At the post-qualifying press conference at Motegi, Jorge Lorenzo reminded his audience of the last two times he had ridden in the wet. At Le Mans, he had had his worst race finish since his rookie season in 2008. Then at Assen, his growing confidence saw him get launched off the bike at over 250 km/h, and break a collarbone in his fall.

So when the MotoGP riders took to the track at a rain-soaked Motegi, Jorge Lorenzo had every reason to be cautious. He worked carefully building his rhythm for the first 20 minutes or so of the extended practice/qualifying session, before pushing on hard, eventually destroying the opposition with a lap just under 8 seconds off the dry race lap record. It was a testament to just how quickly Lorenzo can recover his confidence.

It was good just to have any action at the Japanese circuit. After fog had prevented the medical helicopter from arriving at the circuit on Friday, making practice impossible, teams and riders headed to the Motegi Twin Ring with hope in their hearts on Saturday morning. The fog was gone, and when the medical helicopter arrived at the track, a cheer went up in the media center. Practice was on.

Except it wasn’t, at least not right away. The fog had departed, making way for torrential rain. The safety car circulated forlornly several times on Saturday morning, throwing up streams of spray in its wake.

With the rain easing off towards lunchtime, a new schedule was drawn up: an extended qualifying session in the afternoon (75 minutes for the MotoGP class), followed by a longer practice session on Sunday morning (40 minutes for Moto2 and Moto3, 50 minutes for MotoGP), and the race to be run as normal.

Only one rider managed to get within a second of Lorenzo: his championship rival Marc Marquez. Marquez was his usual blisteringly fast self, getting quickly up to speed in both conditions and at a track he has never ridden a MotoGP bike at. Yet Marquez also revealed his weakness at Motegi: though he was fast, he ran off track often, still struggling to learn the reference points at a track where speeds are much higher in MotoGP than they are in Moto2.

Along the back straight – and despite it being soaking wet – the MotoGP bikes were regularly reaching 300 km/h, while the fastest Moto2 bikes were just topping 250 km/h. With more weight and more power, working out where you need to be braking is a delicate balancing act, especially at a track like Motegi which is all stop-and-go.

This is a problem Marquez will face during the race as well. Though he has 50 minutes of practice on Sunday morning – weather permitting – to work on finding those references, the problem could be magnified if the track is dry, as expected. The braking markers he found on Saturday will be useless, and he will have to start all over again, finding the limits with slick tires and carbon brakes.

If he doesn’t get his braking markers perfect come race time, he could well end up running wide somewhere, and losing a lot of places. Jorge Lorenzo must know this, and will be pushing hard from the start. If Marquez tries too hard to follow, he risks finding himself running into the gravel, and losing a lot of points to the reigning champion.

On a side note, the carbon brakes being used at Motegi are the extra large 340mm carbon disks allowed especially for Motegi because of how hard the brakes are worked at the circuit. Ben Spies – who sadly announced his retirement from racing earlier today – demonstrated just how big a problem is at Motegi last year, crashing out after his brakes overheated.

All of the riders tested the larger disks at Misano, and all are likely to run them at Motegi. The Yamaha men would like to have them at other circuits as well, but that is unlikely to happen.

The one garage where the rain was met with smiles was at Ducati. On a wet track, all of the Ducati’s weak points – hard to turn, chatter from the rear, a tendency to wheelie, poor corner speed – become irrelevant, and riding hard becomes more about finding the limits of adhesion than the limits of chassis and engine performance. That is something which Nicky Hayden still excels at, as he was all too keen to demonstrate.

The Kentucky Kid qualified on the front row of the grid in the rain, and afterwards expressed mild disappointment. A pole position had been possible, he felt, but he had failed to gain extra speed from the softer of the two wet tire compounds. A row behind him sits factory Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso, also having had a strong qualifying. But with race day looking like it will be dry, the Ducati men are unlikely to finish better than they qualified.

