All Friday practice sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix in Motegi have been cancelled due to safety concerns caused by adverse weather conditions. Heavy fog along with constant rain and low cloud cover have hovered over the circuit since the early morning and have failed to clear throughout the afternoon.
After the farcical yet compelling Australian Grand Prix, the Grand Prix paddock heads north to Japan for the last of the three overseas races. The contrast could not be greater: from unusually warm weather at the magnificent, sweeping Phillip Island circuit, it is cold and very wet conditions which greet the riders at Motegi, a circuit dominated by stop-and-go corners with little rhythm to it.
While almost every rider on the grid adores Phillip Island, you would be hard pressed to find a rider not holding a Japanese passport with any affection for Motegi. The challenges the riders face are mainly of physical endurance, with very few spots testing their mettle and skill.
Adding the test of endurance will be the weather this weekend. Though Typhoon Francisco has now weakened to a tropical storm and is forecast to pass much further south than was feared, large amounts of rain are still expected at Motegi, especially on Friday evening and Saturday morning.
While all of practice looks set to be wet, at least the riders will get some practice, as early forecasts had suggested that several, if not all, sessions could be a complete washout. For now, it just looks like the riders will be cold and rather wet. That could add to some real excitement at the Japanese circuit. The championship is still far from decided in all three classes, after the surprises at Phillip Island stirred up the title fight.
After the eventful Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island, the MotoGP paddock heads to Japan, hoping for a slightly quieter weekend. It looks like they may well get their wish, thanks to the weather predicted for the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.
Typhoon Francisco, an intense tropical depression, is set to hit the Islands of Japan this weekend, blowing through on Friday night and departing by Saturday afternoon. With Francisco forecast to dump large quantities of rain in the region around Motegi, free practice could well be a washout, with the rain only letting up on Saturday afternoon.
Qualifying for the MotoGP class is to undergo a shake-up starting from next year. Instead of the current one-hour qualifying format, two sessions of 15 minutes will settle the starting grid, with the riders divided into two groups on the basis of their combined times through the three sessions of free practice.
The new system is a hybrid of the current system and the superpole format used by World Superbikes and Formula One. An intial selection will be made on the basis of the combined times of the first three sessions of free practice, with the 10 fastest riders going straight through to QP2, with the rest left to fight it out in QP1.
The 2 fastest riders in the 15-minute QP1 session will go through to QP2. The original 10 fastest from free practice will be joined by the 2 fastest from QP1 to fight it out for the top 12 grid positions in the 15-minute QP2 session. To compensate for the shortened qualifying sessions, a 30-minute-long fourth session of free practice will added before qualifying starts.
One of the three “flyaway” races before the season finale in Valencia, the Japanese GP is race that is not only important to the two remaining Japanese manufacturers in the premier class, but it begins the dénouement of the MotoGP Championship.
Finding renewed vigor in his Championship hunt, Dani Pedrosa has only a handful of races left to catch Jorge Lorenzo, and win his first premier-class title. Truthfully needing Lorenzo to make a critical mistake or suffer a mechanical failure, Pedrosa also has to keep the pressure on his rival, and try to minimize the gap to his fellow Spaniard.
With each place separating the two riders likely to play a pivotal role at the end of the season, the drama unfolding in Motegi was palpable, though the action itself was a slow grind of a multi-campaign war.
Another Brno, that is the hope of every MotoGP fan around the world after qualifying sessions like the one at Motegi on Saturday. The breathtaking battle in the Czech Republic, which saw Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo on each others’ tails all race long and the result settled in almost the final corner, was the natural outcome of two equally-matched men on very different, but equally-matched machines. There was nothing to choose between the two during qualifying at Brno, and there was nothing to choose between them during the race.
Motegi is shaping up to be similar. Both Lorenzo and Pedrosa have very similar pace, and both have the consistency, the talent, and the desire to push to the end. Jorge Lorenzo may have taken pole – the 50th of his career and one of his finest, with a blistering lap in near-perfect condition to destroy the existing pole record – but Pedrosa’s race pace is fractionally faster than that of the polesitter. Where Lorenzo’s near-robotic consistency has him lapping in the low 1’46.1s, Pedrosa is posting high 1’46.0s. The two men are separated by hundredths of a second only, and appear to have the measure of each other.
