Dorna press release:
Seven months on from the last visit, the FIM MotoGP World Championship makes its annual journey to Motegi for the Polini Grand Prix of Japan this weekend, for the second round of the 2009 season.
The scene of the past two title victories in the premier class, the circuit has been a crucial location for the series in recent years and, although of course this year’s World Champion will not be confirmed on April 26th, the race still has the potential to have a big say in the final standings for the season.
The first race of the 2009 campaign may have been unpredictable in circumstances – delayed until Monday evening due to atypical desert rain – but the end result went almost according to the script. Casey Stoner’s runaway victory left the Australian with a third consecutive win at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit, and sitting pretty at the head of the premier class standings. The Ducati Marlboro rider had spent over a year off the top spot, but has a strong case for regaining the title he previously won in 2007; on only two occasions in the four-stroke era has the winner of the opening race failed to clinch the World Championship.
Stoner has yet to win a MotoGP race at Motegi, although his second place at the track in 2008 was his best result in Japan to date.
Reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi returns to the circuit at which he won the 2008 title, trailing Stoner in the standings after being powerless to stop his rival in Qatar. Rossi has a huge following in Japan, and Motegi is a home race for his Fiat Yamaha team. Teammate Jorge Lorenzo completed the podium at round one, but expressed dissatisfaction at the distance between himself and Stoner during the race.
Motegi was built as a Honda test track, and the factory’s riders have added motivation for a strong performance on the 50th anniversary of the manufacturer’s first entry into the World Championship. Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso lead the Japanese brand’s lineup, despite the former still riding injured from a preseason crash, whilst home representation comes in the form of Scot Racing’s Yuki Takahashi.
Another rider who can be expected to feature heavily in proceedings in Japan is Rizla Suzuki man Loris Capirossi, unbeatable at Motegi from 2005 through 2007. Capirossi will be looking to bounce back from his Qatar DNF having crashed out at round one, whilst his team-mate Chris Vermeulen will also be aiming to push up the standings at this early stage.
In addition to the injured Pedrosa, the likes of Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden and Grupo Francisco Hernando’s Sete Gibernau will be hoping to have improved their physical conditions having both competed in Qatar at less than 100%.
Incidentally the Polini Grand Prix of Japan will be the 700th premier class race in the history of the World Championship.
The 250cc class follows up a curtailed Qatar race with a second two-stroke showdown, with Héctor Barberá the early leader in the quarter-litre class standings. Following five months out through injury, the Spaniard claimed only the second win of his 250cc career, ending a drought stretching back to the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix. It is the first time that Barberá has led the overall classification in the category.
An unlikely second place in the table comes in the shape of Jules Cluzel, who took his maiden podium finish at the Qatari round, whilst fellow Frenchman Mike di Meglio completed the Losail podium on his 250cc debut.
The opening 250cc race of the year was also notable for two absentees from the rostrum. Metis Gilera’s reigning World Champion Marco Simoncelli sat out the opening round due to a wrist injury, whilst Mapfre Aspar’s 2008 runner-up Álvaro Bautista placed outside the top three for the first time since last year’s Italian Grand Prix.
Twice a winner of his home Grand Prix, Hiroshi Aoyama is back representing Honda in the 250cc class, and currently lies fourth in the standings.
With just four laps and half points on the board in the 125cc class, the visit to Motegi will be the first full challenge of the year for the lowest cylinder category in the World Championship.
Andrea Iannone leads the way in the class following his second Grand Prix victory, and those left without the laps to try and chase him down at Losail will be more eager than ever to take the initiative in Japan. Chief amongst them will be Bancaja Aspar’s Julián Simón, the fastest man in preseason and qualifying for the opening round.
Ajo Interwetten rider Sandro Cortese and Simón’s teammate Bradley Smith will also fancy their chances of a podium finish on Japanese soil. Of last year’s podium finishers, only Viessman Kiefer Racing rider Stefan Bradl – the winner of the 2008 race – remains in the class.
Practice at the Polini Grand Prix of Japan begins on Friday April 24th, with the race itself on Sunday April 26th.