Where Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso were in their element, Cal Crutchlow struggled badly, especially towards the end of the session as the riders focused on putting in a fast time. The Tech 3 Yamaha man put on a new soft front wet tire, but suffered a problem with it on his out lap.

He pushed on for several laps, but the tire problem caused him to run wide several times during his final time attack, leaving him way down in 11th, his worst qualifying of the year. Dry weather is Crutchlow’s best hope for Motegi, but he has his work cut out for him.

Wet weather came as a godsend to Scott Redding, returning to action just a week after fracturing his wrist at Phillip Island. With the fog causing the first day of practice to be canceled, Redding had another day to allow his wrist to recover.

In the wet, Redding was immediately fast and much more comfortable than expected, running close to the front. But as the track started to dry a little, grip became less predictable, and Redding backed off a little, not willing to risk another crash on the already injured wrist. Yet he was confident for the race, knowing that his wrist would hold up wet or dry.

Why did Redding come and race at Phillip Island? After his operation, he thought his chances of becoming champion had gone, but the events of the MotoGP race changed his mind. Seeing Jorge Lorenzo make up 25 points on Marc Marquez after the Repsol Honda rider’s team made an epic mistake, Redding knew he still had a chance.

If Lorenzo was not prepared to give up on the title when he was 18 points down on Marquez, why should he, Redding, give up on the Moto2 title when he was just 16 points behind Pol Espargaro?

Redding’s gamble may pay off. While Redding will have to start from down in 15th, and the 5th row of the grid, Pol Espargaro is only two rows ahead of him. Espargaro will start from 7th, and given the superb starts Redding has been making in recent races, that will give him heart.

For Espargaro, the morning practice will be key. In the dry, he will be looking to measure his real pace, and see it against that of Scott Redding. The championship is not over yet.

While everyone was glad to have some action happening on track, there was also some controversy off the track as well. Marc Marquez was once again the cause, the young Spaniard having turned up to Motegi with a special helmet design. Meant as a tribute to Japan, it features a drawing of Marquez pulling the corner of his eyes sideways, in an imitation of Asian facial features.

Predictably, the picture – and the t-shirt Marquez wore when he posted a photograph of his helmet on Twitter – proved to be extremely divisive. Many, including many fans all over Asia, as well as in the US and UK, saw the drawing as offensive, seeing it not as a tribute but as mocking Asians.

That action, as one Asian blogger pointed out, was used in the past to ridicule Asians and people of Asian origin. Others saw no harm in the image, regarding it as meant with humor, rather than with malice.

It is certain that Marquez meant no harm with the image, and was completely unaware that it could cause offense. Marquez and his manager, Emilio Alzamora, had come up with the idea, and when they sent it to Shoei to be painted onto the helmet, the Japanese helmet company had not remarked upon the design. Honda were less amused, but by that time, it was too late to do anything about it.

Though clearly, Marquez did not mean to cause offense, his choice of tribute displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the global nature of the sport. In Spain, as it is in Italy, the action of pulling the corners of the eyes is not regarded as offensive to Asians, and so Marquez and his management didn’t think twice about putting such an image on his helmet.

Had they been aware of the cultural sensitivities of a global audience, they would never have even considered it, or else they would have abandoned the idea after checking with someone who was not Spanish. They could have known that there could have been a problem, however: in 2008, ahead of the Beijing Olympics, the Spanish basketball team got into a lot of trouble over a photo of the entire team doing the same thing. That does not appear to have filtered through.

Whether those who object are being overly sensitive or not, Marquez’s actions have caused some damage to the sport. Simple ignorance of the fact that this is a global sport, with a global audience, has meant that Marquez’s helmet has upset a sizable section of the audience. It makes MotoGP look more like a Spanish backwater than a global sport, and will do severe damage to attempts to attract global sponsorship.

If there is one thing major international sponsors do not want to be associated with, it is racism. Whether Marquez’s helmet is racist or not is frankly irrelevant, it is how sponsors and the customers they hope to reach perceive his helmet which counts. There was enough anger among a wide section of fans at Marquez’s helmet for the issue to be taken seriously.

