Motegi MotoGP Preview

Paul Carruthers | September 22, 2008
The following is from Suzuki… 

Rizla Suzuki MotoGP has a three headed attack for this weekend’s race in Japan, for the first of three Grands Prix over four weekends around the Pacific Rim.

The first of the races sees the Rizla team heading to Suzuki’s homeland of Japan for the Motegi GP – a venue that has almost become a second home for Loris Capirossi. The latest recruit to the Rizla Suzuki squad has won the last three Motegi races, an absolutely remarkable record when added to the fact that he has been on the podium a further three times during the nine years that a premier-class Grand Prix has been held at the Japanese circuit. Capirossi will certainly want to add to that record as he looks to begin the run-in to the end of the season in style.

Chris Vermeulen will be determined to break in to the top-10 for the first time at Motegi after his two previous visits have both yielded 11th place finishes. Vermeulen produced a great performance last season at the 4,801 track, after stalling on the start-line he was almost a minute behind the leader at the end of the first lap, but he fought his way to 11th by the end. The Rizla Suzuki regulars will be joined this weekend by a wildcard rider in the shape of Team Test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi for his first appearance of the year. Akiyoshi raced at last year’s Japanese Grand Prix and acquitted himself very well. He was as quick as his Suzuki’s team-mates and was looking for a strong top-10 finish until a technical problem caused him to retire, after having been up to fourth place in the early part of the race and sitting in a comfortable seventh before his bike stopped.

Motegi is situated about 90km/s north-east of Tokyo and the Japanese circuit will be celebrating its 10th successive year of GP racing this coming weekend. Originally constructed in 1997 as a oval test-track for evaluating the performance of American Indy cars, it also incorporated a road circuit that is as safe and as well equipped as any on the MotoGP calendar.

The three Rizla Suzuki racers will take to the track on Friday 26th September for two free practice sessions followed by another practice on Saturday morning. The afternoon will see all three battle it out in an hour of qualifying to decide grids positions for Sunday’s 24-lap race which gets underway at 14.00hrs local time (05.00hrs GMT).

Loris Capirossi:

“I have great memories from Motegi, I have won the last three races there and it will be good to go back and try to do my best again – especially now that I am riding for a Japanese factory on its home track. We had a tough time at Indianapolis for a number of reasons, but that is now behind us and we have to make the most of the rest of the season and Motegi is a good place to start that. I can still fight with the best guys out there and that has to be my goal!”

:Chris Vermeulen:

“I had a good ride at Motegi last year despite stalling on the grid. I feel that every time I go out on the track I am getting faster and faster and the new chassis that we have been using for the last couple of races should certainly help us at this track. I am in a good state of mind going into this event and confident of a strong performance. I am just outside the top five at the moment and with the races we have left I am sure I can make a serious challenge to improve my position in the championship.”

Kousuke Akiyoshi:

“I am really pleased and excited to be racing at Motegi. It is my home circuit and I was doing well there last year before I had to retire. I have done many miles testing the 2008 GSV-R and now it will be good to race it – I cannot wait to get out there!”


The following is from Kawasaki…

The Kawasaki Racing Team head for their second home race of the season this weekend, as the MotoGP circus travels to Motegi for the A-Style Grand Prix of Japan, the 15th round of the 2008 world championship.

Opened in 1999, the 4.8km Twin Ring circuit, some 160km north of Tokyo, sits in a rural landscape and, as its name suggests, boasts not one but two tracks: a “super speedway” oval and the longer, snaking “road course”, which the premier class teams will be tackling on Sunday.

Kawasaki’s history at Motegi is a strong one, with Shinya Nakano taking third place, and Kawasaki’s first ever MotoGP podium finish, in his home Grand Prix back in 2004, while Randy de Puniet went one better in 2007 to bring his Ninja ZX-RR home in second place.

Anthony West also put in a strong performance last season at the Twin Ring. Starting from sixth position on the grid, the Kawasaki pilot blasted his way to the front to lead the race on lap two, before a ride through penalty relegated him back to 14th position. Undeterred, West fought his way back through the field to finish an impressive seventh.

The 27-year-old Australian raced extensively in Japan aboard 1000cc machines during his younger years, so he knows the circuit better than most. West is hoping that this track knowledge will help him this weekend to overcome the set-up issues that have had such a negative impact on his race results so far this season.

Motegi hasn’t been the luckiest of tracks for John Hopkins in recent years, but the 25-year-old Anglo-American is adamant that it is a circuit at which he enjoys racing, and one that will suit well the characteristics of his Ninja ZX-RR MotoGP machine.

As a result, Hopkins heads for this weekend’s Grand Prix of Japan determined to put on a good show for the thousands of Kawasaki fans at the track, most of whom congregate in the grandstand opposite pit lane and whose enthusiastic cheering every time the riders leave the pit box is loud enough to drown out the sound of their Ninja ZX-RR machines!