The wildcard in all of this is chatter. The problem, which has plagued the Honda all year, reappeared with a vengeance in the middle of qualifying for Pedrosa, leaving him struggling to get up to speed and to mount a serious challenge for pole. “Suddenly I had some big chatter,” Pedrosa said at the press conference, “I was in and out of the box trying to change things.”
The problem was all the more unsettling for being so unexpected. “It’s a bit strange,” Pedrosa said. “We didn’t have chattering in the morning or yesterday, just today in the qualifying. Not even in the first part of the qualifying.” Whether the issue is being caused by the setup Pedrosa uses when chasing a qualifying time remains to be seen, but if Pedrosa’s crew cannot eliminate it in tomorrow’s warm up, the Repsol Honda man’s title chances could be over.
MotoGP: Alvaro Bautista Renews with San Carlo Gresini Honda for 2013 – All Prototype Seats Now Accounted For
The mystery of the final MotoGP prototype seat has been solved: after months of negotiations, Alvaro Bautista has finally retained the Honda RC213V ride with the San Carlo Gresini Honda team. The Spaniard will remain with the Italian team for another season.
The contract extension has come at a cost, however: Bautista has had to take a drastic cut in his salary to stay with the team. According to the Spanish website Motocuatro.com, Bautista’s wage has been slashed to five figures, with the amount of 90,000 euros being passed down the paddock grapevine.
The press conference room at the Motegi circuit was a busy place on Thursday. The assembled press filed in twice during the afternoon, once to hear the head of Dorna talk about the long-term future of both motorcycle racing world championship series, and then again to hear five world champions talk about this weekend’s racing. There was much to digest.
What Carmelo Ezpeleta had to say about Dorna’s takeover of the World Superbike series has been covered elsewhere, though the irony of Ezpeleta hosting a press conference to talk about what was essentially an end run around HRC’s threats of a withdrawal at a facility owned and operated by Honda was not lost on everyone. The significance of the occasion was clear to all, and the groundwork has been laid for the future of both WSBK and MotoGP, though many fear the outcome.
An hour later, a much lighter mood prevailed when the riders filed in for the usual pre-event press conference. The long term was forgotten for a while, as everyone concentrated on two items: the return of Casey Stoner, and the impact of the Australian’s return on the championship. Will Stoner help Dani Pedrosa in his battle with Jorge Lorenzo for the 2012 MotoGP title? And is he fit enough and fast enough to be able to help if he wanted to?
The repercussions of Bridgepoint’s decision to hand control of the World Superbike series to Dorna are just starting to become clear, as each of the protagonists get to explain their side of the story. After Paolo Flammini spoke to the media at the final World Superbike round of the year at Magny-Cours, at Motegi, it was the turn of Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta to face the press.
He did so an hour before the traditional pre-event press conference, giving a statement and answering questions from assembled journalists on the implications of the move (a full transcript of the press conference is available on the official MotoGP.com website). Ezpeleta did his best to first of all quell any fears among the legions of World Superbike fans that Dorna intended implementing any major changes for the coming season, ensuring the assembled media that all would go ahead for 2013 as planned.
“For next year things will continue as they are, and both MotoGP and WSBK will continue the same way, with exactly the same system of organization and with the same technical rules,” Ezpeleta told the press. “For 2013 the regulations will be the ones that have been approved between the FIM and Infront Motor Sports,” he said in response to questions, “In 2013 it will be exactly as proposed by the different parties involved, there will not be any changes for 2013.”
Beyond 2013 is a different matter, however. Ezpeleta made it clear that his goal was to harmonize the regulations between the MotoGP and World Superbike series, each maintaining their separate identities, but cutting costs and increasing the spectacle in both. “From now, together with the FIM, the manufacturers, the circuits and with the teams, we will try to accommodate these difficult economic times to set up two championships that are able to continue and to grow together,” Ezpeleta said. “This is the main aim of both championships – reducing costs and increasing the show.”
Casey Stoner is to rejoin the MotoGP paddock at Motegi. In a posting on his Repsol blog, Stoner confirmed that he will fly to Japan with the intention of trying to race. “I’ve been resting, having some physio and following doctor’s orders to recover. The good news is that I feel I can race in Motegi and will be rejoining my team next week and I can’t wait to get back on track,” the reigning World Champion wrote in his Repsol blog.