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Well, 2011 as a year is finally over, and for the motorcycling community it was quite a year. As we begin 2012, we here at Asphalt & Rubber are of course not immune to the desire to summarize and highlight the passing of 2011. So we accordingly assembled 11 of the most important events that shaped motorcycling this past year and changed the way the sport, the industry, and the community will grow in the years to come. Picking only eleven moments in a single year is no easy feat, though some of the events in our selection are obvious choices because of their magnitude. Enjoy and a Happy New Year to our loyal A&R readers.

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.

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.

The FIM’s preliminary report on the safety concerning the Twin Rings Circuit at Motegi was announced after the conclusion of the US GP at Laguna Seca this week, and confirming what many had already expected, the study concludes that it is safe for the MotoGP riders to go race at the upcoming Japanese GP. Showing that there were no health concerns from radiation in and around the Motegi circuit, Dorna has said it will formally announce its intention to hold the Japanese GP as planned, with its rescheduled time in early October.

Asphalt & Rubber is coming to you live from Laguna Seca for the rest of the week and weekend, and upon our arrival at the historic Californian track, we had a moment to talk to Jorge Lorenzo about his recent statement that he would not race at Motegi, even before Dorna’s independent safety review of the Japanese track was published.

Responding to the criticism that his statement ran counter to the “With You Japan” message Yamaha and the rest of the MotoGP paddock have been showing, Lorenzo made his position clear that he was for Japan, but not Motegi. Perhaps hinting that another circuit should be chosen for the Japanese GP.

News out of Germany this weekend is that 15 of the 17 riders racing in the MotoGP Championship have threatened to boycott the Japanese GP at Motegi later this year because of safety concerns. Lead by Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, who publicly announced Saturday at the post-qualifying debriefing that they would not race in Japan, the riders are worried about radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, despite Motegi officials (essentially HRC) declaring the Twin Rings circuit safe. The planned boycott also comes ahead of an independent study being conducted on behalf of MotoGP, which is supposed to be an objective assessment of the track’s safety for host MotoGP (the results of the study are due to go public on July 31st).