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Twin Ring Motegi

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And so the most crucial part of the season begins. Although you could justifiably make the argument that every race is equally important, the three flyaways to the Pacific Rim often punch well above their weight in terms of determining the outcome of the championships.

If riders haven’t all but wrapped up the title before heading East for the triple header at Motegi, Phillip Island, and Sepang, then events can throw a real spanner in the works of a title fight.

These are three grueling weeks of racing under any circumstances; throw in the pressure of a championship battle and mistakes are easily made.

The first challenge the riders face is the sheer amount of travel it takes to get from one race to the next. First, they must spend at least 18 hours on planes and at airports traveling from Europe to Tokyo.

They face a further two-hour drive to get to Motegi, and unless they are well-paid enough to be staying at the circuit hotel, will have a 50-minute commute into the circuit every day ahead of the race.

On Sunday night or Monday morning, they return to Tokyo for another 10-hour flight (or longer, if they can’t fly direct) to Melbourne, and a drive down to Phillip Island. A week later, another flight to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, this time an 8-hour flight.

After the Sepang round, they finally get to head home, another 17+ hour return flight back to Europe, and a week to rest up ahead of the final round of the season at Valencia. They travel from a wet and humid Motegi, to the chill of Phillip Island’s early spring, to the sweltering tropical heat of Sepang.

Casey Stoner has made a temporary return to MotoGP, completing two days of testing for Honda at Motegi. Over the two days of testing, Stoner focused on the 2015 version of Honda’s RC213V, the Australian comparing the settings used by Repsol Honda’s current riders, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, to see how they work with the new bike.

Stoner also worked on preparing the 2015 further ahead of its debut at the Valencia test after the final race of the season. Finally, he also spent some time on the development versions of Michelin’s MotoGP tires, as the French manufacturer prepares to take over as spec-tire supplier from 2016 onwards. As is their custom with all testing, Honda did not release any lap times.

Part of the Japanese round of MotoGP always seems to involve learning a new name for a natural phenomenon. In 2010, we heard of Eyjafjallajökull for the first time, the volcano which awoke from under its ice cap and halted air travel in large parts of Europe and Asia.

We laughed as newsreaders and MotoGP commentators tried to pronounce the name of the Icelandic volcano and ice cap, and the race was moved from the start of the season to October.

A year later, in April 2011, it was T?hoku that was the name on everyone’s lips. The massive earthquake which shook Japan and triggered an enormous tsunami, killing nearly 16,000 people and badly damaging the Fukushima nuclear power station.

Again the Motegi race was moved to October, by which time the incredible resilience and industriousness had the track ready to host the MotoGP circus. 2012 turned out to be a relatively quiet year, but 2013 saw the tail end of typhoon Francisco ravage the region, causing the first day and a half of practice to be lost to fog and rain.

So it comes as no surprise that the 2014 round of MotoGP at Motegi teaches us yet another new name. This time it is Vongfong, a category 5 super typhoon which threatens the race in Japan.

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.

Here at Asphalt & Rubber, we miss Casey Stoner racing in the MotoGP Championship. That may not be the most popular opinion, especially with MotoGP fans, as the Australian never really warmed up to being in the spotlight, dealing with the prying questions of the press and demands of fans. Casey called things the way he saw it, and always strived for more on the track — and this ruffled many, as they viewed his words as complaints instead of his pursuit of perfection.

As critical of himself as he was of the machinery, tracks, and other riders, Stoner raced on a different level. There is an understanding of motorcycle racing dynamics in the two-time World Champion’s mind that few GP racers can match, and the proof of that is in Stoner’s results. It is this understanding the HRC hopes to tap into whenever they have they Aussie test a machine for them.

Taking to the Twin Ring Circuit in Motegi, for yet another test with Honda, Stoner rode back-to-back an early iteration of the 2014 Honda RC213V as well as the 2014 Honda RCV1000R “production racer” that non-MSMA teams will race next season. We have 26 high-resolution photos of Casey on these bikes after the jump, for your viewing pleasure.

While the 2013 MotoGP season has been favored with fair weather, Casey Stoner’s testing duties for Honda have been severely hindered by rain.

The previous test was a washout, and most of the last two days at Motegi were also badly affected by rain. However, the Australian managed to cram the better part of two days’ work into a single day on Thursday, riding both the 2014 RC213V and Honda’s production racer, the Honda RCV1000R.

Getting on the track one out of the two planned days at the Twin Ring Motegi Circuit last week (Day One was hampered by rain), Suzuki Racing got some more time on the track with its MotoGP race bike. With test rider Randy de Puniet on the track, the Frenchman posted a 1’48:60 as his best lap time of the day, about the same pace as his previous outings in Japan, though on par with the less grippy post-rain conditions. MotoGP fans will be pleased to hear that Suzuki Racing has been getting pressure from Dorna to enter as many wild card races as possible in 2014, which will help bolster the grid at a select number of events. There are 47 high-resolution photos waiting for you after the jump.

Much to the disappointment of the media, Stoner did not get a chance to swing a leg over Honda’s planned MotoGP Production Racer, though HRC Executive Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto confirmed that a future test of the machine by Stoner is in the works. A private test, and thus free of Dorna’s video restrictions, the fine folk at HRC have put together a short video of Casey on-board the RC213V in Japan. A far cry from the great material we got from Honda’s private test at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin (at some points in the video, we wonder if the videographer had some angry scarab beetles in their trousers), GP fans will surely still have an auralgasm as the RC213V goes by in anger.

After Shuhei Nakamoto was just talking last week about some of the technical details of Honda’s MotoGP production racer, HRC has released a photo of the RC213V-derived race bike testing at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit. Small in resolution, and taken with little zoom, the photo gives us few new details about the coming HRC production racer (that’s the point though, right?), but we do know that the still unnamed machine will cost roughly €1 million, be devoid of HRC’s “seamless” gearbox and pneumatic valves, and will come with Nissin and Showa components.

News that Suzuki plans on returning to the MotoGP Championship in 2014 should be old information for dedicated Asphalt & Rubber readers, and the Japanese company’s inline-four race bike was already spotted doing test laps last year by the eager eyes at Cycle World. Well the American print-mag has another set of eyebrow-raising high-quality photos of the 2014 Suzuki GSV-R to mull over from the Motegi race track, along with some technical insights provided by the venerable Kevin Cameron.