If something similar had happened in another sport, there would have been serious consequences. If this had happened in the NFL or NBA, for example, Marquez would have likely been suspended and sent on a racial sensitivity course. If this was soccer in the UK or Germany, Marquez would have been called in to the office of the organizing body and told in very clear terms that he should think more carefully.

Clearly Marquez meant no offense with his helmet, but given the cultural sensitivities involved, offense was taken by some sections of fans, especially by many Asian fans. The biggest problem is that Marquez was unaware. He could perhaps be forgiven for that – he is still relatively young – but a manager’s job is to protect their rider and prevent them from getting in such situations in the first place.

When Marquez – or whoever it was in his circle – came up with the idea, someone should have taken Marquez aside and explained to him that whatever his intention, it could all too easily be misinterpreted, and the lighthearted intention behind the design could be conveyed in a way which would not cause offense.

Marquez is not the only rider to innocently cause offense. Johann Zarco’s helmet design features a prominent Japanese Imperial flag, and I have had several Korean fans contact me to express their unhappiness with the design.

In that part of Asia, that flag is seen as a symbol of a very dark part of Japanese history, when the country occupied large parts of the region, and subjected them to a very brutal regime. A rider’s manager should be aware of such things, and check before allowing them to use such a divisive symbol.

Unfortunately, the MotoGP paddock is all too parochial. The vast majority of the people in the paddock are male, from similar backgrounds, and from a small number of countries (and in fact, given the preponderance of people from Catalunya in Spain and Emilia Romagna in Italy, a small number of regions), and so a common pattern of thought and social code is easily established.

There are very few people in the paddock taking a wider view of the sport, and seeing it in a global context.

Allowing the man leading the championship, and perhaps destined to be the youngest ever world champion and the global face of the sport for years to come, to accidentally offend a large section of your audience, especially in a market seen as key to the future of the sport, does not bode well for the professionalism of the sport.

If MotoGP is to grow as a sport, it needs to guard its image very carefully indeed. As one insider so eloquently put it, the sport needs some adult supervision.

Photo: Yamaha Racing

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

  • SBPilot

    Good article David, however,

    “In that part of Asia, that flag is seen as a symbol of a very dark part of Japanese history, when the country occupied large parts of the region, and subjected them to a very brutal regime

    The first sentence before the comma should read, “In that part of Asia, that flag is seen as a symbol of a very dark part of their (Asian country’s) history,…”

    It’s not seen as dark to Japanese history, they deny they did anything wrong during that time, in their history. Japanese people are totally ignorant to inhumane things they did during WW2 (every Japanese friend I have don’t have a clue about the sex slaves, raping etc.) because the government deny everything and don’t teach it.

  • Fuck that adult supervision crap, motorcycle racing is supposed to be fun, the reason people don’t watch Moto GP, is because all the corporate owned ass-holes took the fun out of it. Until Marc Marquez came along, it was contracting like every other motorsport in a failing global economy.

    If you want young people, who are the future, to watch and be engaged as viewers in order for the sport to survive, the rat fucking weasels at corporate need to lighten the fuck up, and allow the teams and riders to have some fun once in a while, you know FUN, the whole point of sports in the first place.

    No surprise many whose only reason for existing is the accumulation of wealth and power, don’t understand. Obviously they were deprived as children, which has turned them into depraved adults, devoid of anything resembling life or soul. Go roll around in your money and tell me about how much satisfaction it gives you. These are the same people you hear criticizing Marquez, because he reminds them of everything they missed out on, and they hated him for it. Beautifully exemplary of a dying culture, and the broken, sad, bitter, resentful people who control it.

    I’m all for racial and gender sensitivities, but the people running their mouth about this could give a crap about that, all they care about is how it affects their wealth accumulation. To them human beings are nothing more than units of capital production.

  • froryde

    @ SBPilot – Amen.

