Five months later than originally scheduled, and after murmurs of discontent from riders and personnel throughout the paddock, MotoGP can finally get down to racing in a country which is owed so much.
March's earthquake and tsunami in the region of TÅhoku measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and proved to be one of the most devastating natural disasters in the country's history. Over 15,000 lives were lost and many others were reported missing in the carnage that was left behind, rendering the loss of a motorcycle race irrelevant.
Mito is the closest city to the Twin Ring Motegi, situated around 27 miles away, and certainly didn't escape the devastation. Motegi was relatively untroubled but with cracks in the circuit and damage caused to the spectator seats, there was no option but to postpone the event until October.
The nuclear crisis that followed left the rescheduled date in question too as radiation from the stricken Fukushima plant reached harmful levels. Speaking at the Sachsenring, Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo were particularly vocal in their opposition to travelling.
But an FIM Independent report in August determined that the race would go ahead as planned, declaring that “the radiation risk during the race event is negligible”. Slowly but surely, the riders changed their tune, and injuries aside, Motegi will see a full grid of Grand Prix riders battling it out on Sunday.
If proof of Japan's importance to motorcycle racing was ever needed, this weekend's grid provides a graphic demonstration. 13 of the 19 bikes that line up on Sunday will be the product of a Japanese manufacturer and if a sport ever owed a country a world-class spectacle, MotoGP does this weekend.
Two of those bikes will be under particular scrutiny as Honda's Stoner and Yamaha's Lorenzo resume their championship fight. With Japan signalling the start of three Asian races in four weeks, the identity of this year's Champion may well have been decided by the time we return to Europe for the final round in Valencia.
Lorenzo will be hoping that is not the case as he is likely to need all four remaining races to make up his 44 point deficit. All of the Spaniard's hard work in beaten the Repsol Hondas at Misano was quickly undone at Aragon, as Stoner led home teammate Dani Pedrosa in a stunning display of dominance, leaving Lorenzo to pick up the remaining scraps on the table in third.
Perhaps an even bigger concern for the defending champion is that Stoner is the last man to have won at Motegi, doing so on the underperforming Ducati 12 months ago. The victory had many similarities to his successes of this year with the Australian scampering off into the distance as fireworks went off in his wake.
In 2010, the drama came between Lorenzo and his then-teammate Valentino Rossi who fought out a no-holds-barred scrap for the final podium position. The duel saw more than a little contact before being decided in favour of Rossi on a dramatic final lap.
Lorenzo shouldn't have to worry about Rossi this weekend with Ducati continuing their public testing schedule this weekend. Rossi tried out an updated GP11.1 with a new aluminium front frame at Aragon but the necessity for a new engine saw him start from the pitlane. The relief for Rossi fans is that he should be able to start where he qualifies this time but anything on the front two rows would be an incredible achievement.
Injury forced Dani Pedrosa to sit out last year's event but the Spaniard has a decent record here, finishing on the podium on his last two visits as well as winning on 125cc and 250cc machinery in the past.
Like Pedrosa, Ben Spies will be charged with the task of helping his teammate in his championship challenge. For Dani, it was mission accomplished at Aragon as he beat Jorge Lorenzo to second but Spies hasn't beaten Casey Stoner in a race since winning at Assen. Yamaha will return to the 50th anniversary colours that Ben raced in that weekend and the team will be hoping that leads to another stand-out ride from the American. They certainly need one.
Marco Simoncelli could be a threat to the Yamahas this weekend as the Italian rides safe in the knowledge that his future is secured. Simoncelli will stay with the San Carlo Gresini squad for the 2012 season although it remains to be seen whether he will have factory support.
Andrea Dovizioso's hopes of a works-Honda ride look even slimmer and his performance at Aragon won't have done those chances any good. The 25 year old failed to finish for the first time all season after crashing on lap one and needs a swift return to form as he looks to place himself in the shop window for 2012.
Normally, that would round up the quartet of factory Hondas but the Japanese manufacturer has shown its' support to the nation by giving the supporters two more to look out for in the form of HRC test riders Shinichi Ito and Kousuke Akiyoshi. The 44 year old Ito will race as a wildcard for the HRC Team while Akiyoshi will partner Toni Elias on a second LCR Honda.
Any expectations for Akiyoshi and Ito to challenge the top ten will be limited so all local interest will focus on Hiroshi Aoyama who will race the second Gresini machine. Aoyama who hails from Chiba in the Greater Tokyo area is sure to have plenty of support and will be keen to repeat his performance of two weeks ago when he raced Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi all the way to the line.
Crutchlow won that battle in the end and will head to Asia full of confidence. The Briton has another learning process in front of him this weekend but if he can maintain his advantage over Colin Edwards, the Grand Prix will have been a certain success.
The only regular rider absent this weekend is Loris Capirossi who dislocated his shoulder at Aragon but the second Pramac Ducati seat alongside Randy de Puniet will be filled by Damian Cudlin. The Australian has been competing in the IDM German Superbike Championship this year as well as the World Endurance series and will make a deserved MotoGP debut on Sunday.
In Moto2, national pressure will fall on the shoulders of Yuki Takahashi as the only regular Japanese rider in the class. Tomoyoshi Koyama and Takaaki Nakagami will be making one-off appearances but the Gresini rider is perhaps the only rider in the paddock with a realistic chance of home success.
The only man under greater pressure than Takahashi must be Stefan Bradl whose championship lead took another hammer blow at Aragon. Tyre problems for the German allowed Marc Marquez to close to within six points after his seventh win of the year and Bradl's season-long lead is now in real danger of disappearing.
Five Japanese youngsters have been granted wildcard entries in the 125cc class but all eyes will be Nicolas Terol and the question is surely when, rather than if, he clinches the championship. With a 36 point lead over the still-winless Johann Zarco, Terol can't win the title at Motegi but another victory will put him on course to be crowned next time out in Australia.
The 125s will kick off the weekend's action at 01:15am UK time on Friday with FP1 and The Checkered Flag will have full coverage of all three classes throughout the weekend.
Motegi Former Winners:
|*Run as the Pacific Grand Prix