Seven months on from the previous visit, the MotoGP World Championship makes its annual journey to Motegi for the Polini Grand Prix of Japan. The scene of the past two title victories in the premier class, the circuit has been a crucial location for the series in recent years and, although the World Champion will not be confirmed on April 26th, the race still has the potential to have a big say in the final standings for the season.
The first race of the 2009 campaign may have been unpredictable in circumstances -delayed until Monday evening due to atypical desert rain- but the end result went almost according to the script. Casey Stoner’s runaway victory left the Australian with a third consecutive win at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit, and sitting pretty at the head of the premier class standings. The Ducati Marlboro rider had spent over a year off the top spot, but has a strong case for his regaining the title he previously won in 2007; on only two occasions in the four-stroke era has the winner of the opening race failed to clinch the World Championship.
Stoner has yet to win a MotoGP race at Motegi, although his second place at the track from 2008 was his best result in Japan to date.
Reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi returns to the circuit at which he won the 2008 title, trailing Stoner in the standings after being powerless to stop his rival in Qatar. Rossi has a huge following in Japan, and Motegi is a home race for his Fiat Yamaha team. Teammate Jorge Lorenzo completed the podium at round one, but expressed dissatisfaction at the distance between himself and Stoner during the race.
Motegi was built as a Honda test track, and the factory’s riders have added motivation for a strong performance on the 50th anniversary of the manufacturer’s entry in the World Championship. Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso lead the Japanese brand’s lineup, despite the former still riding injured from a preseason crash, whilst home representation comes in the form of Scot Racing’s Yuki Takahashi.
Another rider who can be expected to feature heavily in proceedings in Japan is Rizla Suzuki man Loris Capirossi, unbeatable at Motegi from 2005 through 2007.
The Polini Grand Prix of Japan will be the 700th premier class race. Practice begins on Friday April 24th, with the race itself on Sunday April 26th.