Anthony West

Kawasaki MotoGP Pilot #13

“Motegi is a track that I know well, because I’ve done a lot of laps around there in the past. It’s a very grippy circuit with an interesting layout. Last year we performed well there, particularly in qualifying, but a small mistake in the race meant we didn’t quite achieve the result we were capable of. I know it’s not going to be an easy ride for us this weekend, but it’s Kawasaki’s second home event, so I hope we can gain a strong result. I spent a few days in America after the Indianapolis race before we came over to Japan, and I’ve been training a lot, so we’ll just have to see what the weekend brings.”

John Hopkins

Kawasaki MotoGP Pilot #21

“Motegi has never been a circuit that’s been kind to me, as I’ve always had a lot of bad luck there. Even last year, which was my best season so far, Motegi was definitely my worst round. However, maybe this is the year we can turn it around after all of the bad luck we’ve had with injury. It’s a track I actually enjoy, the fans and atmosphere are all a lot of fun, and the circuit layout is good too. I’ve been in Japan for a while already and this is Kawasaki’s second home round so it would be really nice if we can do well here. We are mainly concentrating on the development of the machine for next year, although it would be great to finish the final few rounds of 2008 with strong results. I’ve continued to train hard, and I managed to fit in a spot of sight-seeing in around Tokyo in the last week, so I’m now really looking forward to getting on the bike again and racing.”


The following is from Yamaha…


Valentino Rossi gets his first opportunity to wrap up the 2008 MotoGP World Championship this weekend in Yamaha’s home race at Motegi. The record-breaking 29-year-old arrives at the Grand Prix of Japan with an 87-point lead over Casey Stoner at the top of the standings with only four races left, meaning third place on Sunday will be enough to seal the title even if Stoner takes victory.

It is the first of four possible ‘match-points’ for Rossi, who is aiming for his sixth premier-class title and his first since 2005. Should he clinch it he would become only the second rider to regain the crown following a two-year gap – the other being Giacomo Agostini, whose all-time premier-class win record of 68 was broken by Rossi at Indianapolis last weekend. Agostini, with eight titles, is the only rider to have won the MotoGP World Championship on more occasions than Rossi.

Motegi has not traditionally been a happy hunting ground for Rossi or his Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo in the past. Despite scoring six podiums here Rossi has taken victory only once, which was back in 2001 before the advent of four-stroke MotoGP machinery. Lorenzo, meanwhile, scored just one podium at this circuit during his illustrious 250cc career, taking third in 2006. However, both riders head to Japan in great form, with the experienced Italian having racked up four straight wins and the rookie Spaniard aiming for a third consecutive podium.

For the second time in as many races MotoGP heads to a home of IndyCar racing, although unlike Indianapolis the ‘Twin Ring’ Motegi was initially designed to host both oval and traditional circuit road races. Designed in 1997 as a test venue, Motegi has modern facilities and features a somewhat geometric track layout. The surface traditionally offers good levels of grip without being overly abrasive but the proliferation of second gear turns, linked for the most part by mini-drag strips, means braking and acceleration are the main prerequisite to a fast lap time. Rossi set the current circuit record in 2006 with a lap of 1’47.228 on the 990cc Yamaha YZR-M1.

Valentino Rossi – “No pressure”

“So, we have had a fantastic run of race and now here we are finally, with a ‘match point’ for the championship, and in Motegi once again! In 2005 I was in the same situation but I crashed and had to wait for Malaysia to win the title, and then last year we lost the championship in Japan. I really would like to win in Motegi, especially as it’s such an important race for Yamaha and it would be a great reward for them for all of the work they have done. However, we cannot put too much pressure on ourselves and I will try to treat it like another normal race. We have a good margin of points, but there are still four more races so it is still not over! Everyone is very relaxed and focused, my Bridgestone tyres and my M1 are working very well and hopefully we can have another great weekend in Motegi.”

Jorge Lorenzo – “High hopes for success in Japan”

“Japan is an incredible country, with very different customs to those that we’re used to in Europe; I always look forward to going back there. Yamaha have planned a series of activities for me before the race, including a visit to the factory at Iwata, which I am really looking forward to. It’s been a year since I signed my contract with Yamaha, but I still haven’t visited their factory. I am sure it will amaze me! Regarding the race, Motegi is the first circuit on our Pacific tour and I have high hopes for new success there. After the two podiums of Misano and Indianapolis, the team and I want to give Yamaha another similar performance because this race is very important for the brand. I trust in the work Michelin are doing with the tyres, although Motegi is one of the few circuits at which I have never won. I did get the first-ever fastest lap of my career there however, in 2003. I am looking forward to the race!”