  • Paulo Knafelc

    First and foremost, Aaron you need to calm down. Second Aaron, MotoGP is supposed to be fun, but above that it is serious business with a lot of money being spent. When you are famous figure, in sport, arts, etc, you have a responsibility to your fans and those who what you. Specially the young which will emulate your actions and views. It seems that these racists demonstrations are normal with Spaniards, as pointed out on this article. Which failed to mention racist demonstrations made to Lewis Hamilton, FIA threatened to cancel the race if the demonstrations did not stop. MotoGP is run by Spaniards, so that is very unlikes to happen, specially because the motive comes from an Spanish rider. Yes Aaron MotoGP is supposed to be fun, but it is completely wrong when it comes at somebody’s expenses, even more from the people of a country.

  • Paulo Knafelc thinks I’m his wife, telling me to calm down. People like him accustomed to controlling others (their women, employees) with the threat of financial sanction, just can’t help themselves. Just another gutless weasel hiding behind a pseudonym, who doesn’t have the balls to put a name and face behind his words because he’s terrified the massa’ will find out and turn off his income stream. SLAVE.

    FUCKING Fox sports has preempted the live broadcast of the Motegi race with the replay of a football game. When SPEED TV went away, we knew this was going to happen.
    Paulo Knafelc

  • Dr. Phil


    Don’t you worry about Aaron. As you can see, he is one of those unfortunates who believes vitriol hides ignorance rather than highlighting it. He quite obviously has no life to speak of, and so must frequent forums such as this to give outlet to the paranoid rantings of his feverish imagination. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your reasoned response can penetrate his reality (or lack thereof). Those such as he build fortresses of their inability to function in the real world, and inhabit them with pride. Confronting him with sensitivity and understanding will only drive him deeper into his.

    I do have to admit, though, it would be humorous if it wasn’t so pathetic.


  • smiler

    Aaron, put your handbag down really. It is not about control, it is about you swining your handbag.

    Marquez has not enlivened MotoGP.I would argue many think, although fast he is Repsol and Dorna’s poster boy. Dorna were scared that Rossi would not attract crowds again and so promoted Merguez by dropping the very sensible rookie rule, thereby providing insurance against Pedro riding to type.

    Many are also worried that he will do a Rossi and simply dominate the sport for the next several years but unlike Rossi, he has the charisma of a ten year old or Justin Bieber.
    He certainly does not have the entertainment value of Rossi or respect Doohan et al earned the hard way.

    The stunt he pulled on his T shirt and helmet were bad taste, like having a cartoon of an obese Uncle Sam, lounged in a chair, dribbling beer with a 13 year old naken girl on his lap.

    Given the amount of havoc Merguez has caused this season, it was clear that Dorna were desperate to ensure a Repsol / Spanish success this year and dropped the rookie rule just for him.

    Fortunatley (as usual) Rossi has realised what Dorna are up to and has started a moto3 team to bring on talent, from anywhere but Spain.

    Real shame Redding was the filling in a Spanish bread sandwich and didn’t complet a lap. Pol Paella not really a deserving winner. However Dorna will be happy with the result.
    4 Honda’s in the top 5 but no winner. Repsol 2nd and 3rd but no cigar. They both must be very annoyed. They have only had 2 championship wins since Rossi left, the gifted 06 Hayden championship and Stoner who promptly dumped them both.

  • SBPilot

    Aaron, you have a phone call, the psych ward says you need to go back to the asylum, they have a brand new Alpinestar straight jacket for you.

    @Paulo, you said it very well. When you’re famous, you have an enormous influence on people. Riders (rather their managers) need to understand this. You read a lot about racial issues in football (soccer) how many European countries do racist chants and gestures to African players. Certain Europeans have total disregard for these things, Spanish generally being one of them. Of course not only Spanish, I have a friend from Uruguay and he tells me the same thing, that over there people call blacks “N” word and call all other races by their derogatory slang, being totally oblivious to the meaning. I told him now you’re not living in Uruguay, so you have to change. He understood. It’s normal to them, but doesn’t make it right. The more people from these countries see more of the world, they will understand. Italians used to be known for being quite racist, but maybe not so much now since the have more immigrants living there and much of their economy depends on trade with countries like China.

