MotoGP action in Japan this weekend

After plenty of build-up the Grand Prix of Japan takes place at the Motegi circuit this weekend and on Thursday the traditional pre-GP press conference took place with a quintet of MotoGP riders in attendance.

Championship leader Casey Stoner was scheduled to be present at the press conference but the Repsol Honda rider was unable to make it due to problems with the late arrival of his flight, with Honda’s wild card Japanese rider Shinichi Itoh taking his place at the pre-event.

After plenty of build-up the Grand Prix of Japan takes place at the Motegi circuit this weekend and on Thursday the traditional pre-GP press conference took place with a quintet of MotoGP riders in attendance.

Championship leader Casey Stoner was scheduled to be present at the press conference but the Repsol Honda rider was unable to make it due to problems with the late arrival of his flight, with Honda’s wild card Japanese rider Shinichi Itoh taking his place at the pre-event.

The other four riders who took questions from the media were Valentino Rossi, Hiroshi Aoyama, Álvaro Bautista and Jorge Lorenzo, and it was the reigning World Champion and closest challenger to Stoner who spoke first as he sized up the weekend’s task.

Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing), who is currently 44 points behind Stoner with four rounds (including this weekend) remaining, began: ”Casey has won so many races and has finished on the podium more than any other rider, so it’s normal he has so many points. Maybe it’s too late to fight with him for the Championship, but anyway there are still four races to go, 100 points to be taken, so you never know. You have to give everything and anything is possible. We must fight for the win in every race.”

Lorenzo finished fourth at Motegi last year and won the MotoGP race here in 2009, and anticipates a tough race this weekend. He added: “Normally it’s a difficult track for us because it has a lot of acceleration points and a lot of big straights, but we come here motivated to fight for the win and we will see.”

Rossi lies sixth in the standings at the moment as he and his Ducati Team continue working away on the Desmosedici GP11.1. The Italian has stood on the podium nine times in the premier class at Motegi, including third place last year following a bitter battle with then team-mate Lorenzo, and would dearly love a turnaround in his 2011 fortunes this weekend.

He will ride the same configuration machine as he rolled out at Aragón, where the GP11.1 incorporated a new aluminium element in the front chassis section.

“It’s the same specification with the same modification we already tried at Aragón,” said Rossi of the bike. “Unfortunately there we struggled with rear grip and I destroyed the tyre towards the end (of the race). Here it will be very different, we have to understand the condition of the track.”

He continued: “We come from a very bad GP in Aragón, the result was of course not what we would have expected, but even last year at Aragón I was in trouble. Last year here at Motegi was a good race and a good result, I was on the podium and not so far from the victory, so I hope to take the same step with Ducati and to improve.”

Following the Aragón round Rossi tested the latest version of the developing 2012 Desmosedici, and commented: “We tested at Jerez after the Aragón race, and we have some data with which to work for the 2012 Ducati bike, so we’ll try to understand as much as possible during this season.”

Round 15 provides Aoyama with his much anticipated home race and the San Carlo Honda Gresini rider is determined to deliver something special for the crowd at a track where he was twice a 250cc race winner.

“I want to say thanks to those who came here to race because it was, I think, a hard decision and it means a lot for Japanese motorcycle fans,” he started. “Personally this is my home race and for sure it’s very important. Last year I was injured and couldn’t perform as I would have liked, and this year after Assen I was also injured and suffered a lot on the bike, but now I’m much better and feel good on the bike and I hope this time I can perform much better than last year. My best result so far this year is fourth place at Jerez and I want to better that here.”

Discussing the area he will target for improvement in the lead up to Sunday’s race, Aoyama added: “I always struggle at the beginning of the race because I can’t push the tyre enough, but from mid to end of the race I have a good rhythm, so the target is to improve in the first part of the race.”

Bautista has also tasted victory in the former 250cc class at Motegi and the Rizla Suzuki rider is keen to convert his recent good form into another solid result on the GSV-R after a recent run of impressive displays.

“We have had good results and have been consistent in the last few races, and our target here is to continue in the same way and be closer to the second group like Dovizioso, Spies and Simoncelli. We are working very well and we’ll try to get off to a good start on Friday and have a good set-up ready for the race,” he said.

Bautista continued: “Last year I had a good race here and finished seventh, this year I think we’re more competitive and have more confidence in the bike. It’s a good track for Suzuki and I hope to get a good result here.”

