In a short statement, Yamaha Racing confirmed that factory riders Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies will compete in the Japanese GP in late-October. While both Yamaha riders have been reluctant about going to Motegi, they, like the rest of the MotoGP paddock, have been made uneasy by concerns over radiation reports, suspicions of the Japanese government candor on the issue, and safety considerations about the state of the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
With MotoGP riders threatening a near mutiny over Dorna’s pressure to go on with the Japanese GP, at the center of the riders’ push-back were Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner. With both Stoner and Lorenzo continually softening their position on Motegi over the course of the past few months, Lorenzo now is the first of the ringleaders to let the shoe drop that he will compete in the Japanese round. With the Aragon GP this weekend, it will be interesting to hear what has brought around the young Spanish rider, though we have our guesses.
An employee at a Japanese company, there certainly must have been significant pressure from Yamaha to have all of its riders, factory and satellite, competing for pride at the company’s home race. How great those pressures were communicated to the riders is open for debate, but there is no question that for a company like Yamaha, and for a race like MotoGP that is dominated by three Japanese companies, the issue of racing at Motegi borders closely on an emotion that can only be translated into English as being analogous to patriotism in the United States.
With Yamaha investing its future in Jorge Lorenzo, so much so that the Japanese factory was willing to part ways with nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, there is also the level of respect and the ability to work in coming years between the two parties. Yamaha views Lorenzo as its investment on many Championships still yet to come, and if the young Spaniard did not hold up on his end of the bargain, it’s uncertain to say what could happen in a year’s time.
Another weighing factor is the 2011 MotoGP Championship. Now 35 points behind Casey Stoner, Lorenzo is just close enough to the points leader to still be a factor in the Championship title, but not close enough where he can dictate his own terms. If Lorenzo wants defend his #1 plate (and he really, really, really does), then he had no choice but to race at Motegi. Facing something just short of a prisoner’s dilemma, Lorenzo has the easier hand where each route in this game theory has the greatest personal outcome for the Spaniard only if he attends.
If Stoner still decides not to race in Japan, Lorenzo has 25 points he can potentially steal back from the Australian. Conversely if Stoner does decide to race, Lorenzo must be in attendance to continue his campaign of slowly catching Casey five to nine points at a time. Failing to race under the best conditions (Stoner also not racing), isn’t even a “push” for reigning-Champion, as that means one less round in the Championship, and Stoner one step closer to overall victory. Even worse, if Stoner did race and Lorenzo didn’t, MotoGP might as well cast the inscription on the Championship trophy.
What remains to be seen now is how Stoner will react to the move. With still a race’s margin between him and Lorenzo, the Australian can still afford to miss around or have a race-ending technical failure/incident, failing to race at Motegi would of course change that position, as it would bring his safety net on the Championship to well within Lorenzo’s striking distance. Though Stoner may be thinking now as a father, he also is a very competitive rider, and where those two traits intersect will be an interesting proposition. Our thoughts? We’ll see a great battle between the two come race day October 30th.
Source/Photo: Yamaha Racing.