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.

Alex Rins’ victory in Australia saw him close the gap to Moto3 championship leader Luis Salom to just 5 points with two races to go; Scott Redding’s qualifying crash in which he fractured his wrist allowed Pol Espargaro to turn a 9 point deficit in the Moto2 title chase into a 16 point lead; and the bizarre mistake by Marc Marquez’z crew which led to him being disqualified meant that his lead over Jorge Lorenzo was slashed from 43 points to just 18.

Two of the three titles could be decided at Motegi on Sunday, but there is a strong possibility that all three championships could be taken down to the final race at Valencia, the first time that has happened in the history of the series.

Marc Marquez looks the rider most likely to wrap up his title at Motegi, a result which would be a dream come true for Honda. The Japanese factory owns the Motegi Twin Ring circuit, which also serves as a test track for HRC.

Sunday will see all of Honda’s top brass present, and given the resources which HRC continues to invest in MotoGP, and their wish to spend heavily in Moto3, winning the championship at home would go a long way to pacifying any internal resistance from Honda’s board.

The track is ideal for the RC213V, playing to the bikes strengths. Hard braking areas, followed by slow corners with hard acceleration, a long, high-speed back straight and a circuit which is very heavy on fuel: if there is a circuit where you’d bet on a Honda to win, it is Motegi. Yet at the pre-event press conference, Jorge Lorenzo was sounding confident.

The Yamaha is strong in acceleration, he told the press, especially since they received the new gearbox, and the larger diameter brake disks which the teams are allowed to use because of the very heavy braking zones at the circuit help with the Yamaha’s weakness on the brakes.

The biggest obstacle Lorenzo faces is fuel consumption. The Yamaha is the thirstiest of the MotoGP bikes – in part due to the long bang firing order of the inline four cylinder, which requires a balance shaft to cut down on vibration – and Motegi is very hard indeed on fuel.

Last year, Cal Crutchlow ran out of fuel on the last lap, while battling with Alvaro Bautista for a podium. Lorenzo has finished 2nd at Motegi for the past two years, and that will be his aim again on Sunday. A 2nd place finish in Japan is all Lorenzo needs to take the title fight to a final showdown in Valencia.

To do that, he has to beat one of the two Hondas. Dani Pedrosa has won the last two MotoGP races here, and Marc Marquez won the Moto2 race in 2012, after failing to get his bike into first gear at the start, and leaving the starting line almost dead last. Staying ahead of either Pedrosa or Marquez will be a massive challenge at Motegi for Jorge Lorenzo.

Two things could come to Lorenzo’s aid. The first is an appeal by Yamaha to Race Direction over Marquez’s exit from pit lane at Phillip Island. When he rejoined the track after swapping bikes, Marquez cut across the track just as Lorenzo was hurtling into Doohan Corner, the fast, sweeping first corner.

At the time, Lorenzo judged blame for the incident as being 50/50 between himself and Marquez, Lorenzo admitting he had run wide, and Marquez having left him little room after rejoining from pit lane. But after reviewing the footage with team managers Wilco Zeelenberg and Maio Meregalli, Lorenzo had felt that Marquez’s move was more dangerous than he had at first though.

A delegation from Yamaha is to face Race Direction on Friday, where they are set to make their case for penalizing Marquez. The omens are not good for the Yamaha team, as Race Direction has not summoned either rider to hear their side of the story, a sign that penalties are unlikely.

Race Direction already examined the move during the race at Phillip Island, and dismissed it as a racing incident then. The four members of Race Direction are unlikely to have changed their mind since then.

What may be of more assistance to Lorenzo is the weather, with heavy rain expected throughout practice. As the forecast stands, the first dry session the teams will get is likely to be Sunday morning warm up. What that means is that the team that gets their set up right first time will have the advantage.

Though Honda have the benefit of having tested recently at Motegi, Lorenzo’s crew, led by the irascible Catalan genius Ramon Forcada, have been very quick to find a working setup all this year, and for the rest of the season. If the crews have to gamble on a set up for the race, Forcada is a safe bet to get it pretty close with his first try.

The wet weather will also help Lorenzo’s engine situation. Though it is far from critical, Lorenzo only really has one good engine, with three more that are starting to get very tired. If it’s wet, then engine performance becomes far less important to setting a good time, with traction a far more significant issue. Two days of wet practice would allow Lorenzo to rest his good engine, and run up some more miles on the old motors.

Rain would also be welcomed in the Ducati garage, and not just because wet conditions are the only hope of being competitive for Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden. Hayden is running dangerously close to needing to take a 6th engine, which would incur the penalty of starting from pit lane.

Two days of heavy rain – preferably including a couple of sessions where conditions made riding impossible – could be the difference between a pit lane start and making it to the end of the season without penalty.

Even ordinary wet sessions would help, taking the engine decision to Valencia. There, pit lane is just about in the perfect location if you had to start from there for a penalty, offering a clear run into Turn 1.

The weather may also throw a lifeline to Scott Redding. His championship hopes seemed to be in tatters after his crash in qualifying at Phillip Island, the Marc VDS Racing rider fracturing his radius as he tried to grip on to his bucking Kalex and prevent a highside. It did not work, and Redding was forced to have surgery that Saturday night.

