Three weeks, three races. That’s how the final stretch of the 2011 MotoGP Championship will begin, followed by the season finale at Valencia Nov. 11.
This concluding string of MotoGP races begins this weekend at Twin Ring Motegi with the Japanese GP, which was postponed from it’s original date (April 24) to this Sunday, Oct. 2, following the earthquake and subsequent Tsunami that devastated Japan March 11.
The man who has dominated up to Round 15, winning eight of those rounds, is Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner. The Australian, who made his debut on the Repsol Honda RC212V this season following four years with Ducati, holds a 44-point lead heading into Motegi.
If Stoner has a repeat performance of 2010 and wins the Japanese GP, he’ll have an opportunity to clench his second MotoGP title at his home race in Phillip Island Oct. 9.
Casey Stoner says: “Motegi is quite a different circuit, it’s similar in a way to Le Mans and is very stop-start, a little like a go kart track, but in general it’s nice and more fun than some of the other circuits we visit. It has a lot of hard breaking, a lot of hard accelerating, it’s pretty tough on the body and physically demanding.
“If you miss your breaking points it’s easy to run wide so it will be important to get the set up on the bike just right. As in Aragon, we will be going out there trying to win and not only looking for valuable Championship points.
“We had a fantastic race here last year, probably one of my best in my opinion and it will be fun to go there on the Honda and see how the bike works around the circuit.”
And Stoner will need the RC212V to work well around the 2.983-mile circuit featuring 14 turns, considering his rival Jorge Lorenzo still has an opportunity to retain the MotoGP title. And Lorenzo knows the Motegi circuit well, the Yamaha Factory Racing rider winning there in 2009.
Lorenzo, who will compete once again with the 50th Anniversary Edition M1 celebrating Yamaha’s milestone in GP racing, just missed the podium in last year’s Motegi MotoGP after a hectic battle with then-teammate Valentino Rossi.
Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing M1 MotoGP) says: “Japan is a home race for Yamaha and for us it is always a pleasure to ride here. Motegi is a track where I have won before and last year I had a nice fight for the podium.
“I would like to win again here, so that is my aim this weekend. After all the confusion with Fukushima we are here, fit and ready to put on a good show for Yamaha in this special year for them. We will begin on Friday and try to do everything really well!”
Fifty-five points behind Lorenzo is Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso, who suffered his first DNF of the season at the last outing in Aragon. Dovi has 12 top-five finishes so far, which includes five podiums.
Dovi has much work ahead to hold onto this third position in the 2011 MotoGP Championship, though. Only 15 points behind is the third and final Repsol Honda, Dani Pedrosa.
The Spaniard has taken second in the last three rounds (Indy, San Marino Aragon), and will be looking to take on the Motegi circuit without incident; during last year’s Motegi MotoGP, Pedrosa broke his right collarbone, an injury that plagued him for the remainder of 2010 and again this year after he re-injured the fracture at Le Mans.
The men who currently reside in the fifth and sixth spots in the 2011 MotoGP Championship are Yamaha Factory Racing’s Ben Spies (146 points) and Ducati’s Valentino Rossi (139). Rossi’s teammate Nicky Hayden sits in seventh with 114 points.
Rounding out the top ten in points are San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Marco Simoncelli, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha’s Colin Edwards and Simoncelli’s teammate, Japan’s own Hiroshi Aoyama.
Missing from the normal 17-rider MotoGP grid will be Loris Capirossi, the Pramac Racing Ducati rider sidelined with a shoulder injury. Riding in his place will be the Australian Damian Cudlin.
Two additional riders will join grid, making for 19 riders – Honda (HRC )test riders Kousuke Akiyoshi and Shinichi Itoh. MotoGP says Akioyoshi, who rode at Assen earlier this year, will be on an LCR Honda, teaming with Toni Elias. Itoh will compete on an RC212V for the Honda Racing Team.
The 19-rider grid will be on the Twin Ring Motegi circuit Friday for the first two of three free practices. The final free practice will precede qualifying on Saturday, followed by the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.
Motegi MotoGP on TV
SPEED TV will broadcast Motegi MotoGP at 2 a.m. (EDT) Sunday morning, Oct. 2, with a reply at 5 p.m.
2011 MotoGP Points (after 14 of 18 rounds):
- Casey STONER Honda AUS 284
- Jorge LORENZO Yamaha SPA 240
- Andrea DOVIZIOSO Honda ITA 185
- Dani PEDROSA Honda SPA 170
- Ben SPIES Yamaha USA 146
- Valentino ROSSI Ducati ITA 139
- Nicky HAYDEN Ducati USA 114
- Marco SIMONCELLI Honda ITA 106
- Colin EDWARDS Yamaha USA 90
- Hiroshi AOYAMA Honda JPN 87
- Hector BARBERA Ducati SPA 77
- Alvaro BAUTISTA Suzuki SPA 67
- Cal CRUTCHLOW Yamaha GBR 52
- Karel ABRAHAM Ducati CZE 50
- Toni ELIAS Honda SPA 47
- Randy DE PUNIET Ducati FRA 33
- Loris CAPIROSSI Ducati ITA 29