Itoh was the final man to speak and the HRC test rider, who will be on board an RC212V as a wild card under the Honda Racing Team banner this weekend, outlined the significance of being able to ride in the Grand Prix of Japan.

“After what happened in March, it feels like a dream to be here racing this weekend,” he said. “First I would like to thank Honda and all my sponsors for this opportunity. This weekend I will do my best and I can represent and give some hope to all those who have been, and still are, suffering from the tragedy that happened back in March. This track is one of my favourites so I’ll try my best but also make sure I don’t get in the way of the regular riders.”

Racing in numbers – Grand Prix of Japan:

299 – Casey Stoner’s win in Aragón was the 299th podium finish in the premier-class for Australian riders.

284 – In spite of having a non-score at the Spanish GP earlier in the year, when he was knocked off by Valentino Ros¬si, Casey Stoner’s current points total of 284 is just three points less than he had accumulated at the same stage of 2007 when he took his first MotoGP world title.

99 – The victory by Marc Márquez at Aragón was the 99th victory for Spanish riders in the intermediate-class of Grand Prix racing. Spanish riders won 85 times in the 250cc GP class and now have 14 victories in the Moto2 class.

63% – Marc Márquez has won 17 of the last 27 GP races that he has started in the 125cc and Moto2 classes, starting at the 125cc Italian Grand Prix last year when he took his very first GP win. This represents a 63% win rate over this 27 race period.

50 – Jones Folger is scheduled to make his 50th Grand Prix start at the Japanese GP. If he makes the start at Motegi he will become the third youngest rider ever to reach the milestone of 50 Grand Prix starts; only Scott Redding and Jorge Lorenzo have reached this milestone at a younger age.

44 – On the first day of practice at the Japanese Grand Prix it will be exactly 44 years since the Canadian GP took place at the Mosport circuit in 1967. This is the only time that a Grand Prix event has taken place in Canada and becau¬se of the extreme cold weather the 500cc race, won by Mike Hailwood (Honda), was reduced in distance by ten laps, but Hailwood’s winning time was still 1 hr 13 minutes 28.5 seconds. Hailwood also won the 250cc race and Bill Ivy (Yamaha) won the 125cc race.

38 – Casey Stoner’s victory at Aragón was the 38th GP win of his career. This places him equal 11th in the all-time GP winners list with great rival Jorge Lorenzo and John Surtees who won the 500cc title on four occasions and the 350cc title three times.

33 – There have been 33 previous Grand Prix events that have taken place in Japan. In addition to Motegi that has been used twelve times previously, Suzuka has hosted a Grand Prix event on 19 occasions and the Fisco circuit has been used twice.

26 – Dani Pedrosa celebrates his 26th birthday on the day before practice commences at the Japanese Grand Prix.

21 – Dominique Aegerter celebrates his 21st birthday on the first day of practice at the Japanese Grand Prix.

14 – Nico Terol’s victory in Aragon was the 14th successive win for Aprilia in the 125cc class. This is the longest se¬quence of successive wins ever achieved by Aprilia in the 125cc class.

13 – This will be the thirteenth occasion that a Grand Prix event has been held at the Motegi circuit. The first Grand Prix at Motegi was held in 1999 and the circuit has been used every year since.

12 – Casey Stoner has finished on the podium at the last twelve successive MotoGP races. In the 63 year history of motorcycle Grand Prix racing only five riders have finished on the podium in more than twelve successive premier class races: Valentino Rossi, Giacomo Agostini, Mick Doohan, Wayne Rainey and Jorge Lorenzo.

9 – Casey Stoner’s pole at Misano was his ninth of the year; this equals the record for most poles in a single season in the MotoGP era previously achieved by Stoner himself in 2008 and Valentino Rossi in 2003.

4 – Since the introduction of the four-stroke MotoGP formula in 2002, Ducati have been the most successful manufac¬turer in MotoGP at the Motegi circuit with four victories. Honda riders have won on three occasions and Yamaha twice.

3 – The three riders who have had most Grand Prix wins at the Motegi circuit, each having won on three occasions, are: Loris Capirossi (3 x MotoGP), Toni Elias (2 x 250cc, 1 x Moto2) and Mika Kallio (2 x 125cc, 1 x 250cc).

0 – None of the riders starting the 125cc race at the Japanese Grand Prix have previously won a GP race at the Motegi circuit.

0 – The number of victories for Honda at Motegi during the 800cc era of MotoGP. Makoto Tamada’s victory in 2004 was the last time that a Honda rider won the MotoGP race at Motegi.