Round 16 Motegi Preview
The busiest three-weeks of the MotoGP season is upon us as the championship begins a trio of races starting with the Motul Grand Prix of Japan at Twin Ring Motegi this weekend before heading to Australia and Malaysia to complete the quick-fire Pacific Rim tour.
Situated between the towns of Mito and Utsunomiya in the northern Kantō region of the Haga District within the Tochigi Prefecture, the Twin Ring Motegi circuit is a purpose-built motorsport venue featuring the road circuit, an oval track, safety and riding school, dirt track, go-karts and the impressive Honda Collection Hall.
The circuit’s position in this area is surrounded by dense woodland and its location can mean it is susceptible to fog, mist and wet weather.
Last time out Marc Marquez won the race and Championship. The celebrations have doubtless been continuing for the now eight-time World Champion since the paddock packed up and left Buriram. But despite that title fight being over, the season is far from it and the first of the four remaining races of the year sees us head for the hard-braking home race for so many manufacturers in the paddock – with plenty of pride on the line.
For Marquez, it’s a chance to race without his mind set quite so much on the maths – and he’ll also surely be chasing pole as Motegi is the last venue on the calendar at which he’s never achieved the feat in the premier class. He’s won here though – twice in MotoGP, once in Moto2 and once in the 125 World Championship – so his record says it’s a surprise he’s not yet started from the front.
“It is a special feeling to bring the World Championship home to Honda. In previous years I have been able to win the title there, but now I will be able to visit all of the people in Honda and HRC who helped make 2019 possible behind the scenes. Now it is the time to push for the other titles, there is still the Constructor and Team titles to help Honda win. I am looking forward to racing in Motegi because it is Honda’s home race and the Japanese fans are very special.”
But there are the team and manufacturer standings to consider, and it’s Honda’s 60th anniversary year of racing in the World Championship as well…so it won’t be a quiet weekend. It will be a milestone for team-mate Jorge Lorenzo too, as he celebrates, or commiserates his 200th premier class Grands Prix… This is a circuit where Lorenzo owns the current lap record and also the fastest ever motorcycle lap recorded at Motegi. The lap record he set at 1m45.350 in 2014, and the fastest ever practice lap benchmark is 1m43.790 from 2015, he set both markers while riding Yamaha machinery.
“We head to Japan looking for more after two difficult weekends. Myself and the team have some ideas to try for the bike in Motegi which will hopefully allow us to get back to where we need to be. I have some good memories at the track and it will be special to race in front of the Japanese crowd for the first time as a Honda rider.”
Andrea Dovizioso will be hoping to make more of a fight of it at Motegi. The venue has been a good one for the Italian and he is a man who’s been on pole before: the track was where Dovizioso took his first pole in the premier class in 2010, and he did it again in 2014 and 2018.
Dovizioso also won the 2017 showdown with Marquez in the rain – one of the most stunning duels of recent years, and there have been a few – and he’s been on the podium in the dry.
Danilo Petrucci is now fifth overall and only a handful of points off Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) in third and one point behind Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). He’ll want more from Motegi and the final four rounds overall.
That tight fight will certainly be one to keep an eye on. Rins will be pushing to the max to try and get the most from the home weekend for Hamamatsu factory Suzuki, as will rookie team-mate Joan Mir, but Viñales is closing fast on third overall – so gaining back some consistency is also key for Rins.
Suzuki will also have another machine on track too in Japan in the form of a wildcard for test rider Sylvain Guintoli, so that could aid them in their search for more speed.
Yamaha, meanwhile, have been seriously gaining traction as the latter half of the season goes on, especially Viñales as he chases down a place in the top three overall, and limelight-stealer Fabio Quartararo’s (Petronas Yamaha SRT) shining performances speak for themselves.
“We’ll keep working in the same way as we have in the past few weeks, and try to challenge for a good position and to aim for the podium. We’re also obviously keeping an eye on the rookie of the year title with Motegi being the first place where it can be won – but there’s no rush on it either! We’ve seen that Marc [Marquez] has been really fast at Motegi in the past, but it’s also a circuit where I was very strong last year, and for sure it’s going to feel great to be able to ride a MotoGP bike there.”
The French rookie is now only two points off Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) overall and could conceivably still catch Viñales for top Yamaha.
