Honda press release:
The dynamics of the Japanese Grand Prix changed entirely by moving the race from the latter part of the season to the second of 17 races of the MotoGP World Championship. The race weekend follows the Qatar curtain-raiser by just 11 days and comes less than a week before the championship heads back west to its traditional European base. Starting the season with three races in four weeks spread halfway across the world puts a premium on preparation, experience, and fitness. And Honda fans will be looking closely at Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who will benefit from two added weeks of recovery time, and teammate Andrea Dovizioso, who began his career with the Repsol Honda team by challenging for a podium in Qatar.
Pedrosa finished the 2008 Japanese Grand Prix on the podium, but this race will be more challenging. The Spaniard continues to recover from injuries to his left knee and wrist, and won’t be at 100% fitness. But he showed in Qatar that he could run at the front of the pack before a small technical issue blunted his drive.
The race will also be the first for the control Bridgestone tires on a track where the teams haven’t previously tested. That may work to Pedrosa’s benefit. In the Qatar season-opener, the medium Bridgestone quickly emerged as the race tire of choice, allowing the teams to use the reduced track time to concentrate on race set-up. The result was that all six Honda riders finished in the points.
The best among them was Dovizioso in fifth place. Dovi was in a podium position as late as the seventh lap before being slowed by a front grip issue he hadn’t encountered in practice or qualifying. Unable to turn into the corners or carry mid-corner speed, the 23-year-old Italian adapted by using the rear tire to turn. But corner speed is paramount in the 800cc era and the team must adapt the machine to the tires for Motegi.
Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Gresini Honda RC212V) gained strength and experience throughout the race in Qatar and closed to within 2.6 secs. of Dovizioso by the end. The 2008 campaign of the San Marinese was marked by ups and downs and a strong finish in the Japanese Grand Prix would show that he’s capable of consistent results.
Teammate Toni Elias returns to the track where he scored his final podium on a Honda in 2007, when he last rode for the Gresini Honda team. Elias left Qatar knowing the improvements that had to be made to both the machine and his riding, and he arrives at Motegi eager to put the theories to test.
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V) had a career best second place at Motegi in 2007, but was hobbled by a wrist injury last year. Now in perfect fitness, the 28-year-old Frenchman doesn’t expect the front end problems he and many others suffered in Qatar to hinder him in Japan. Unlike Qatar, which has a number of long, sweeping corners, the Motegi track is more stop-and-go, which De Puniet says suits his riding style.
Yuki Takahashi (Scot Racing Team RC212V) will race in front of his fellow countryman in only his second MotoGP race. Takahashi will balance his steadily increasing experience on the Honda RC212V with a wealth of knowledge about Twin Ring Motegi, where he’s had much success. Almost half of his podium positions have come at his home track.
Honda opened Twin Ring Motegi in the town of Motegi in eastern Tochigi prefecture in 1997. The name “Twin Ring” was formed by pairing the English word “twin” and the German word “ring” to denote the two race tracks. One is an irregular 2.493ks oval that has different length corners at its two ends. The second track is the 4.8ks road course that hosts events most weekends, with the MotoGP weekend the highlight of the calendar. Motegi served as the site of the Pacific Grand Prix from 2000-2003 and since 2004 has been the venue for the Japanese Grand Prix.
The road course consists of a number of stop-start straightaways that run to low gear hairpins. Seven of the 13 corners are taken in first or second gear and the only time the riders reach sixth gear is on the back straight, where last year Dani Pedrosa reached 292k. From sixth the riders brake down to first gear for turn ten, a 90 degree right-hander that leads to the signature stretch of the track, the tunnel under the oval straightaway.
Out of turn ten, the riders accelerate briskly into the tunnel that funnels the riders into the shadows, where they’re shielded from the sky before bursting into the sunshine on the other side. Then follows a challenging final three-turn sequence that leads onto the 762m long front straight and the finish line.
Given the nature of the track, it’s imperative a motorcycle be stable for hard braking and the ensuing heavy acceleration.
“I have always liked this track,” said Dovizioso. “There are many hard braking and many accelerations and I think that with the characteristics of our bike we can have a good race.”
By winning the Qatar Grand Prix, Casey Stoner (Ducati) leads the championship with 25 points to 20 for runner-up Valentino Rossi (20). Rossi’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo is third with 16 points.
Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa said: “I’m looking forward to this weekend in Japan. My leg is improving all the time and the knee is gaining a little bit more mobility every day. I don’t have the full range of movement yet, but I think that by the time we get to Motegi I’ll have about ten degrees more of movement than in Qatar, which should make quite a big difference. My elbow is also getting better after the hit De Angelis gave me in Qatar – there’s still some pain and stiffness but I hope it won’t be a problem in Japan. My priority is still to reach full fitness so that I can ride at 100 per cent, and then we must focus on the machine, because I missed out on quite a lot of winter testing and we’re still not at the level we’d like to be. It’s a case of taking things one step at time – first to get full fitness and then improve the bike step by step. Motegi is a track I like though, and I’ve won races there in the past so I’m looking forward to getting the best result possible at Honda’s home track”.
Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso said: “It’s important to arrive in Japan after the experience of one race. I’m happy we raced in Qatar as we have understood more about the bike. During the race some new issues arose and so we have had the time to analyze them. I think during the race we could have done a bit better. We have collected important data and we had time to do auto critica (to analyze the issues in a critical way) and for me it was an important experience. I look forward to the Japan GP. The GP of Japan is the home Grand Prix for Honda HRC, so I’d like to have a good result there. I like the atmosphere on Sunday; there are many Japanese fans supporting Honda and the Honda riders so I look forward to going there. This year Honda celebrates their 50th anniversary of involvement in motor racing and it’s an honour for me to race for the HRC factory in this important year”.
