MotoGP 2012 Motegi Preview

The pressure on Dani Pedrosa grows at Round 15


MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Motegi round of the 2012 season. Check back on Sunday for the full report of the Japanese Grand Prix.

It is with divided loyalties that MotoGP blows into The Land of the Rising Sun for the first round of its annual three-round Pacific swing. Fans excited by the prospect of a meaningful final tilt, a Game 7, in Valencia are virtually forced to project bad karma at factory Yamaha numero uno Jorge Lorenzo. Unless he suffers some major misfortune, it will be almost impossible for him not to clinch the 2012 championship before returning to Spain in November.

In my half-baked Theory of MotoGP, the numbers are working so hard against Repsol Honda hope Dani Pedrosa that he will be forced to press. In order to have a thought of knocking off Lorenzo in Valencia, Pedrosa must virtually run the table. Win three rounds and place at Phillip Island ahead of Lorenzo in third. Meanwhile, let’s say Lorenzo loafs his way to a second and two thirds heading to Valencia. A fifth place finish there would close out the title. However, as many of you continue to remind me, a lot can happen on two wheels at 160 mph.

So, not only must Dani Pedrosa approach perfection for the rest of the year, he must hope for bad luck, i.e., mechanical issues, for Lorenzo. The resulting pressure to perform, so to speak, is so intense that most riders fold. Unless Dani Pedrosa is simply faster than everyone out there for the remaining races, he is going to have dogfights coming at him from not only Lorenzo, but teammate Casey Stoner, who is returning to action at Motegi with only a handful of races left to cement his legacy, the occasional Valentino Rossi, and the Bobsey twins over at Tech 3 Yamaha, Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow. Think Honda rookie Stefan Bradl wouldn’t like to punk Dani Pedrosa, the legendary Dani Pedrosa, in his award-winning rookie season?

My half-baked theory closes with the observation that Lorenzo excels at just the type of work he must do for the rest of the year. Turn consistent, efficient laps, don’t take any extra risks, play the percentages, and take home the 2012 trophy. Back when he first came up, he was reckless, impatient and headstrong, and spent a lot of time in hospitals. These days, he has matured and mostly overcome his Latin excitability. Lorenzo might not have won the title had Casey Stoner remained healthy all year. But then, as they say, if bullfrogs could fly, they wouldn’t bump their asses so often, either.

Recent History at Motegi

2009 was the year of Fiat Yamaha domination, and it was on display at Motegi that April. Lorenzo edged Rossi by a second ahead of Pedrosa, Stoner and Dovizioso. The race that year was early in the season, too early to provide any sense of direction as to how it might proceed from there. How it proceeded was with Rossi easily winning his 9th overall title and 7th in the premier class.

In 2010, Pedrosa crashed hard in practice when his throttle stuck open, fracturing his collarbone and basically handing the 2010 title to Jorge Lorenzo. Casey Stoner drove his Ducati to the win, followed by Dovizioso, Rossi and Lorenzo.

In 2011, Rossi crashed out early on his Ducati, leaving the way open for Pedrosa to cruise to an easy win. He was followed to the flag by Lorenzo and Stoner who completed the podium. In the best run of the day, Marco Simoncelli piloted his Gresini Honda to fourth place, sneaking past Dovizioso and his factory Honda by 14/100ths of a second at the flag.

Home for Honda

Motegi is without question home to Honda Racing Corporation; the oval ring was built by the Honda car people in order to figure out how to run on Indy Car ovals. The road layout, a series of hairpin turns connecting a handful of mini-straights, puts a premium on corner exit speed, at which the RC213V excels. Not a place where you spend a lot of time at top speed, if you ever hit it at all. In short, a place where Honda should dominate.

But they don’t. Over the past six years each of the big three manufacturers has won twice here. Given the standings, I think Pedrosa and Stoner may manage to get away from Lorenzo and the Yamahas on Sunday. Lorenzo will want to finish on the podium, but not in any particular position. Just showing up in the top three every week will make Pedrosa’s job virtually impossible. Finally, I can’t wait to hear Casey Stoner complaining about stuff again. To think I actually missed a month of his rants. What will next year be like?

Meanwhile at the Back of the Grid

Ivan Silva, rudely dismissed by Avintia Blusens earlier in the year, was warmly welcomed back after the team had watched his replacement, David Salom, pedal around Aragon and Misano, with only a DNF and a 15th to show for his trouble.

Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet re-upped with their successful Power Electronics Aspar team for another season, after trouncing their CRT competitors and occasionally putting it to the likes of Karel Abraham and Hector Barbera in 2012. In other CRT news, SpeedTV.com reported former Moto2 rider Roberto Rolfo will replace Mattia Pasini on the Speed Master ART machine.

Team Yamaha announced it is bringing back factory test rider and fan fave Katsuyuki Nakasuga for another weekend of racing as a wildcard at Motegi. The KatMan finished a very surprising sixth place at Valencia last year and may catch a few riders by surprise again this weekend.

News from Deep In the Heart

Circuit of the Americas (COTA) announced recently that they will be filling one of the two April holes on the provisional 2013 calendar with the inaugural … what? Texas Grand Prix? Another U.S. Grand Prix, This One in Texas? Anyway, the event, the first of a ten year deal, kicks off the weekend of April 21. It will be interesting to see how the art of racetrack design has improved over the last generation.

The other hole in the provisional calendar occurs the preceding weekend, in what is expected to become Round Two. If you believe what you read, that event will end up being held in Argentina, India or Portugal. Any such an arrangement would produce another hellish week of travel. If nothing gets worked out, there will be a bit of an early season holiday, after Round One in Qatar.

MotoGP needs fewer press conferences announcing new locations, and more new locations. Argentina and India would be sensational markets for this sport, which is heavily Euro-centric at a time when European economies are struggling. A third U.S. round is great, as the U.S. is fertile turf for grand prix racing. A new country, and a venue that could hold 150,000 fans on Sunday, would be exactly what this sport needs.

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