However, radiation fears gripped the series, and it was only after various studies commissioned by Dorna and the FIM - the sport’s commercial rights’ holder and governing body respectively – proved conclusively that the region was safe and the event was given the all-clear. Still, until a few weeks ago certain riders threatened a boycott of the race, but that is now resolved, and a full grid decamped at Motegi earlier this week.
The Honda-owned motorsport complex lies in a natural bowl in an area of vast beauty situated approximately 100 kilometres from Tokyo, and effectively consists of two separate circuits – an oval designed in the American style for Indycar racing, and a 4,801-kilometre road course – and it is the latter which hosts this weekend’s championship round.
This rather fiddly clockwise course comprises 14 corners (6L/8R) connected by a series of medium-speed straights. Very much a stop-go circuit, its layout includes three full hairpins plus the 150° V Corner, while the need to accommodate grandstands looking over both circuits mean spectators are sat far back from the action. As always in Japan, the weather is likely to be capricious.
PUMA’s partner team Ducati approaches the 15th round (of 18) in the 2011 MotoGP World Championship with renewed confidence, for the Italian team has a strong record at Motegi, having won here four times plus taken an additional podium.
Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi has posted six career podium finishes at the track, including third place in 2010, although Nicky Hayden, champion in 2006, doesn’t count Motegi amongst his favorites.
“I had a nice race last year at Motegi, despite having a painful shoulder,” remembers Valentino. “I had a good duel with (Jorge) Lorenzo, and finished on the podium. The Ducati won last year, and has also gone well here in the past, so we’ll see if we can do any better than at recent races. It’s true that we’re having to work very hard, but we always approach every Grand Prix with the goal of doing better.”
American Nicky prefers flowing circuits, but is still hoping for a good result on Sunday, particularly as he is extremely popular amongst the country’s motorcycling fans – of which there are, literally, millions.
“I’ve got a lot of fans in Japan, and there are a lot of people who love motorcycles. It would be nice to put on a good show for them, as they’ve certainly had a hard time this year. Hopefully we can have a good race. It’s great to see the team putting in so much effort, and although we’re not seeing immediate results, we’re learning a lot and getting a bunch of data that’s going to be a big help in the long term.”
Going into this race, Honda’s Casey Stoner has 284 points to the 240 of Yamaha rider Lorenzo, with Valentino sixth on 139, followed by Nicky on 114.
The 24-lap race starts at 15:00 local time (06:00 GMT), with Saturday’s qualifying hour commencing at 13:55 (04:55 GMT). After this race the series heads for the Australian Grand Prix on Phillip Island on 16th October, followed by Malaysia’s round a week later.