2015 Japan MotoGP Conference

Hayden Departure Highlights Japan MotoGP Conference
Nicky Hayden announces departure from MotoGP

Ahead of round 15 of 2015 MotoGP at the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, the series’ top riders met Thursday during the traditional official press conference.

Present at the Japan MotoGP conference were title rivals and Movistar Yamaha teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, along with Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, Ducati Team’s Andrea Iannone, Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Aleix Espargaro, and Aspar MotoGP’s Nicky Hayden.

Hayden – the sole American in all of 2015 Grand Prix motorcycle racing – highlighted the conference. The 2006 MotoGP Champion (Ducati) of Kentucky reported he would depart from MotoGP at the end of the season to join Ten Kate Honda in World Superbike.

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“Well this will be my last year in MotoGP as I’ll be moving to World Superbike next year with Honda and the Ten Kate team. It’s about all there is to it, not a lot more nothing too dramatic! These last two years have been not so good and I wasn’t in a position to get the result to keep a high level bike in MotoGP.

“I’ve always thought SBK might be something I want to try, liked the racing there, the opportunity felt like a good fit. I’m getting a bit older but I still enjoy the sport and the game. It’ll be a fresh challenge and a new opportunity to go there and have some more fun. Of course I’ll miss MotoGP and I’ve had a great opportunity here and been part of some great teams and worked with some great people but nothing lasts forever and we got to keep moving, go to SBK with Honda and hopefully have some fun.”

Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi at Motegi MotoGP Press Conference
Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi

Read More: Nicky Hayden Joins 2016 World SBK

When Hayden finished his announcement, all attention was on the nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, who holds a 14-point lead over teammate Lorenzo with four rounds remaining. The next three races – Motegi, Phillip Island, Sepang – are the most demanding considering they occur back-to-back.

“This championship is very tough, It’s still 100-percent open and now we have the last four races and for sure it will be the most difficult moment because everything is tighter and closer,” Rossi says.

“Three races in a row I like a lot, I like the tracks a lot and starting from Motegi I’ve won here just twice but apart from that we’ve had good results. Last year was a good race and usually Jorge is very strong here, he was won the two years. Just to give the maximum and try our best, try to arrive on the podium and make a good race like in Aragon with a good battle.”

Lorenzo won the last time out at Aragon, but will ride at Motegi with a sore shoulder due to a injury sustained during a training accident. As for Motegi, the two-time MotoGP Champion has won there the past two season.

“I had a crash last Saturday so I was quite worried, firstly because I thought it could be much worse. When I arrived in hospital before the X-ray I was also worried because they were thinking maybe it would need an operation. Luckily after the X-ray there was no need for an operation and I breathed very deeply,” Lorenzo says.

“I was less worried; anyway I feel some small pain. Not so much pain but not comfortable when moving the shoulder. Luckily it has improved each day and we’ve done everything we can to accelerate the process of recovery. I think tomorrow I will be better and Sunday I think I will be better than on Friday. Maybe I won’t be 100% but I’m also not 100% on the right, maybe on Sunday I will be close to 100% though.”

Marquez, the two-time MotoGP Champion who suffered five DNFs due to accidents so far this season, also arrives in Motegi with an injury He broke his pinky during a Mountain Bike crash, and underwent successful surgery. Heading into Motegi, Marquez is third in points, 79 points behind Rossi.

“My injury is not so bad, okay it’s different to Jorge because here the bone is broken but I feel OK and we’ll see how we feel on the bike tomorrow as I’m a little worried in the braking points as we’re pushing so hard during this point. But we try to fix with a special handle bar with the team and we will see on the bike. Until I ride the bike I don’t know. Everything else I feel well and ready and we’ll try to do our best again,” Marquez says.

The top Ducati rider so far this season is Iannone, who trails Rossi by 101 points. The Ducati GP15 pilot continues to recover from a dislocated right shoulder. He enters Motegi after finishing fourth at Aragon.

“Yeah, I’m really happy about Aragon so I think it’s a really good race for us. I try in the race to follow Vale and Dani but they have 2 or three tenths more than me so it’s impossible for me to stay with them. But at the end I’m happy, as feeling with the shoulder is improving during the week and day by day and this is important,” Iannone says.

“At the moment I think the condition is 70% and at this track it’s important because this track is famous for strong braking points and for the difficult of stopping the bike.”

As for Pedrosa, the Honda RC213V pilot was strong at Aragon, finishing second after a battle with Rossi.

“Yes it’s true after the last race we’re coming to this track where I enjoy riding and I have some wins in the past. Obviously we have to work very hard from practice, as we know the Yamahas are very strong this year,” Pedrosa says.

“It’s a good track that I like and when you enjoy riding you can perform better. I had a lot of messages from people saying I should ride like this more so we’re hoping to repeat another good weekend.”

Electric mini-bike race at Motegi MotoGP
Electric Mini-Bike race at Motegi MotoGP

Suzuki GSX-RR pilot Aleix Espargaro is coming off his best result of sixth at Aragon, and is excited to race on Suzuki’s home soil: “It’s an important weekend for Suzuki. I know a lot of important people of the brand will come to the race after three years of no racing activity. So we have to show them we can be completive and fight with the top brands. We’ll have to work hard.”

2015 Japan MotoGP Electric Mini Bike Race

A number of riders got involved in some racing action on Thursday before the on-track action officially starts in Japan as they took part in an electric mini bike race. Dani Pedrosa, Bradley Smith and Aleix Espargaro lined up on the grid alongside Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Pol Espargaro, Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar), LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista.

While the action was more about fun than serious racing, as always when you get these guys on track, chaos ensued. After a 3-lap training session, the riders were let loose on the MotoRacer kart track located at the Twin Ring Motegi for a 5-lap race. There was lots of elbow bashing and some massive crashes as the riders showed off their competitive streaks on bikes that have a tiny bit less power than their normal fire-spitting 260bhp MotoGP™ machines. In a dramatic finish it was Pedrosa who emerged victorious ahead of Smith and Aleix Espargaro, but the real battle will kick off on Friday when Free Practice starts.