More pressing, though, is Rookie of the Year – with Quartararo 85 points ahead of Mir as it stands. If he leaves Japan 75 points ahead of the Spaniard, he’s taken the first of what could be a few accolades in 2019.
The Independent Team rider standings are another key battlefield. Quartararo has now got a nice buffer back to Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) in the fight for top Independent Team rider, but Miller will be pushing and so will Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol).
Crutchlow is on Honda turf and will want to bounce back after an issue in Thailand…although the pressure will likely more be on the other side of the garage and home hero Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), who recently inked a contract extension with HRC for the 2020 MotoGP World Championship.
Now in his second year aboard the RC213V Takaaki Nakagami has demonstrated consistent improvements in his riding and results in the premier class in 2019. With eight top-ten finishes and a best result of fifth at the Italian Grand Prix in Mugello so far, the Japanese rider has already amassed more than double the points he scored in his rookie campaign.
After his home race in Motegi, Nakagami will undergo an operation on his right shoulder to resolve an injury that has troubled him throughout the season. The nature of the operation warrants an extensive recovery period, forcing the Japanese rider to prematurely end his 2019 season. By performing the operation now, Nakagami is aiming to be fully fit for the first test of the 2020 season in Sepang on February 7th.
“First of all I am delighted to stay with Honda and the LCR Honda IDEMITSU Team. I have been able to improve a lot this year and Honda have shown me great support and given me a very strong package. I am sure together we can continue this in 2020. About the injury, after the crash I had in Assen during the race I found myself in some pain and lacking a bit of strength in my right shoulder. I went to visit Doctor Mir twice in Barcelona, and more recently I had an appointment with Doctor Hiroyuki Sugaya at Funabashi Orthopedic Surgical Hospital in Tokyo to fully understand the situation. While I have been able to ride with the injury, it has not been ideal, so we made the difficult decision alongside Honda and the LCR Honda IDEMITSU Team to have this operation in Japan straight after my home race”.
Rumour suggests that KTM exile Johann Zarco might be on the LCR Honda in Australia while Nakagami undergoes surgery…
Those riders still on KTM machinery will be looking to make an impact on the Japanese tarmac with their Austrian machines.
Hervé Poncharal – Red Bull KTM Tech3 Team Manager
“Right now, the bike is improving a lot, Miguel’s feeling with it is more and more positive race after race. The main struggle we have is not technical, it’s physical, because clearly since the Silverstone incident, Miguel has been suffering with the shoulder. There are some circuits where the pain is less than others, but obviously in Thailand that didn’t help the last third of the race. We believe, of course that two weeks will be helping further recovery. It is a circuit, that suits quite well both, the KTM and Miguel’s riding style, I believe. We are just keen to be there. We hope we have stable weather, because Motegi in October is not always easy. Clearly, it will be cooler than what we experienced in the previous round in Thailand. More than that, Japan is the country of the biggest motorcycle manufacturers in the world and if there is a place you want to shine, this is Japan. The team is coming after a few days off, hopefully everybody will be in a good mood after having a rest. Most of them have been spending their off-week in Asia and everybody is ready to start working on Wednesday. After hearing about the huge typhoon last weekend, I really hope that all the people in Japan are healthy and that all the facilities are ok, so we can have a fantastic Grand Prix in Motegi as every year.”
So many narratives make up a MotoGP season, and we may well be reading the first epilogue of the riders’ Championship but we’re far from the end of the story overall. Teams, constructors, rookies, Independent Team riders; milestones, records and more remain just around the corner in the final four rounds of the season.
Piero Taramasso – Michelin
“This is the second of the four flyaway races and the first of the three-week tour around the Pacific Ocean. This is always a demanding time for logistics and for the different circuits we face. Motegi is a track that demands stability from the front as the riders brake hard into many turns, especially ones such as ’90-degree Corner’, but then they also need the grip from the rear to get the power down to accelerate from these slower corners. We select compounds which we know will meet these requirements and give all the riders the confidence they need to push hard into these corners, while still having total control of their machines. Motegi can also be wet, but after what happened there in 2017, we know how well the rain tyres work, so have no worries about those giving top performance for all.”
MotoGP Championship Standings
Motegi MotoGP Time Schedule AEDT