At first, the team had announced he would not be at Motegi, but Redding was not ready to give up. After intensive therapy, he will attempt to race, and has already been passed fit by the circuit doctor, subject to another examination on Friday after free practice.

Wet weather would be a godsend for the Englishman, as it would massive reduce the stresses of braking. Fortunately – if you can call it that – for Redding, it was his left wrist he fractured, and not the crucial right.

Racing at Motegi with a hand or wrist injury is always painful because of the stresses placed by the braking zones, but at least the left wrist is not needed for braking and accelerating. What effect bearing most of the strain on his right arm will have on the arm pump he recently had surgery for remains to be seen.

Having Redding competing is also good for Pol Espargaro, as the Spaniard told the press conference. Winning while your competition is absent is not the same as beating them out on track, but mistakes and accidents are part of racing, he told the press.

And while wet weather favored Scott Redding, conditions on Sunday look to be going Espargaro’s way, with the weather set to be sunny and dry. With tropical storms involved, of course, those things can change very rapidly, however.

The 2013 Grand Prix motorcycle racing may be drawing to a conclusion, but it isn’t there yet. There is still plenty to play for, and a group of willing combatants ready to slug it out. Titles may be decided this weekend, but don’t be surprised if all three championships go down to the wire.

That is a sign of just how competitive all three classes have become, at least among the elite in each class. The fat lady may be waiting in the wings, but she doesn’t look like she’ll start warming her vocal chords just yet.

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • Jw

    I like what I learn from you David, your analysis and breakdown add to this weekends anticipation.

  • TexusTim

    so even marquez addmited that he thought the black flag was for him crossing the line at pit out and making contact with lorenzo.
    so of course they did it for the 11 lap violation and it would seem race control is letting it go because they already black flagged him as that is penalty enough. I think this is a mistake and they should review it as a seperate infraction and hand him a rider penalty for his actions coming back on the track..he seems only to be able to go one round with out some sort of infratcion and untill he ” gets it” they have to keep the pressure on him..if it ultimately cost him the championship so be it, maybe he will think better of taking all these risk with other riders lifes just to be a rookie champion..some things are just more important than the records.

  • Marq, looked, didn’t see anyone and put the hammer down. Lorenzo would have avoided him if he wanted to but he didn’t. I don’t think Marq is at fault. My 2 cents.

  • n/a

    Marquez wasn’t at fault at all, Lorenzo ran wide and hit him!

  • FafPak

    @Naftali Thaithi

    Nope, Marq looked a second time over his shoulder and definitely saw Lorenzo and Pedrosa over the top of the hill then. He just wanted to get in front.

  • Joe

    Nope, he just want to get PUNCH!

  • Frank

    @TexusTim – I don’t think Marc ever ‘admitted he thought it was because of the contact with Jorge.’ I went back and looked for his post-race comments and I couldn’t find anything with him stating that. He said that he thought it was for speeding in the pit lane or missing the white line. And btw- your complete 180 on Marc seems like splitting hairs- if you were able to completely cast him away because of the incident at Aragon then I think you were honestly looking for a reason to stop supporting him. That was a freak accident that couldn’t happen again if it was attempted. I’d have thought the Silverstone incident warranted more afterthought as a Marquez fan. That incident was WAY more of a rider error than Aragon, and 100% Marc’s fault. Even if you feel Aragon was 100% Marc’s fault, there was more at play that led to Dani’s crash. Don’t ask me, ask race direction and HRC who ate 25 points in the constructor’s championship. Chicken before the egg conversation? Perhaps, but consensus was that Aragon was a complex incident with a few different factors at fault.

    Jorge didn’t change his mind after re-watching the video, he changed his mind after Zeelenberg had a meeting with him. I honestly like the shameless strategy of accepting 50/50 blame for the incident as Lorenzo had done in his post-race interview in order to give BOTH riders a pentaly point. Haha- clever. No affect on JL, and Marc would start from the back of the grid. Cheeky. You have to do what you have to do when the world title is on the line. I’d expect Repsol to appeal to RD as Yamaha has if the situation were the other way around.

    But let’s get it straight- motorcycle racing is usually decided by the best/fastest rider on any given day, barring rider error. That wasn’t the case at PI due to bizarre, but admittedly shared circumstances on the part of all riders. I like the video of the 3 podium riders when they ask Jorge what the last lap they could come in on was and he said “11, no..” And then the room laughed and Vale poked him to tell him it was lap 10. Just funny- not reading anything into that. Huge blunder by Marc’s manager and co. Let’s hope Motegi and Valencia are controversy free so we can see the title settled as it should be – on the track and on the bikes. It looks like it will be an all out scramble to get the dry race set-up on Sunday. Interesting stuff already…

    Oh yeah- who’s pulling for Rinz to beat Salom by a tenth to the line Sunday?!?! Huh?! Huh…?! All even on points and race wins going into Valencia would be a sweet way to finish this awesome Moto3 season.

  • Gutterslob

    RE: “….you would be hard pressed to find a rider not holding a Japanese passport with any affection for Motegi.”

    Fwiw, Motegi ranks pretty low even amongst most Japanese riders. It’s still a nice venue, just a shame the track was designed for testing rather than racing.