Japanese GP, Motegi: Preview – MotoGP, Moto2, 125cc
The Grand Prix of Japan takes place this weekend as the 2011 MotoGP World Championship heads into a swift conclusion which will see three of the final four rounds – starting at Motegi – take place in the space of three weeks.
Taking a 44-point lead into this weekend’s 15th round is Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner, who with victory last time out at Aragón – his eighth of the season – extended his advantage at the top over defending World Champion Jorge Lorenzo. Stoner won last year’s race at Motegi and a repeat of that result would put him in a position to be able to secure the 2011 title in the following round, his home race at Phillip Island.
The Australian knows that is purely hypothetical at the moment however and remains fully focused on taking each race as it comes. Likewise Lorenzo knows that whilst his chances of retaining his title are now slim, there is still everything to play for. The Yamaha Factory Racing rider was fourth in last year’s Motegi race on his way to the 2010 title, but won the previous year so knows his way around the Japanese track well.
Consistency has been the cornerstone of Andrea Dovizioso’s 2011 season and is the reason for the Repsol Honda rider’s current position of third in the Championship, but the rarity of a DNF at Aragón – the first time he has failed to score points in a race this season – will have angered the Italian. He will be keen to put that right at a circuit at which he finished second in last year’s race.
Close on the tail of Dovizioso after a third straight second-placed finish in the previous round, Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) is looking to score wins as 2011 draws to a close and would be eager to do so at a track at which he sustained a broken collarbone in a practice crash last year. Yamaha Factory Racing rider Ben Spies would also dearly love to add to his win tally having taken a debut GP victory earlier in the year, as he chases a possible top-four Championship spot.
One of the protagonists of the battle of the season last year was Valentino Rossi, who fought then team-mate Jorge Lorenzo fiercely for the final podium position at Motegi. The Italian finds himself in a very different situation this year however as the search for an improvement in performance continues at Ducati, with Rossi and factory team-mate Nicky Hayden currently sixth and seventh respectively in the overall standings.
Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini) scored a 250cc win at Motegi in his title-winning 2008 campaign and the Italian will be challenging to add to his single podium achieved at Brno this year, and Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) currently complete the Championship top ten. For Aoyama the Motegi round presents the most important race of the year for the Japanese rider as he aims to reward the home fans with a solid result.
The MotoGP field will be expanded this weekend with the addition of two further names, with HRC test riders Kousuke Akiyoshi and Shinichi Itoh both participating in the Grand Prix of Japan. Akiyoshi, who rode at Assen earlier this year, will be on an LCR Honda with Itoh on an RC212V for the Honda Racing Team.
Loris Capirossi will unfortunately not be able to ride this weekend after the Pramac Racing rider suffered a heavy crash at Aragón which aggravated an existing right shoulder injury. The Italian hopes to be fit for the following round in Australia.
With just four rounds of the 2011 season now remaining the most closely matched of the three World Championship categories – Moto2 – guarantees to serve up another gripping instalment this weekend.
With victory at Aragón, his seventh of the year in his rookie Moto2 campaign, Marc Márquez narrowed Championship leader Stefan Bradl’s advantage at the top of the standings to just six points. Motegi will now commence a packed schedule of three races in as many weeks, as the fascinating duel between the German and his Spanish pursuant nears its climax.
Bradl, who suffered a problem with his rear wheel at Aragón which played a pivotal part in his eighth-placed finish, will seek to halt Márquez’s alarming run of devastating form which has seen the 2010 125cc World Champion win six of the past seven Moto2 races. The Viessmann Kiefer Racing rider himself has not won a race since Silverstone, maintaining his lead with a consistent run of podium finishes, but will need a return to race-winning ways if he is to deal with his adversary’s surge. Both have previously won at Motegi in the 125cc class, Bradl in 2008 and Márquez last year, thus adding to the anticipation.
Aside from the engrossing two-way tussle at the top there is another great contest playing out below the title aspirants, as five riders contend for third position in the Championship. Andrea Iannone (Speed Master), Alex de Angelis (JiR Moto2), Simone Corsi (Ioda Racing Project), Bradley Smith (Tech 3 Racing) and Thomas Lüthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2) are all in with a chance of finishing third, and will all be out to impress in the final races of the season.
Currently eighth in the standings Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing) will be fully prepared for a strong effort at his home Grand Prix, whilst British rider Scott Redding will be eager to turn his recent strong form into a first podium result of the season. His Marc VDS Racing team-mate Mika Kallio has a very strong record at the Motegi circuit having won three times (twice in 125s and once in the 250cc class), and the Finn would love to rediscover that kind of form as he continues his search for a first Moto2 podium.
Elsewhere Turkish rider Kenan Sofuoglu (Technomag-CIP) is set to make his return from injury although Julián Simón (Mapfre Aspar) will not be present after further surgery on the leg he injured back in June.
Tomoyoshi Koyama, who filled in for Sofuoglu in the Turk’s absences at Misano and Aragón, will ride as a wild card under the CIP with TSR team banner, and former 125 World Championship rider Takaaki Nakagami replacing Claudio Corti on the Italtrans STR machine for this GP.
Round 14 of the 125cc World Championship will see current standings leader Nico Terol and his main title rival Johann Zarco go head to head once more as the Spaniard looks to extend his advantage whilst the Frenchman continues in search of a first GP win.
With victory at Aragón Terol extended his lead at the top over Zarco to 36 points, taking his eighth win of the season and consigning his rival to a sixth second-placed result if 2011. Terol’s win was also the 14th consecutive victory for Aprilia in the class, the manufacturer’s longest ever sequence of successive victories in the category.
Knowing that catching the Bankia Aspar rider remains a tough task Zarco’s determination to taste a first GP victory continues to drive the Avant-AirAsia-Ajo rider on. Neither Terol or any other rider on the current 125cc grid has previously won a GP race at the Motegi circuit.
As the battle rages between those two at the top the fantastic rookie season of Maverick Viñales (Blusens by Paris Hilton Racing) continues. Third place at Aragón was the precocious 16 year-old’s seventh podium of his debut year in the World Championship, and few would bet against the talented young Spaniard adding spice to the title fight with a charge for victory of his own in Japan.
More experienced heads in Sandro Cortese (Intact Racing Team Germany) and Jonas Folger (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) will also have an eye on challenging the leading group at this round, where Folger is set to make his 50th Grand Prix start. If the German lines up on the grid on Sunday he will become the third youngest rider ever reach the milestone, with only Scott Redding and Jorge Lorenzo having done so at a younger age.
The Spanish contingency of Efrén Vázquez (Avant-AirAsia-Ajo), Luis Salom (RW Racing) and Alberto Moncayo (Andalucia Banca Civica) will all push to be at the front, whilst Héctor Faubel (Bankia Aspar) is expected to be fit to ride after crashing out at Aragón on the final lap when battling with Zarco for second position. British rookie Danny Kent (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) will also look to consolidate what has so far been an impressive debut year, and he currently completes the top ten as it stands in the Championship.
Japanese fans will have five young talents to cheer on this weekend with wild cards Takehiro Yamamoto (Team Nobby), Kikari Ookubo (18 Garage Racing), Jun Ohnishi and Hyuga Watanabe (both riding for Project u 7C HARC) lining up alongside Syunya Mori, who will replace the injured Simone Grotzkyj (Phonica Racing) for this race. Swiss youngster Damien Raemy will replace Francesco Mauriello on the WTR-Ten10 Racing this weekend.
The Grand Prix of Japan runs from Friday September 30th to Sunday October 2nd, with the opening session the 125cc first practice which gets underway at 9.15am local time on Friday.