  • JS

    Aahhhh listen to all the sanctimonious types getting on the proverbial high horse getting offended. No doubt you want to live in a democracy “but never want to be offended again” Well tough shit – you want to be free and in a democracy then prepare to be offended sometimes. Has this supposed offence that Marquez caused resulted in you waking this morning to find you have leperacy or some other illness. Has anything actually happened to you as a result of this helmet/t-shirt other than being offended?

    Perhaps we should be allowed to scrutinise your life to see if anything you do is offensive to someone else. What’s offensive to you might not be offensive to me and vice versa.

    Good on Marquez for stirring the pot this season and making the over sensitive types get their nickers in a twist.

  • Looter

    Heard through the grapevine that Aoyama will have a special design at Valencia depicting Spaniards! LOL A few people on here are blowing gaskets over this nonsense! Hopefully Marquez learns from this to become more PR aware from here on in. Or maybe Repsol might adopt the “slant eyed” Marquez in future ad campaigns. Honda not so much.

  • @SBPilot: “(every Japanese friend I have don’t have a clue about the sex slaves, raping etc.) because the government deny everything and don’t teach it.”

    I guess your Japanese friends don’t watch the news here, where ‘comfort women’ — usually Korean — make very public demands for apologies and restitution. Such incidents feature widely on the news outlets. It’s correct to state that the government doesn’t acknowledge the problem and that the topics are ignored in school. It’s incorrect to suggest that all Japanese are ignorant of it. My wife, for example, is very cognizant of the issues.

  • @smiler: “Pol Paella not really a deserving winner.”

    Riiiiiiiight. I’m disappointed that Redding’s title hunt imploded the way it did, but to suggest that Espargaro is not a deserving champion is entirely ignorant. Of course, I expect such ‘enlightened’ commentary from you.

  • Jim

    David, Thank you for educating the readership here in being sensitive to other cultures. Being from the USA and traveling extensively, the “Ugly American” stories are heard often and this type of ignorance is certainly not limited to our citizens. It’s unfortunate that “stars” of our sport are not educated in being sensitive to other cultures. This rude and boorish behavior is better suited to the ignorant and immature, rather than the “Stars”

  • Great article, amazingly perceptive considering the Race results. Especially the note of Marquez’s inexperience with breaking markers and the differences with GP bikes. Lorenzo was as close to flawless as you can get.

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    I was shocked at what I saw on MM helmet, frankly.

    Marquez is a 20 year old dolt. I wouldn’t trust the kid to pump gas into my rental. That’s fine. But his management should not be backwoods inbreads.

    In nearly every place on the planet gesturing with your eyes that way is offensive…but a white dude doing that in Asia? Do you really need to ask if that’s offensive? wth? Jezus, now if I ever get lost in woods on a rafting trip I fear I’ll happen upon repsol-gear-wearing-rednecks, “Tiene una boca bonita, boy!”

    Note to Spanish redneck dudes who handle the Boy Blunder: racism is obsolete. Nobody thinks its funny.

  • TRL

    Which one is Marquez? All those Latin guys look the same to me…

  • SBPilot

    @ Trane Francks – “I guess your Japanese friends don’t watch the news here, where ‘comfort women’ — usually Korean — make very public demands for apologies and restitution. Such incidents feature widely on the news outlets. It’s correct to state that the government doesn’t acknowledge the problem and that the topics are ignored in school. It’s incorrect to suggest that all Japanese are ignorant of it. My wife, for example, is very cognizant of the issues.”

