TOKYO, JAPAN, SEPT 30 – Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo may not need to panic, but he certainly has reason to be concerned.The runaway championship leader has seen his lead of 77 points shrink to 54 as the championship heads into its most intense phase. This weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit marks the first of three races on the trot-Malaysia and Australia follow on consecutive weekends-with the final two European races coming after a weekend off; five races in six weeks.Twin Ring Motegi is owned by Honda and they’d like nothing more than to see title aspirant Dani Pedrosa on the top step of the podium. The Spaniard has four wins this year, a career best in one season, with two of those wins coming in the last three races, Lorenzo finished second and fourth. Pedrosa also finished second to Casey Stoner (Ducati Marlboro) two weeks ago in Aragon, with Lorenzo off the podium for the first time this season. The race was his third in a row without a win, which extended his longest streak of the year. Prior to finishing second in Misano, following his third at the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, Lorenzo hadn’t gone more than one race without a win. That streak could come to an end in Motegi, where he won last year for the first time on a MotoGP bike.”The main goal is to get back on the podium and continue getting as many points as possible,” Lorenzo said. “We will try to be fast from Friday and start this run of three races as well as we can.”The race is a homecoming for all the Japanese manufacturers, but especially for Honda, which owns the circuit.”This final stage begins in Japan – the most important race for Honda because it’s their home Grand Prix – and I’m looking forward to getting to the circuit and starting the preparations for this special race,” Pedrosa said. “I would love to win at Motegi because I’ve never won here in MotoGP and I’ve been on the podium for the last two seasons. I always feel very motivated in Japan. I love the circuit and the atmosphere you feel there. The fans are very enthusiastic but also educated, and I feel a lot of support. We couldn’t race in Motegi at the beginning of the season due to the problems with the volcanic ash clouds, so I think the fans will be even more excited to welcome us.”It will be very important to start this tour of Asia in the best way. As I’ve said before, I will approach this final section of the season simply thinking race by race. We’re doing a good job in the team, the RC212V is working well – we know it better and better – and so this a good chance for us to try to win more races and to finish the year in the best possible way.”Stoner broke through with his first win of the season in the 13th race in Aragon. The season has been a disappointment, with both Stoner and teammate Nicky Hayden struggling to get feeling out of the front end. Both have crashed repeatedly and uncharacteristically. Stoner’s reversion to the 2009 Ohlins front forks made the difference in Aragon, a track that’s very smooth. Motegi also has a smooth surface, and a number of stop-and-go corners where braking stability is important, as is acceleration.”Motegi is a circuit with a lot of stop and go sections, not much of it flows together and it’s not one of my favorite layouts,” Stoner said. “On the positive side the surface is smooth, with not too many bumps, which have really made us suffer at a lot of tracks this year. You need a bike that is stable under braking and efficient under acceleration so I am hopeful that the setting we found at Aragon can be useful here again. In Spain we finally managed to improve the stability and found a bit more grip and if we can do that again this weekend we will have the chance to fight for a good result again.”The Aragon race was Ducati’s best in three years, with two riders on the podium for the first time since 2007, when Stoner and Loris Capirossi went one-two at Phillip Island. This time it was Nicky Hayden on the box for the first time this year. Hayden’s podium was also long expected; he’d finished fourth in four of the first five races.”I actually scored my first ever MotoGP podium at Motegi, but I’ve not had much out of it since then other than a couple of front row starts and a few results I’d rather not remember,” Hayden said. “It is the first of three races in a row in three different countries with very different climates. It is not an easy grind but I always enjoy it. We have to try and build on the good form we showed at Aragon and stay at the same level if we can. It won’t be easy but that has to be our objective.”Valentino Rossi finished sixth in Aragon, his worst of the year. Since missing four races with a broken leg, Rossi hasn’t been a factor-he’s been third twice. Motegi will be difficult for the nine-time world champion, whose leg healed completely, but whose shoulder continues to be troublesome.”The leg is now almost back to normal again – I have even started running – but the shoulder is a problem and we know now that this is not going to change until we have time to treat it properly,” Rossi said. “I have some great memories from Motegi, especially winning the championship in 2008, but I am expecting this weekend to be quite difficult on my body. We have a hard three weeks ahead but after this race two of my best tracks are coming up, and I am hoping for some good results. We will do our best and see what happens.”Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso has slipped from third in the championship to fifth and could soon be under pressure from Monster Yamaha Tech3’s Ben Spies. Motegi is the only one of the three tracks on this round of flyaways where Spies hasn’t ridden. He tested twice in Sepang, site of next week’s race, and raced at Phillip Island last year.Spies’ fellow Texan Colin Edwards will be looking for a reversal of fortune. Edwards has had a miserable year, but he was recently re-signed with the team and will be hopking to end the season on an up note.
Lorenzo Heads for Honda Country
Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor
Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.