The all-Spanish slugfest for the MotoGP World Championship rolls into Japan this weekend but the man currently in possession of the no.1 plate is set to throw a spanner into the works. After breaking his ankle at Indianapolis, Casey Stoner has been forced to watch the title race leave him behind but the retiring Australian still has four chances to leave us with a memorable parting gift.
Had injury not struck for Stoner, we could actually be watching a three-way tussle for the championship. Casey had just won the U.S. Grand Prix at Laguna Seca and who knows what he could’ve done in the two races he missed, although the loss of another potential title may not bother him in the slightest. After all, he was planning to retire whether he won it or not.
One way or another, Stoner’s role in the final four events will play a serious part in who succeeds him as champion and it will be fascinating to see how he approaches it. Repsol Honda’s dream scenario will be for him to slot in between Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, allowing his teammate to take as big a bite into Lorenzo’s 33 point lead as possible. You get the feeling though, that Stoner’s intention is to do what he does best, win.
Pedrosa has proven most adept at that recently with three victories in the last four races, although the damage done by his DNF at Misano still looks tough to overcome. Lorenzo will not want to see his advantage eroded much more though as the margin for error gets smaller and smaller and their private head-to-head will be fascinating.
The inter-team battle at Tech 3 also continues to be a feature of the season with Andrea Dovizioso seeing Cal Crutchlow’s maiden podium at Brno and getting his own back two races later. Motegi holds fond memories for ‘Dovi’ with his only MotoGP pole position coming here but both will want to forget their last visit when they both jumped the start.
Valentino Rossi also saw his race fall apart in double-quick time with a crash on the opening lap, coming together with Ben Spies, and this will be his last visit to Japan before taking the American’s seat at Yamaha. Ducati didn’t have much chance to show how quick they really were at the Motorland so Rossi will be one to watch while his teammate Nicky Hayden will be happy just to be involved after the scary ending to his afternoon at Aragon.
It’s amazing how much has changed in twelve months for Stefan Bradl. The German lost the lead to Marc Marquez in the Moto2 championship here last year, many thought for good, but Stefan would go on to pick up the title, as well as numerous admirers in his debut MotoGP campaign. With Honda owning Motegi, Bradl’s LCR squad will be desperate to impress while Alvaro Bautista will have similar intentions on Gresini’s RC213V.
For the first time in the MotoGP era, the Motegi spectators will have no regular Japanese rider to cheer for with wildcard Katsuyuki Nakasuga the only local entrant, but there are two other changes to the field which assembled at Aragon. David Salom’s two race stint with the Avintia Blusens squad has come to an end, allowing Ivan Silva to take his bike back, while a disgruntled Mattia Pasini has been shown the door by Speed Master, giving Moto2 exile Roberto Rolfo an unexpected opportunity.
One year after taking the championship lead in Moto2 for the very first time, Marc Marquez heads to Japan with a comfort zone of 48 points over Pol Espargaro, the only man with a hope of catching him. The Pons rider was victorious at Aragon to ensure Marquez can’t wrap it up in Japan but surely it will take a cruel run of misfortune to deny Marc from here.
The first ever Moto3 champion could be crowned this weekend though as Sandro Cortese defends a 51 point lead over Luis Salom with Maverick Vinales also mathematically in contention. Realistically, Vinales kissed his title hopes goodbye when his FTR-Honda conked out on the formation lap at Aragon but Salom kept his hopes alive by finishing second to Cortese. With the last three 125cc winners all in Moto2, no-one in the junior class will have won at Motegi before so history is guaranteed one way or another, but the following scenario could see Moto3 salute its inaugural champion.
Whatever happens, Cortese’s place in Moto2 next season is assured and Britain’s Danny Kent is set to join him after signing a deal with Tech 3. The 18 year old will want to sign off in the junior class with a victory in the final four races but plenty of other riders will be out to stop him, including his future teammate Louis Rossi.
The Moto3 class will kick off the weekend’s action at 1:15am UK time on Friday morning and The Checkered Flag will have extensive coverage throughout the weekend.
Motegi Former Winners:
|2011||Dani Pedrosa||Andrea Iannone||Johann Zarco|
|2010||Casey Stoner||Toni Elias||Marc Marquez|
|2009||Jorge Lorenzo||Alvaro Bautista||Andrea Iannone|
|2008||Valentino Rossi||Marco Simoncelli||Stefan Bradl|
|2007||Loris Capirossi||Mika Kallio||Mattia Pasini|
|2006||Loris Capirossi||Hiroshi Aoyama||Mika Kallio|
|2005||Loris Capirossi||Hiroshi Aoyama||Mika Kallio|
|2004||Makoto Tamada||Dani Pedrosa||Andrea Dovizioso|
|2003||Max Biaggi||Toni Elias||Hector Barbera|
|2002||Alex Barros||Toni Elias||Dani Pedrosa|
|*No Moto3 races have been held at Motegi|
|(Races in 2002 & 2003 were run as the Pacific Grand Prix)|