    The Japanese friends I have are all in their mid late 20’s. They really have no clue. They are not immigrants, they are foreign students. Meaning, they are the perfect sample population of actual Japanese in Japan. Your wife, assuming she’s an immigrant and has lived in the western world for number of years and is probably older, has been exposed to the western media coverage. It is not surprisingly for her to know what happened due to the media coverage of the controversial shrine visits.

    Yes, it’s wrong I use the word “all” since that is never the case. I have a good Japanese friend in his 40’s and he is well aware of what happened, but again, he went to University in the USA. The Japanese in Japan now, and those who have not spent lots of time in the west or who did not grow up here, don’t’ have a clue. Frankly, the population that matters are those in the country of question, and it’s safe to say that an overwhelming majority of the Japanese in Japan don’t have a clue.

    About watching/reading news, lets not kid ourselves, many people don’t read the news, and the ones that do may not care about what happens in Asia. If watching the news is a legitimate reason to not be ignorant of what happened back then, than 98% of the western world is guilty of ignorance. You could pull hundreds, thousands of people from the street, born and raised in the Americas with western new coverage and exposure, and ask if the know what Japan did back then, I assure you, 99% will say no.

  • TwoWheelLoo

    Everyone here have valid points; but all in all, MotoGP is still a business.

  • @SBPilot: “Your wife, assuming she’s an immigrant and has lived in the western world for number of years and is probably older, has been exposed to the western media coverage.”

    She’s native Japanese. We live in Japan.

    “The Japanese in Japan now, and those who have not spent lots of time in the west or who did not grow up here, don’t’ have a clue.”

    That just is not true. As I stated, the news here — in Japan — at least annually features demands from comfort women for apologies and restitution. While ignorance is a popular theme in any modern culture, it’s just plain wrong to state that all native Japanese are ignorant of the issues. Ignorance is, for the most part, a chosen path. There are plenty of smart people milling about in the population. Those who pay even minor attention to the news WILL hear about it.

    It’s fair to say that the majority of those coming out of the Japanese education system are unaware of the sheer scale of brutality that went on, but it would be wrong to suggest that they’re unaware at all. It is a very controversial political issue here, with a few, very brave souls suggesting that Japan own up to its atrocities. Alas, those very few souls subsequently see their political careers hit the skids. The prevailing political viewpoint in Japan is to ignore the problem and hope that it’ll go away.

  • SBPilot

    @Trane Francks: I had no idea you live in Japan and that when you said “watch the news here” you meant “watch the news in Japan”. I wouldn’t have guessed you lived there.

    Anyway, as I mentioned it is wrong I use the word ‘ all ‘ and I took that back. I’m sure there are thousands in Japan that know what happened. However, amongst those thousands, how many felt it was actually wrong, and than that group within a country of millions under a government of denial (actually, re-writing history to their favour); needle in the hay type of ordeal.

    Of course there are smart population in Japan, such as your wife. But if the country does not change its policy and own up to what happened, on the contrary, if policy becomes even more nationalistic and more in denial, eventually that knowledgeable population will slowly get smaller and smaller. Simply believing otherwise will be difficult because everyone else doesn’t believe it. Presently that group is already small, so when it becomes tiny, what does it matter? Eventually the populous just becomes less and less informed of the truth to the point what we know as the truth is actually taboo to them.

    More frighteningly, the current Japanese government is more patriotic/nationalistic than ever, changing their military policy and so forth. At least, that’s what I’m reading from my western news sources.

    It is nice to know though that news over there covers it at least, and nice to know that some brave souls in the political system over there are actually trying to do something about it. I just don’t see it getting better, unfortunately. Anyway, thanks for that information.

  • @SBPilot: Good points, all. Unfortunately, I can only agree with you that things are not looking very rosy with regard to openness and owning up to the past. The Japanese cultural psyche doesn’t like ‘losing face’; the political psyche takes that paradigm to ridiculous extreme. One can only hope that curiosity and connectedness overcome political will and keep a significant portion of the population aware of its past such that history shan’t repeat itself.

    I do hope that the country continues to be a great place to live. I’ve been here since 1991.