San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Alex De Angelis said: “Motegi is quite a technical circuit and I like it a lot. The section after the tunnel, which is a series of fast corners, is my strong part. Over the years in 250cc I made so many passes there. It won’t be an easy race for us because there are so many hard acceleration points coming out of slow corners and last year we had a really tough weekend, struggling to find a comfortable setting despite the best efforts of the team. We had a good start to the season in Qatar two weeks ago, so hopefully the base setting is useful here too. If we can work well from the first session and make quick progress with the set-up then we should be able to put in a strong performance”.
San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Toni Elias said: “I have always loved Motegi and to race there for HRC gives you an extra motivation to do a good job. We have to be realistic and keep our feet on the ground in terms of our expectations, because the situation we’re in at the moment demands it. But hopefully we can get a little bit of help and with it being a track I like so much we can improve on the performance from Qatar – this is the principal objective. Motegi is a circuit with lots of heavy braking and I have always been good on the brakes, which I think is why my record is so good there, but this is an area we’re struggling with at the moment. So it is fundamental we fix that particular problem because good braking is a weapon we really need here”.
LCR Honda’s Randy De Puniet said: “Despite the delay of the race I think that our first round at Losail was not so bad. Basically, I expected a better result-maybe between 5th and 8th places-but the top ten is an amazing start for us. We still have to fix the problem with the front tyre, but I do not want to lose too much time on it. We must focus our efforts on the next round. I like the Japanese track and think is more suitable to my riding style. Despite last year’s result due to my wrist injury, I still have good memory about this circuit: I obtained my first MotoGP podium here! Thanks to the base set-up we developed in Qatar, I am sure I will enjoy racing there. The straight is shorter than at the Losail race track and the I like the stop-and-go braking points”.
Scot Racing Team MotoGP’s Yuki Takahashi said: “Motegi is my home race and I have my fans here. So you can imagine how important a good race will be for me. We used to come to Japan later in the season when it is warmer. I hope the meteorological condition will be good – not too cold. In Qatar I understood several things about my Honda. If you add to it the fact that I know very well this track, you can understand why I’m confident of having a good race”.
Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Racing Team 250cc) comes to Motegi hoping to continue the good form he showed by finishing a shadow fourth in the rain-shortened 250cc Qatar Grand Prix. The Japanese rider arrives home to a track where he won successive races from pole position, in 2005 and 2006. His teammate, the young Italian Raffaele De Rosa was two bike-lengths behind Aoyama in fifth and within half a second of the podium in his first race with the team.
Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT SAG RS250RW) and Hector Faubel (Valencia CF – Honda SAG RS250RW) both showed their mettle in Qatar. Wilairot equaled a career best eighth, but the gap to the winner was his closest ever. Faubel finished one better than Shoya Tomizawa (CIP Moto – GP250), the young Japanese rider who is looking forward to his home debut as a full-time grand prix rider after scoring his first points as a wild card in last year’s 250cc race.
Scot Racing Team 250cc’s Hiroshi Aoyama said: “My family will be at the race track as well as my friends and fans. I want a great performance. I’m convinced we can do a good job, as I know the track very well, I can understand the bike in any condition, and this will help us with the set-up. I’m pleased with the result we got in Doha, and I want to progress even further to get precious points. By the way, this will be not only my home race, but also a family race: My brother is going to take part in it as a wild card. Let’s see who will be in front of the other”.
Thai Honda PTT SAG’s Ratthapark Wilairot said: “I have arrived in Japan happy and satisfied by the results in Qatar. Japan is a place that I know. Here I took some steps before going to the World Championship. It is a territory of Honda and I believe it will be a good race. I know that all my team and Honda will make a big effort to be ready for the race. I still have the satisfaction of the last Grand Prix, where I had a good start and it allowed me to fight with the top riders. I learned many things that I hope will help me to do better here in Motegi. Since arriving in Japanese, I’m spending my time relaxing and preparing for the race”.
Valencia CF – Honda SAG’s Hector Faubel said: “I arrived in Japan wanting badly to go out on the track and be in the front of the field. I still had a bad flavor from the last race in Qatar, where it was difficult to do anything but ride for as many points as possible. I’ve arrived in Motegi strong and with much energy. I’ll put out 110% on the track and I’m sure that I will put me among the leaders. In the days leading up the race, I’ll continue my training to prepare for Friday’s first free practice”.
Scot Racing Team 250cc’s Raffaele De Rosa said: “I like this track and I like Japan: so quiet; so green. I will take a careful look at my teammate (Aoyama) to learn from him; he’s very strong here. The bike is good, the team knows it perfectly and they are able to quickly get the best set-up. In Doha, I lost the podium by a hair. But it’s all water under the bridge. We’ll try again here”.
CIP Moto – GP250’s Shoya Tomizawa said: “I like Motegi, having raced there a number of times already. Unfortunately, I have not always been lucky. I have done wild cards in 125cc twice, but crashed both times. In 2007, I have a good memory of winning the 125cc All-Japan Championship race at Motegi. My best memory is from 2008 when I was a wild card in the 250cc class. I was able to score two points and have the opportunity to race among the regular 250cc GP riders. For this coming GP My target is a top ten finish, but I know it is going to be hard. As always, I want to make progress and learn to ride differently and with a different mental approach compared to last year. Last year I wasn’t in the championship and this is different, this is his championship and I want to go faster. I know I have to improve my riding style and learn how to go faster lap after lap”.