw him down in the mix battling in fifth. Pedrosa scored the best start, jumping up from 11th on the grid to claim second and battle with fellow countryman and eventual winner, Lorenzo. The worst opening lap belonged to Nicky Hayden, who was unceremoniously t-boned by the sole Japanese rider on the grid, Yuki Takahashi. Both riders were done for the day, gathering DNFs.
Rossi owned the early laps as Pedrosa and Lorenzo tussled for second, with Lorenzo eventually getting the upper hand. Stoner went backwards, even getting passed by his old teammate Marco Melandri, with the lone Kawasaki pilot battling with Stoner and Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen for fifth.
Valentino Rossi: “It’s a good race, second place is not a victory but it’s still twenty points for the championship. I think the championship will become very interesting now because we have four riders ready to battle for wins at the end.”
As the race settled in the middle laps, the two factory Yamahas held 1-2, as the factory Hondas took 3-4. As Lorenzo and Rossi closed, Pedrosa took advantage, creeping up to make it a three-man race up front. Dovizioso held fourth, with Stoner finally starting to match Rossi’s laptimes, but the Ducati rider was 5 seconds back and four riders behind. On Lap 8, Lorenzo made his move and put Rossi in second for good.
At the halfway mark Lorenzo retained the lead over Rossi, with the Repsol Hondas losing ground and Dovizioso looking to get around Pedrosa. But then with 9 to go Rossi started to fade, as Pedrosa gained ground, Dovizioso no longer threatening his teammate for position.
Soon Pedrosa and Rossi were fighting for second, the Spaniard repeatedly making the pass only to have Rossi get the position back. All the while Lorenzo continued to gain, opening up a two-second lead over Rossi and Pedrosa who would continue to trade positions.
With 5 to go it was Lorenzo’s turn to fade, as Rossi began his charge. The defending champ left Pedrosa behind as he started to run down the leader, but there were not enough laps and Lorenzo was too strong and powered to the line for the win. The most important move in the closing laps may have come from Stoner, who quietly managed to track down Dovizioso and take fourth, a potentially crucial move in the championship picture.
Casey Stoner: “On the warm-up lap I felt I a lot of chatter from the front brakes, they weren’t smooth and I wasn’t confident over the first five or six laps. I really didn’t know what to do, I wasn’t able to brake where I wanted to and I wasn’t confident. Maybe I could have gone faster but I don’t know how safe that would have been. Anyway, I lost a lot of positions at the beginning of the race and I spent too much time battling to get past. When I got closer to the front it was a bit too late, unfortunately. I tried to stay as consistent as I could and when I got closer to Andrea I rode a bit harder because I saw it was possible to pass him. So the race was not completely lost, we didn’t lose that many points and this is a much better start to the season than last year, so we can definitely feel positive going into the next one.”
Speaking of which, Lorenzo’s victory gives the Yamaha rider 41 points, a one-point advantage over Rossi. Stoner is not far behind, however, himself just two points down from the Doctor. The factory Hondas fill out the top five in the points, Dovizioso one point ahead of Pedrosa at 22.
The carnage at Motegi was substantial. On top of Takahashi and Hayden’s early exit, both Gresini Honda’s Toni Elias and Ducati privateer Sete Gibernau lowsided. Other troubles on the track included Colin Edwards dropping from contention early, with obvious problems to his Tech 3 Yamaha. Suzuki’s Vermeulen also dropped valuable positions as the race dragged on after showing promise in the opening laps.
Notable finishes include a very strong sixth by Marco Melandri. Saddled with the troubled Kawasaki project, Melandri is getting back to his old self with some strong rides. As for Loris Capirossi, the veteran rider took a steady seventh at Motegi. One rider making his name in the early rounds is Mika Kallio, who scored yet another top-10 finish aboard the Pramac d’Antin Ducati. Meanwhile, former WSB riders James Toseland and Vermeulen rounded out the top 10.
The MotoGP paddock now packs up and heads to Europe, with the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez on May 3.
Dani Pedrosa: “I’m very happy with this result. I’ve had injury problems for a long time – since last October – and so to be on the podium in the second race of the season is fantastic for me, and really we didn’t expect this so soon. I got a good start – the start was really the key part of my race – and I was able to get away with the front group. I couldn’t really believe it when I stayed with them because I was expecting to drop back after maybe one or two laps. But then it was lap five or six and I was still there and I was thinking, ‘this is unbelievable’. In the end I was near the front for the whole race, had a good battle for second, and finished on the podium so this is great. We still have to sort out some issues on the machine, but it’s a very positive result going in to the Jerez, and I’d like to say big thanks to the team and the fans.”
Andrea Dovizioso: “I’m pretty happy after this race because, considering that we struggled a lot during all the practice sessions, we were able to stay near the front for
24 laps. I was pushing really hard for a podium finish for the whole race but in the end I couldn’t make it. It was a tough race and this is a very demanding track, with many hard braking zones so we struggled a lot physically to achieve this result. I think me and Dani just gritted our teeth and got on with it today. It’s promising because we’ve reduced the gap to the guys in the front. I was 27 seconds behind the winner in Qatar and only 9 seconds behind here, so this is a good step forward. But we must keep on working hard. I have to give my compliments to Dani – he did a great race. I made a good start and was able to maintain a good pace during the race, but we still have to fine-tune the machine so that we can be really competitive.”
James Toseland: “I needed to be back in the top ten, so today was the step I’ve been looking for. We made a big step with the front-end setting on Friday in just the 45 minutes of dry track time we had this weekend and it helped me a lot.
MotoGP Motegi Results:
1. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
2. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
3. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
4. Casey Stoner (Ducati)
5. Andrea Dovizoso (Honda)
6. Marco Melandri (Kawasaki)
7. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki)
8. Mika Kallio (Ducati)
9. James Toseland (Yamaha)
10. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki)
11. Randy de Puniet (Honda)
12. Colin Edwards (Yamaha)
13. Alex de Angelis (Honda)
14. Niccolo Canepa (Ducati)
15. Toni Elias (Honda)
DNF Sete Gibernau (Ducati)
DNF Yuki Takahashi (Honda)
DNF Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
Chris Vermeulen: “From about the second or third lap I started to have a problem shifting gear heading into the turns and it made it difficult to stay consistent. I felt like I’d got it under control, but then the problem got worse from about lap six as I lost all shifting up and down without having to shut the throttle or use the clutch – so it was quite difficult! Other than that the bike worked really well and I felt like I could have challenged somewhere close to the front, but that’s all ifs, buts and maybes and we now have to make sure what caused the problem today never happens again! If we can keep the speed we’ve had recently we will go to Jerez in a positive frame of mind and if we can iron-out all the little things, then I am sure we can start to challenge for podiums!”
Loris Capirossi: “The bike was not too bad, but I never really found a good rhythm and feel from the tires. I want to say that I am really sorry to all my team and everybody that has been working so hard this weekend. We need to go better than that and this weekend we just didn’t perform well enough!”