MotoGP: Japanese GP Proves to be Worth the Hype

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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.

Taking dominion over the Japanese GP, Casey Stoner started the race from the pole position, the Australian’s 10th of the 2011 season. Interrupting the Repsol Honda threesome on the front row, Jorge Lorenzo started in good shape as second on the grid, followed by Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa. Before the lights could go out to start the race though, Dovi, Simoncelli, and Cal Crutchlow, all of whom were lined up behind each other on the grid, jumped the start of the Japanese GP. With each rider levied a ride-through penalty, a shift in the outcome of the Japanese GP occurred with one broad brush stroke. The penalty undoubtedly affected Dovizioso the most, as the Italian rider was in second place, and gaining distance on Casey Stoner the race leader at the time the penalty came down from Race Direction.

Before the first lap was even over though, more shake-ups would ensure, as Valentino Rossi found himself between Ben Spies and Jorge Lorenzo, as the trio entered into Turn 2. With Rossi’s Ducati making contact with Lorenzo’s Yamaha, the nine-time World Champion entered the dirt trap, bringing Spies with him. Rossi would not be able to remount his bike, while Spies made the best of the situation, and re-entered the race to finish 6th.

With Stoner gapping the field, it seemed like the Australian was well on his way to another run away victory, and perhaps closer to clinching the World Championship. On the fourth lap though, Stoner hit a wobble going down the back straight, which caused his brake pads to be pushed back into the calipers. Pulling on the brakes, and finding nothing there, Stoner pumped again, this time lifting the rear wheel with the force resulting from the now engaged carbon fiber brakes. Having to release the brakes to bring the rear tire back down, Stoner found himself too far down the straight with too much speed, and ended up going into the dirt trap of T11. Able to keep the bike upright during his off-road stint, Stoner re-entered the track now well behind the race leaders, most importantly Jorge Lorenzo.

Just after Stoner finished his supermoto excursion, Dovi, SuperSic, and Crutchlow took their ride-through penalties, thus handing the lead to Dani Pedrosa, who was followed by some distance by Jorge Lorenzo, Álvaro Bautista, and Nicky Hayden. Despite the shake-up in the order, Stoner was on the heals of Nicky Hayden by Lap 9, and worked his way past the American, and soon after the Spaniard Bautista in Lap 11.

Despite having Stoner go past him, Bautista rode a fantastic race for Suzuki — right up until the moment he crashed on Lap 14. Joining him the dirt, in a separate incident, was the Damian Cudlin, as the Australian was having what will surely be his only one-off ride for the injured Loris Capirossi in the Pramac Ducati team. The downed duo would be joined a lap later in the Crash Club by Toni Elias, as the LCR Honda rider continued his frustrating season, which could only be compounded further by the strong position he was actually maintaing in the race.

By the 19th lap, the battle at the front was all tied-up, with Pedrosa comfortably leading Lorenzo, who had an insurmountable gap over Stoner. This brought eyes towards the battle for 4th, where Andrea Dovizioso and Marco Simoncelli renewed their Italian rivalry. With SuperSic essentially stealing away Dovi’s factory Honda rider for the 2012 season, the Repsol Honda rider surely had a point to prove to his San Carlo Gresini Honda counterpart. Coming down to the penultimate lap, Dovi entered onto final straight a bit wide, kicking up some dirt and losing some traction. This allowed Sic to pass Dovi going down into T1 on the final lap. With Dovizioso unable to answer back, the pair rode a close race to the finish, which saw Simoncelli the victor in more ways than one.

Noticeably absent from the race’s start was Karel Abraham, who despite participating in the practice and qualifying sessions, had too much of a concussion to safely race in today’s Japanese GP (Karel’s head had been hit by his Ducati during a crash at the Aragon GP). Conversely absent from the race’s finish was Hector Barbera, who had a massive crash, and had to stretchered off the Motegi circuit. Early reports from Motegi is that the Spanish rider may have broken his collarbone in the crash. More info on his status as we get it.

MotoGP takes just two short weeks off before resuming at Phillip Island, Australia. Asphalt & Rubber will be on-hand for the race down under, look for our live coverage on Twitter, and of course our race reports here on the site.

Race Results from the Japanese GP at Motegi, Japan:

Pos. No. Rider Nation Team Bike Diff.
1 26 Dani PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team Honda 42’47.481
2 1 Jorge LORENZO SPA Yamaha Factory Racing Yamaha +7.299
3 27 Casey STONER AUS Repsol Honda Team Honda +18.380
4 58 Marco SIMONCELLI ITA San Carlo Honda Gresini Honda +23.550
5 4 Andrea DOVIZIOSO ITA Repsol Honda Team Honda +23.691
6 11 Ben SPIES USA Yamaha Factory Racing Yamaha +37.604
7 69 Nicky HAYDEN USA Ducati Team Ducati +39.167
8 5 Colin EDWARDS USA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha +45.023
9 7 Hiroshi AOYAMA JPN San Carlo Honda Gresini Honda +49.074
10 14 Randy DE PUNIET FRA Pramac Racing Team Ducati +59.022
11 35 Cal CRUTCHLOW GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha +1’13.964
12 64 Kousuke AKIYOSHI JPN LCR Honda MotoGP Honda +1’21.709
13 72 Shinichi ITO JPN Honda Racing Team Honda +1’26.381
Not Classified
24 Toni ELIAS SPA LCR Honda MotoGP Honda 7 Laps
19 Alvaro BAUTISTA SPA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP Suzuki 11 Laps
6 Damian CUDLIN AUS Pramac Racing Team Ducati 11 Laps
8 Hector BARBERA SPA Mapfre Aspar Team MotoGP Ducati 23 Laps
46 Valentino ROSSI ITA Ducati Team Ducati 0 Lap

Source: MotoGP; Photo: Honda