After last week’s announcements that the Silverstone and Phillip Island MotoGP rounds were canceled, today, the Japanese round of MotoGP joined the list of cancellations.
The race at Motegi has been called off, and will not take place this year, despite the importance of the race to the Japanese manufacturers.
Today’s announcement was the last step in a general clearing out of the schedule to allow for a calendar of races that could feasibly be held for 2020.
The plan, as Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta pointed out in the press release, is to do as many races in Europe as possible, and only heading overseas after that, if international travel is still possible.
Episode 122 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and this one is a MotoGP show, as we catch back up with the premier class on its flyaway rounds at Japan, Malaysia, and Australia.
As such, this means that we see Neil Morrison and David Emmett on the mics, as they are our MotoGP Championship reporting duo for the 2019 season.
As you can imagine, there is no shortage of things for them to talk about, especially as we head into the final round of the season, at Valencia.
On the one hand, you could say that MotoGP got lucky. The heavy rain that was expected to cause flooding and potentially force Dorna to delay or even cancel practice at Motegi was not as bad as had been feared. The sessions started on time, and ran without incident, other than the normal perils of motorcycle racing.
On the other hand, the sessions were pretty much useless in terms of race setup. The weather forecast for Sunday is the best it has been all weekend, with some sun and high temperatures.
FP3 on Saturday morning was drenched, a fully wet session making race setup and tire testing impossible. FP4 saw a line dry enough for slicks to be used, though times were 4 seconds off the best time from Friday.
And qualifying took place on a mostly dry track, but again, times were more than a second off what the pole time should have been.
MotoGP pole was slower than Maverick Viñales’ fastest lap in FP1. Even if the track had been fully dry, qualifying is just too hectic to be working on race setup and assessing tire life.
Sylvain Guintoli has been disqualified for the FP1 and FP2 sessions of the Motegi MotoGP round, after having been found to have used an illegal spec of engine.
As a result, all of his times set in FP1 and FP2 have been scrapped, and Guintoli listed as having set no time. Guintoli does still qualify for Q1, having set a time within 107% of the fastest rider in FP3.
The punishment came after Sylvain Guintoli used a prototype of the 2020 Suzuki GSX-RR during his third wildcard appearance.
Two decisions plague the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.
One, a historical choice made back in 2010, when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, throwing so much ash and dust into the air that it severely disrupted air travel around Europe, forcing Dorna to postpone the race from the original date in April to October.
The other, a more recent change made before the 2018 season, where tire allocation for all of the races throughout the year is already fixed before the season even begins.
The change of dates forced on the Japanese Grand Prix as a result of Eyjafjallajökull has stuck, meaning the race is now always in October, as part of the three flyaway races in Japan, Australia, and Malaysia.
The first race of the flyaway triple header is arguably the most important. It is, after all, the home Grand Prix for half of the manufacturers on the grid. It is the one race where the top echelons of Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha management gather, the people behind the companies which put 10 of the 22 MotoGP bikes on the grid.
If, for some sick and twisted reason, you wanted to destroy the Japanese motorcycle industry by removing its senior management, then the Motegi MotoGP race would be your second-best chance of success. Only the Suzuka 8-Hour race is a bigger deal for the Japanese manufacturers, and a more important race in Japan.
Motegi matters most to Honda. The Japanese motorcycling giant owns the circuit (as it does Suzuka) and it houses the Honda Collection Hall, a magnificent display of motorcycling history. As it is Honda’s 60th anniversary in Grand Prix racing, this year’s race is even more important.
Episode 86 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in it we see David Emmett and Steve English on the mics, covering the last three MotoGP flyaway races and previewing the upcoming Valencia GP.
It has been a while since we have had a chance to host a show, so there is much to discuss, and the guys get right down to it.
Amongst the discussion of the various rounds, there are some good side conversations about the internal workings of the GP factories, the career of Dani Pedrosa, and what makes a rider the “Great Ride of All Time” in the eyes of the MotoGP paddock.
“The secret,” said Niki Lauda, “is to win going as slowly as possible.” That racing maxim, first recorded by legendary writer and broadcaster Clive James (and how did I miss that he wrote about F1 in the past?) is as true now as it was back in 1984, when Lauda stated it to a press conference in Portugal. And as true as in the early 1950s, when Juan Manuel Fangio may have first uttered it.
If you want to see that maxim in action, watch a MotoGP race in 2018. The action is often thrilling, usually tense, and always absorbing. Race after race, we see podiums separated by tenths of a second, not tens of seconds. The reason for that is simple.
The field is close in terms of rider talent and bike performance, and the Michelin tires can be applied in many different ways, except for one: if you try to take off and disappear at the front, you risk using up the best of your tires, and being caught in the latter stage of the race.
So MotoGP has become a chess game. A battle of minds, as much as machines, of brains as much as bodies. Riders pace around one another like wolves around a herd of caribou, watching out for any sign of weakness, waiting to pounce and destroy their prey. And sometimes, getting it wrong and suffering a severe kicking from their intended victims.
Qualifying is a tricky business at the best of times. Having qualifying just half an hour after FP4 – that is, if you don’t have to pass through Q1 – makes it even more complicated.
That final session of practice is the only chance to work on setup without worrying about getting through to Q2 – and in my book, makes it the most interesting session of practice all weekend.
But that also means that if you want to compare two different setups, FP4 is the session you do it. After FP4, you have thirty minutes to get two bikes ready for qualifying, with identical setups.