Factory Yamaha rider Ben Spies is having a tough time in Japan so far, as the American has been battling food poisoning before his departure from the United States. Almost not allowed on the plane to Japan, Spies’ food poisoning made riding in Free Practice 1 difficult, and caused the former-WSBK Champion to call it quits for the day, mid-session into FP2. Working with the staff at Clinica Mobile to overcome his sickness and to replenish his strength, Spies is hopeful to be ready in time for Sunday’s race, though with his energy tapped and the Yamaha YZR-M1 struggling at Motegi, the American will have his work cut out for him. Spies finished Friday’s combined Free Practices 12th on the time sheet.
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.
Ahead of the Japanese GP at Motegi, Team San Carlo Honda Gresini has announced the re-signing of Marco Simoncelli to the satellite Honda team, with SuperSic once again riding on a factory Honda motorcycle. Hoping that the factory Honda RC213V will yield even more positive results for Simoncelli, HRC has thus also renewed their support for the Italian rider, who will join Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa as confirmed factory riders for 2012.
With HRC stating all silly season it would have only three factory riders, two in Repsol Honda, for 2012, this announcement is just as much about Marco Simoncelli as it is about Andrea Dovizioso. Though Dovi has beaten Sic on paper all year long, it would seem the other Italian Honda rider will end up in a satellite squad, either with Tech3 (Team Boss Hervé Poncharal has hinted at Dovi being his #1 choice) or LCR Honda. An announcement on Dovizioso’s 2012 plans outside of a factory HRC contract is expected at Motegi as well.
Make no doubts about it, Honda is set to make a statement at the rescheduled Japanese GP on October 2nd. After much hemming and hawing over whom would and would not race at Motegi, virtually every rider in the MotoGP paddock has been confirmed to be in attendance at Japan early next month, including Casey Stoner (according to Honda at least).
Whether it is because the riders have begun to believe the bevy of reports that Motegi and the Fukushima nuclear plant are safe, or the fact that the Twin Ring Circuit has already played host to several high-profile events, or even if it is the simple reality that Japanese companies like Honda and Yamaha have enormously long memories regarding issues of pride and honor, the fact of the matter is that not only will the MotoGP grid be as full as possible (there are question marks regarding Loris Capirossi’s shoulder), but Honda will field two more riders for the Japanese GP.
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.
The MotoGP World Championship resumed in full-force on Thursday in Brno, as the summer break concluded and the Czech GP began. The first gathering of the MotoGP riders since the official independent report on the safety concerning the Motegi circuit, all eyes were on Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo to see if their stance had changed regarding the postponed Japanese GP. With both riders softening their stance on boycotting the Japanese MotoGP round, it was Stoner who dropped the bigger bombshell, announcing that he and wife Adriana were expecting their first child. Saying that he would further consider racing at Motegi, Stoner admitted that the news he was about to become a family man influenced his decision to race at Motegi.
The FIM’s preliminary report on the safety concerning the Twin Rings Circuit at Motegi was announced after the conclusion of the US GP at Laguna Seca this week, and confirming what many had already expected, the study concludes that it is safe for the MotoGP riders to go race at the upcoming Japanese GP. Showing that there were no health concerns from radiation in and around the Motegi circuit, Dorna has said it will formally announce its intention to hold the Japanese GP as planned, with its rescheduled time in early October.
Asphalt & Rubber is coming to you live from Laguna Seca for the rest of the week and weekend, and upon our arrival at the historic Californian track, we had a moment to talk to Jorge Lorenzo about his recent statement that he would not race at Motegi, even before Dorna’s independent safety review of the Japanese track was published.
Responding to the criticism that his statement ran counter to the “With You Japan” message Yamaha and the rest of the MotoGP paddock have been showing, Lorenzo made his position clear that he was for Japan, but not Motegi. Perhaps hinting that another circuit should be chosen for the Japanese GP.
News out of Germany this weekend is that 15 of the 17 riders racing in the MotoGP Championship have threatened to boycott the Japanese GP at Motegi later this year because of safety concerns. Lead by Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, who publicly announced Saturday at the post-qualifying debriefing that they would not race in Japan, the riders are worried about radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, despite Motegi officials (essentially HRC) declaring the Twin Rings circuit safe. The planned boycott also comes ahead of an independent study being conducted on behalf of MotoGP, which is supposed to be an objective assessment of the track’s safety for host MotoGP (the results of the study are due to go public on July 31st).
Depending on whom you talk to in the MotoGP paddock, you might get a different impression on the state of the Japanese GP, set to be held at the Motegi Twin Rings circuit this coming October. As we are all aware, the tragic events sustained by the Japanese people after their country was hit by earthquake, tsunami, and then nuclear disaster have been on the minds of citizens around the world.
While Japan begins the process of rebuilding, the country still has to contend with the Fukushima plant, which continues to leak radiation. While MotoGP won’t make an official announcement about its plans to race in Japan until later this summer, the camps are clearly divided on whether the series should abstain (for a second year in a row) on visiting the island nation, or make the flyaway race to Motegi.