Davide Brivio – “Try to win and then see what happens”

“Of course we go to Japan on the back of a very positive trend – four wins in a row means we will have the support of some very excited colleagues at Motegi! When you are on a run like this it tends to get more difficult to keep winning because you know you can’t continue forever but we have to go to Motegi in the same spirit as we have approached every race this year – let’s just go to the track and see if it’s possible to win. Of course, we know it is important because it is the first ‘match point’ and we could secure the championship. Personally, though, I would rather think that could happen as a consequence of a good job on our part rather than somebody else’s misfortune. So that’s our first target: prepare properly for the race, try to win it and then see what happens after that.”

Daniele Romagnoli – “The whole team is on a high!”

“Yamaha have struggled in the past at Motegi but I think this year will be different because this year’s bike is so much better than what we’ve had in the past and we’re confident it can work well. The whole team is on a high after Sunday’s race, we had a great team dinner with both riders on Sunday night in Indianapolis and not only are we all backing Valentino to win the riders’ championship but we’re working hard together to win the constructors’ and teams’ title too. We hope Jorge can make a big contribution to that, as he has done all season, and we go to Japan in a very positive frame of mind. From our side of the garage we can’t help but look at the possibility of finishing third in the championship but our real target is to have more good races, some more podiums and maybe even celebrate one more victory before the end of the season.”


The following is from Honda…


Repsol Honda Team RC212V riders Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden go into Honda’s home round of the 2008 MotoGP World Championship determined to climb the podium at Twin Ring Motegi.

Both riders will be hoping for more normal weather conditions at Motegi, after battling Hurricane Ike at the recent Indianapolis Grand Prix. American Hayden had a rousing ride to second place in treacherous conditions at Indy, giving him an extra boost for Motegi. Indy was a learning weekend for Pedrosa, the Spaniard’s first race since switching to the pneumatic-valve RC212V and Bridgestone tyres. Hayden has been using the pneumatic-valve machine since June’s British GP and continues to run Michelin tyres. Pedrosa and Hayden are currently placed third and eighth in the 2008 points standings

Japan has hosted a round of the motorcycling World Championships on and off since 1963, when the Japanese GP was held at the brand-new Suzuka circuit, the country’s first roadrace venue. Soichiro Honda built Suzuka to give his countrymen the chance to compete on a real racetrack, helping to improve Japanese riders and Japanese machinery, and to bring GP racing to Japan, though the track didn’t hold a round of the premier class until 1987. Motegi was built to celebrate Honda Motor’s 50th anniversary in 1998 and staged its first World Championship race the following year, when it hosted the Pacific GP. It has been home to the Japanese GP since 2004.

Dani Pedrosa

“Indianapolis was an important weekend for us, with lots of work and with all kinds of different weather. That made it quite tough, but it did give us experience in different conditions, so we could learn about my new machine and tyres in both dry and wet conditions. I hope that we can use the data we gathered there to help us achieve a good result at Honda’s home race. I am feeling quite confident for the Japanese round. Motegi is one of those tracks that I like because the surface has good grip and not so many bumps. It is important to have good braking power and good acceleration from your machine, which means that the tyres are very important because you need to be able to brake late into the corners and accelerate strongly out of the corners. My favourite section of the track is the middle bit, climbing the hill towards the highest point. To achieve a fast lap you need to get your braking points absolutely correct, and the final section is probably most important for a good lap time. It’s the kind of circuit where you need to use an aggressive riding style. The atmosphere in the paddock is very different – the Japanese get very excited about getting autographs!”

Nicky Hayden

“Indy gave us a little bit of a boost, so we’ll see if we can keep that going at Motegi. I’m looking forward to it because I’m planning on finishing the season strong. I owe that to Honda, they’ve been a big part of my career, so it would be nice to get some more podiums. This will be my last race on a Honda at their home track, so it would be really nice to get a result for all the Honda people who have worked with me. First time I went to Motegi as a rookie in 2003 I battled with Sete [Gibernau], Valentino [Rossi] and Makoto [Tamada] and they ended up giving me third, my first top-three result. I thought ‘wow, this is going to be a good track for me’. But since then I really haven’t done much there. I’ve struggled in some of the hairpin corners. It’s an okay track, I like the combination in the back when you come under the first bridge, that all flows together really nice. I like those tunnels, because they’re different, it almost feels like you need headlights! Braking stability is probably the biggest thing, plus acceleration. You need a bike that’s good going back through the gears, so you need a good clutch and engine braking set-up.”

Paul Carruthers | EditorPaul Carruthers took over as the editor of Cycle News in 1993 after serving as associate editor since starting his career at the publication in 1985. Carruthers has covered every facet of the sport in his near-28-year tenure at America's Daily Motorcycle News Source.