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.
Right after it was made official that John McGuinness would race in the 2012 TT Zero on the Mugen Shinden, the 17-time Isle of Man TT race winner was whisked off to Motegi to test the electric superbike. McGuinness’s involvement with Mugen’s racing effort has only added further credence to the notion that the team is a front for Honda’s foray into full-size electric motorcycles (Mugen was also started by Hirotoshi Honda, the son to Honda founder Soichiro Honda).
Debuting the Honda RC-E concept last year, A&R has also heard reports that the Japanese OEM has been playing with electric motorcycles in various forms for almost a decade now. Despite continued reports that the Mugen Shinden is a rebadged Honda RC-E, the two bikes share almost no similarities, except of course for this whole running on electricity thing.
A less well-known MotoGP factoid is that Honda owns the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, though to the casual observer HRC clearly had a dominate presence at Motegi this weekend, with eight bikes on the grid throughout the race weekend. As the Yamahas struggled throughout the week, and with Ducati still hunting for a setup that will allow them to compete near the front, Honda continued to make a point of national unity at the Japanese GP going into Sunday’s race, a fact that has been further underlined by the company’s continued dominance in the 2011 season.
After a dominant finish in Aragon, Casey Stoner had all but won the 2011 MotoGP Championship, though few expected the Australian to take things easy in Japan this weekend. No longer nipping on Stoner’s Championship heals, Lorenzo came to Japan with a tall order to defend his #1 plate, though mathematically the reigning-World Champion hasn’t been ruled out of the Championship. Expected to push hard for the rest of the season, Lorenzo’s fate this season rested on the hopes for a mistake from the seemingly unstoppable Stoner.
With MotoGP action finally coming to Japan this season, qualifying at the Twin Rings Motegi Circuit was underway this Saturday. Despite the posturing of the GP riders before the Japanese GP, all of MotoGP’s riders have been in attendance this weekend, with the only exception being Ben Spies who has been present more in body than in spirit, as the American has been battling a bout of food poisoning all week. Helping bulster the ranks further, was an increased showing by HRC, which added test riders Kousuke Akiyoshi and Shinichi Ito to mix on a second LRC Honda bike and HRC wild card bike, respectively.
With the rider’s boycott null and void, attention in the MotoGP paddock could finally focus on racing at Motegi, and the pace was scorching during the qualifying session. With the “best lap” record dropping in the final minutes of the QP, the last year of the 800cc class MotoGP race bikes is certainly not going gently into that good night. With riders pushing the envelope right until the end of the session, qualifying at Motegi was an exciting battle for the pole position. Click through the jump to see the qualifying results.
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.
With issues surrounding MotoGP going to Motegi still not fully resolved, the idea of racing at Suzuka continues to touch the lips of some riders, publications, and fans. Completely ignoring the fact that Suzuka is not FIM homologated, and was removed from the MotoGP calendar after the death of Daijiro Kato, the idea of “picking the next famous GP track in Japan” gets banded about as a solution to radiation and safety concerns at the Twin Ring Motegi Circuit.
Talking to a group of assembled journalists at the MotoGP test at Brno, HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto made it very clear, though through his labored english, that racing at Suzuka was not even an idea on the table, citing the aforementioned concerns over safety and homologation. Something must have gotten lost in translation however, as some Italian publications quoted Nakamoto-san implying the opposite, and that HRC would support MotoGP racing at Suzuka.
Feeling the situation had gotten out of hand, HRC has issued a statement clarifying Nakamoto’s position, the position of HRC, and the issues surrounding a race at Suzuka. Statement after the jump.