Twin Ring Motegi hosts the penultimate round of the 2013 MotoGP World Championship
, and following the recent debacle in Australia the title still remains up for grabs. The main contenders are current leader Marc Marquez of Repsol Honda and defending champion Jorge Lorenzo of Yamaha Factory Racing. Just 18 points separate the two thanks to an unprecedented bike-swap penalty levied against Marquez at Phillip Island
which disqualified him from the race after he ran one lap over the limit Race Direction imposed earlier in the day. After Bridgestone declared its tires incapable of completing the original race distance, Race Direction reduced the contest to 19 laps and required riders to swap bikes either after Lap 9 or Lap 10 in order to ensure tires remained safely operable on track. The mandatory bike-swap was a first in MotoGP history and all but Marquez and Go & Fun Honda Gresini CRT rider Bryan Staring completed the switch as directed.
Marquez lost his opportunity to seal the title in Australia but could clinch it in Japan if he was to win and Lorenzo placed anywhere but the runner-up spot. The tight, technical nature of Motegi has suited Honda over the past two years with Marquez’s teammate Dani Pedrosa taking wins there in 2011 and 2012. It’s also Big Red’s home track and a frequent testing ground for the RCV machine. Lorenzo’s no slouch at Motegi though, and he finished second to Pedrosa in the past two occasions at the Japanese circuit. The fire for a title that just one week ago appeared to be almost out of reach may help propel the Mallorcan to the top-step for the first time since 2009.
Pedrosa still has a mathematical shot at the championship, sitting 34 points adrift of the leader, but it’s an outside chance at best. Pedrosa would benefit most from a win and a zero scoring round for Lorenzo and Marquez, but even then would still have to earn 10 more points in the final to clear his teammate’s current total. While Pedrosa’s chances may be unlikely, the recent instances of contact between Lorenzo and Marquez in the previous rounds have made for some close calls and if both remain as tenacious at Motegi, who’s to say what might happen.
Lorenzo’s teammate, Valentino Rossi, sits fourth in the standings and will battle to add a seventh podium to his season total at Motegi. The Doctor hasn’t earned a top-three finish at the Japanese circuit since 2010 when he placed third and hasn’t won at the track since his title-winning 2008 season. He’s bound to face more pressure from Tech 3 Yamaha’s Cal Crutchlow and Go & Fun Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista, two riders that have consistently challenged Rossi throughout the season. Though neither Rossi, Bautista or Crutchlow have been able to sustain pace with the lead pack when all are in competitive health, the battles for fourth through sixth-place have provided some compelling action on track.
Another satellite rider, LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl, may make his return to the fray at Motegi but will need to be cleared by doctors on site before he can suit up for the first practice session. Bradl fractured his ankle at Sepang and missed the Australian Grand Prix completely.
Ducati duo Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden enter the Japanese GP with no illusions about the difficulty Motegi presents for the Duc. Dovi is hopeful that the potentially cooler temperatures compared to Sepang and Phillip Island may play to the advantage of his Desmosedici. Hayden, on the other hand, sees the stop-and-go layout of the track as a potential issue for the machine, which may be prone to wheelieing more than usual coming out of the numerous tight turns on acceleration.
In the CRT ranks, Power Electronics Aspar’s Aleix Espargaro is the 2013 class champion and was fastest among Claiming Rules riders at Motegi in 2012. Espargaro’s teammate, Randy de Puniet, finally got the best of his teammate in the previous round at Phillip Island, finishing one position ahead of the Spanish rider, and will fight to make it two in a row in Japan. NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards has been more successful during the latter portion of the current season than at any point since mounting a CRT. Expect the American to continue challenging the Aspar riders in Motegi.
One technical rule change that may play a role is the allowance of 340mm carbon brake discs, 20mm larger than regulation size. The rule was changed to account for the hard braking required at the circuit.