Four rounds remain in the 2016 MotoGP Championship, and the final stretch begins this weekend with the Grand Prix of Japan at Twin Ring Motegi. This weekend also begins the first of three-consecutive races in three different countries, putting some additional strain on the grid besides the norm of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.All of the action in Japan official got underway Thursday with the traditional pre-race press conference. In attendance was the current points leader, two-time MotoGP Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) and the man who trails him in second by 52 points, nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP).
Joining Marquez and Rossi were Rossi’s teammate, the reigning MotoGP Champion Jorge Lorenzo, Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3).Marquez won last time out at Motorland Aragon, and is now 52 points ahead of Rossi. If results are on his side once again, Marquez can get closer to clinching a third premier-class title.“Here is the first chance but there’s no need to talk about it!” said the 2013 and 2014 MotoGP™ World Champion. “So many things would have to happen – and it’s nearly impossible. I’m going to have the same mentality as until now, just work hard. We know Motegi won’t be like Aragon but I think we’re getting better and better. It’s a good circuit for my riding style but with our bike we struggle a bit here every year, but we’ll see because we also thought we’d be far in Misano but we were closer.“To take points for the Championship is the most important, and if we can get on the podium, even better. Now we have three races in a row it’s important to finish all the races and stay calm in the practices because there are two more races soon. It doesn’t matter when or where, the important thing is to achieve our goal.”Earlier in the day, Marquez and his teammate Dani Pedrosa also helped Honda celebrate its 50th anniversary of its 50th GP debut back in 1966.Next to talk was Rossi, who turned his attention from the points to running Michelins at Motegi for the first time.“This is a good track for us usually,” said Rossi. “I’ve had a lot of podiums but not so many victories. It’s a good track for the Yamaha but every year is different and as in every race this season we need to understand the tires. I hope the weather is good and it’s warmer, because today it’s very cold. Three races in a row is always difficult – you can have a small problem in the first one and you pay very much. But they are three fantastic tracks!”Lorenzo discussed how the Motegi circuit caters to the Yamaha, and how he likes the physical aspects of three back-to-back races: “We came back strong and this track should be good for my riding style – and the Yamaha. Let’s see how the tires and the electronics are – if it’s similar to the last three years we should be ok,” said the future Ducati Team pilot.“I like three races in a row, I like to stay on the bike as much as possible. When you stay on the bike more, your muscles are more ready.”Vinales, who joins Rossi on the factory Yamaha in 2017, is looking to climb back into the top four of points; he lost fourth to Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who leads him by six points.“Last year here was good for me and I’m really motivated. I think it will be hard but maybe a bit better than Aragon. Here has always been a really good track for me, especially in Moto3, and it’s good for my riding style,” Vinales says.Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso, who claimed top-five positions at the last two Motegi meets, also says the track is kind to the Desmosedici, but says it all depends on the Michelin tires.“On paper this track looks good for us. We have strong acceleration. But, the tires will make the difference and we’ll have to see tomorrow. In the last two years we’ve been quite competitive and I think we can be even better this year,” Dovizioso says.Returning this weekend is Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Bradley Smith, who tore up his knee during practice for the Oschersleben 8H after the Czech GP.“It’s nice to be here. It’s been a challenging seven weeks and it’s not fun watching from the sofa! Physio’s been tough but my heart and head are 100% so I’ll try and make up whatever my knee is still lacking. Tomorrow I just want to get out on track and do some laps,” Smith says.Practice begins Friday for Motegi MotoGP; stay clicked to Ultimate Motorcycling for results.Photos by Luciano Bianchetto
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.