MotoGP action has finally hit Japanese shores, as riders and teams made their usual Thursday preparations and announcements at Motegi for the Japanese GP. With the near rider boycott of the event, many eyes have been on the teams that have imported food and water, let alone the sighting of the occasional Geiger counter at the Twin Ring Circuit. Perpetuating an air of concern over the stability of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake 60km (37 miles) SSE from the crippled nuclear power plant sent a reminder of the region’s seismic volatility. With no damage reportedly caused at Fukushima, and the Japanese GP unaffected by the event, the physical impact is of course non-existent for MotoGP, but the psychological factor certainly remains in the paddock.
Unrelated to the earthquake, Casey Stoner was absent from the Thursday pre-race press conference, as the Australian’s flight was late in arriving into Japan. As such, Jorge Lorenzo filled-in at the center seat, normally reserved for the MotoGP Championship points leader, and made light of the situation.”Where is Casey?” asked a playful Jorge Lorenzo. “Am I leading the Championship now?” he said with a smile. 44 points behind the Repsol Honda rider, Lorenzo acknowledged that his Championship bid was essentially over, though seemed still determined to carry the flag for Yamaha in the final four races of the 2011 season.
”Casey has won so many races and has finished on the podium more than any other rider, so it’s normal he has so many points,” explained Lorenzo. “Maybe it’s too late to fight with him for the Championship, but anyway there are still four races to go, 100 points to be taken, so you never know. You have to give everything and anything is possible. We must fight for the win in every race.”
Rounding out the Thursday press conference were two Japanese riders: Hiroshi Aoyama from the San Carlo Gresini Honda team and HRC test rider Shinichi Itoh. Getting to express his thoughts on the Japanese GP first, Aoyama made a simple statement: “I want to say thanks to those who came here to race because it was, I think, a hard decision, and it means a lot for Japanese motorcycle fans. Personally, this is my home race, and for sure it’s very important.
Concluding the thoughts on Sunday’s race, the 44-year-old Itoh said, “After what happened in March, it feels like a dream to be here racing this weekend. First I would like to thank Honda and all my sponsors for this opportunity. This weekend I will do my best and I can represent and give some hope to all those who have been, and still are, suffering from the tragedy that happened back in March. This track is one of my favourites so I’ll try my best but also make sure I don’t get in the way of the regular riders.”