Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo will soon be back to action in the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.
MotoGP is set to return to the "Land of the Rising Sun" for the AirAsia Grand Prix of Japan at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit with Round 15 of the 2012 MotoGP World Championship
marking the only home race for the Japanese OEM’s. It also marks the first of three races run outside Europe before riders return to contest the final at Valencia. Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa
and Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo
will be front and center as they continue to scrape for every possible point in the battle for this year’s title. Lorenzo currently has a 33-point advantage over Pedrosa, but Pedrosa has won three of the last four races and is heading to a round where, in 2011, he beat Lorenzo by over seven seconds for the win. Adding to the eventual drama is the return of Repsol rider and frequent lead-pack contender Casey Stoner
, who will hit the track for the first time since Indianapolis
Since Stoner’s injury at Indy, Pedrosa and Lorenzo have been able to duke it out for the lead without much challenge from the rest of the field. Misano
is the exception since Pedrosa crashed out of competition, but prior to his starting grid penalty and unfortunate contact with Pramac Racing’s Hector Barbera, he was the pole-sitter and appeared to have momentum on his side, having scored wins in the two previous rounds. The incident at Misano didn’t linger long with the Repsol rider as he returned for the following round at Aragon and took the checkers. He’s optimistic about the coming round at Motegi.
"Motegi is a race I always look forward to,” said Pedrosa. “It's the most important weekend for Honda and I really enjoy the circuit. We have now the most demanding period of races ahead, but we will keep taking things step by step, thinking race by race. I love Motegi, it's a track with strong braking and strong acceleration."
In every race Jorge Lorenzo has finished this season he's placed either first or second. Assen is the only round he failed to earn points in after crashing out of compeition.
Lorenzo has been one of the most consistent riders all year though, failing to place just once at Assen
, but taking either first or second in every other contest of 2012. He won at Motegi in 2009 and took second in 2011. The lowest he’s finished at the Japanese circuit is fourth, which he did in 2008 and 2010. Lorenzo displayed strategic acumen in the previous round at Aragon
after Pedrosa got to the front, avoiding a potential crash when he bobbled the bike, then settling in to take points in second rather than risk falling out of the competition in a battle for first. He’s well aware of the strength of his competitors and will adapt as necessary to the conditions in Japan.
“We start the Asiatic tour leading the Championship and are in a good shape after the Aragon race. For sure it’s going to be difficult because our competitors at this moment of the season are very strong but we have to play our cards in the best possible way. Motegi is a track that I like, I won here in 2009 and I think we can fight for the win again this weekend.”
Mathematically, Lorenzo could place second behind Pedrosa in every remaining race and still take the championship since he’d only give up five points per round to the Repsol rider. Casey Stoner’s presence will be a variable in the points race that could drastically affect the battle for the title, if lingering pain from his broken ankle doesn’t affect his performance.
“The last six weeks have been pretty tough for me, I've had to sit around and rest my ankle, get some physio and try to occupy my time —thankfully I've had Ally around to keep me occupied,” said Stoner. “The Motegi circuit is very stop-start with a lot of hard braking and accelerating, it's pretty tough on the body and physically quite demanding. The first session on Friday will be crucial to see how my ankle feels in the boot and the degree of movement I have and pressure I can apply.”
Casey Stoner makes his return to MotoGP after sitting out for six weeks due to an ankle injury sustained at Indy.
An optimal situation for Pedrosa would be to take the win and have Stoner come through in second, so as to pick up at least nine points on the Mallorcan. Stoner will likely be looking to take at least one more win in his professional racing career, meaning the stakes are high for all three riders and action is sure to be as heated as ever through the final rounds of 2012.
Stoner’s four wins and three additional podium finishes helped him amass enough points to remain third overall through his injury, but Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Andrea Dovizioso
has been diligently chipping away from fourth and now sits just seven behind the Australian rider. Dovi has yet to break into the top-two this year, but has taken six third-place finishes so far, five of which came prior to Stoner’s sabbatical. He took fifth at Motegi while riding for Repsol Honda in 2011 and took second there in 2010.
, Dovi’s teammate, ran his first premier-class race at Motegi in 2011 and placed 11th. He currently sits fifth in overall points ahead of Ducati’s Valentino Rossi
and San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista
, who are mathematically tied in sixth. Rossi and his Ducati team are hopeful about their chances to put in a competitive performance at the Japanese circuit, owing to the fact that the machine has performed well at the track in the past. Rossi ended up crashing out of competition in the first lap of the contest at Motegi in 2011, but up to that point was pleased with his pace and setup.
“I like Motegi a lot. It’s a nice track with good grip, and I have a positive memory of last year,” said Rossi. “We steadily improved the bike’s setup over the course of the weekend, and I think I could have had a good race if I hadn’t crashed on the first lap. At the moment, we’re still missing a couple of tenths with our pace to think of the podium, but at the last two races, we were still able to ride at a good, constant rhythm until the end, which is positive. At Motegi we’ll try to continue working in this direction and to take advantage of the Ducati’s potential, which is usually very high at this track."
Nicky Hayden went down in the previous round at Aragon and suffered a small fracture in his right radius.
Rossi’s teammate Nicky Hayden
is set to ride but may be hindered by an injury he sustained in the previous round at Aragon.
“I thought I had escaped unscathed from the crash at Aragon, but unfortunately it looks like I picked up another injury,” said Hayden. “When I got home, my right hand was bothering me a bit, so I went for an X-ray and CT scan, and it turns out I have a fracture in my right radius. It’s definitely not the best situation, but as it’s not too painful and I have pretty good grip strength, I’m hopeful that it won’t cause too many problems this weekend. Racing’s full of ups and downs. We’ll try to ride this one out and hopefully get a decent result in Japan to get a little momentum going and get some confidence back."
Bautista is still working to break in the new Showa forks on his RC213V in the hopes of improving front-end feel, since he was hindered from doing too much work at Aragon due to the mixed weather conditions. He managed to finish sixth in the previous round and is looking to put in a strong performance for his team’s home round.
“Aragon was something of a difficult weekend thanks largely to the mixed weather,” said Bautista. “We were never able to work as we wanted to during practice with the new material that Showa brought for us. In qualifying I struggled for feeling on the front, the bike was moving around a lot on the rear and we were unable to solve our problems in time for the race. I have been competitive at Motegi in the past so I hope to repeat that this weekend. Motegi is a circuit where you need a bike that is stable on the brakes and has good traction in corner exit. It should be well suited to our bike, which has great acceleration.”
Stefan Bradl crashed out in the previous round at Aragon, but has been a consistent top-10 finisher otherwise.
LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl had an unfortunate crash at Aragon that took him out of competition after he lost the front end. He’s been a consistent finisher in the top-10 this season and will be looking to improve his performance though the final rounds of the season.
Lorenzo’s teammate Ben Spies
has faced his share of misfortune as well this year, though he has placed fifth in the previous two rounds and is hopeful that he can continue to maintain his positive momentum.
“I’m looking forward to the weekend,” said Spies. “We had some bad luck last year on the first lap when Valentino crashed but we had really good pace. We’ve had a couple of decent results running up to this weekend so hopefully we can put together a good result for Yamaha here at their home race.”
Power Electronics Aspar’s Randy de Puniet heads up the CRT effort in 12th overall, ahead of teammate Aleix Espargaro. The two have gone head-to-head in a number of races in the battle to earn top CRT honors, regularly finishing well ahead of the other Claiming Rules riders on the grid.
Action starts on Friday with riders taking to the track for the opening practice sessions, followed by qualifying on Saturday and the main event on Sunday.