MotoGP 2010 Motegi Preview

Repsol Honda pilot Dani Pedrosa is having arguably the finest season of his career.

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Motegi round of the 2010 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Japanese Grand Prix.

Repsol Honda pilot Dani Pedrosa is having arguably the finest season of his career. After 13 rounds, he has garnered 228 points; at this stage last year he had managed 157, an increase in production in the neighborhood of 50%. At the same time, he is seeing his chances of winning the 2010 title fade from slim to none, as series leader Jorge Lorenzo begins his approach to a magic number, and thence to the crown. What’s a fiery young Spanish racing luminary with a pronounced “little man” complex to do?

The arithmetic regarding the 2010 championship seems widely misunderstood. Much of the racing press praised Pedrosa’s result at Aragon, in which he reduced Lorenzo’s margin from 63 points to 56. I would argue, however, that in doing so, it became less likely that Pedrosa can overtake the Yamaha star this season, as follows.

For Pedrosa to have a fighting chance to win the title, he needs to get within 10 points of Lorenzo in time for Round 18 at Valencia. (Even at that, the odds makers are going to install Lorenzo as a prohibitive favorite to win it all.) After Misano, then, Pedrosa needed to gain 53 points in five rounds, an average of just over 10 points per round. Today, after Aragon, he needs to make up 46 points in only four rounds, or almost 12 points per round. Unfortunately, as they say, the hurrier he goes, the behinder he gets.

Dani Pedrosa has been hot of late, but he may be running out of time.

Ultimately, the title will come down to the question of which rider crashes out, and in this regard a pressing Pedrosa is far more likely to go down than a relaxed Lorenzo. Viewed from a different angle, if Lorenzo averages only 11 points per round (i.e., finishing fifth), it will force Pedrosa to run the table, winning or finishing second every time out. Some might argue that Pedrosa, who has crashed out of at least two races every year in the premier class, is due for a fall. And one DNF for him – witness Motegi in 2007 and Phillip Island in 2008 – will have Willie Nelson singing “Turn Out the Lights.”

Recent History in the Land of the Rising Sun

Other than the Ducati riders, everyone plays the “home race” card at Motegi, a track characterized by long straights and sharp turns. As such, it is the MotoGP equivalent of the Dan Ryan Expressway at rush hour, with lots of stopping and starting. Not surprisingly, some riders love it, while others don’t. More on that later.

The Motegi round was supposed to take place earlier in the season but ash from an volcanic eruption in Iceland forced a change in plans.

The 2009 Japanese Grand Prix was a bit of an anomaly, as the early season weather played havoc with the track and the riders. Saturday practice and qualifications were rained out, and the grid was positioned in order of the Friday QP2 results. Although the race was run on a dry track, the starting order was unusual, as evidenced by Chris Vermeulen starting in fourth for Rizla Suzuki and Pedrosa, who was still healing from a March practice crash, starting in the 11 hole. With what has since become his trademarked rocket-like start, Pedrosa finished Lap One in second position, on his way to a surprisingly strong third-place finish behind winner Lorenzo, and Rossi, who trailed his teammate by just over a second. In 2008 it was Rossi’s turn, followed in close order by Stoner, Pedrosa and Lorenzo.

A good indicator of how quickly things change in this sport is the result from the 2007 race, won by Loris Capirossi on the factory Ducati, followed by Randy de Puniet on the factory Kawasaki (!), Toni Elias on a satellite Honda, and Sylvain Guintoli on a satellite Yamaha. It seems MotoGP years are like dog years, with each one the equivalent of eight years traveling at normal speeds.

Those were the days ... Loris Capirossi's last MotoGP victory was in 2007 at Motegi. In fact, Capriossi won three consecutive Japanese Grand Prix races from 2005-2007.

Rossi/Yamaha Divorce Becoming Less Amicable

Rock star Valentino Rossi’s decision to go for the lira at Ducati beginning next year started out kinda warm and fuzzy, with the Italian hedging for a long time and waxing about how hard it would be to part company with the great Japanese factory. The calculus was made more difficult by his crash and injury at Mugello which threw a spanner into the works of his 2010 season. Since his ineffective return to racing, we’ve learned that his shoulder, injured in a motocross practice, has been hampering him far more than has his leg. We’ve also discovered that the shoguns at Yamaha, contrary to convention when riders change team affiliations, are not inclined to release Rossi from his contractual obligations in time for some much-needed testing on the Desmosedici later this year. The pre-nup appears to be coming unraveled.

Valentino Rossi is hinting at missing the final two rounds to undergo surgery for his shoulder.

The latest chapter in this story has Rossi considering having his surgery earlier than originally planned, such that he would bail on the last two races of the season, at Estoril and Valencia. Doing so would allow him to spend more time on the Ducati after the first of the year and ensure his return to full health in time for the start of the 2011 season. It would also kick the remaining pins from under what remains of his relationship with Yamaha. Clearly, Rossi understands the concept of leverage. Vaffanculo con il toro, si ottengono le corna. One suspects that Yamaha will ultimately relent on his contract, and that Rossi will compete in Portugal and Spain, to the immense relief of Dorna, among others.

Quick Hitters

No, Bruce, she's not in our budget.As reported earlier this week, Loris Capirossi is geeked and gassed about returning to action at his beloved Motegi this week after a bye at Aragon, courtesy of a damaged pinky encountered in a Lap One dust-up with Nicky Hayden at Misano. He is echoing teammate Alvaro Bautista, who made the same noises in advance of Aragon before finishing, um, eighth. Apparently, for Capirossi, finishing in the top ten is the psychological equivalent of winning, a measure of just how far he has fallen from those bygone days when he was a relevant part of the championship conversation. And to think that Pramac Racing wants to hire him for next season, to team up with young Aleix Espargaro…remarkable. reported this week that the Interwetten Honda team bosses expect “much more” from Hiro Aoyama at Motegi than he’s been delivering since returning from his back injury. Not much pressure there. I know it always makes me relaxed and confident when my boss tells me he expects “much more” from me than I’ve been giving him, when I’ve been giving him all I have … no problem, boss (Ed. Bruce, stop asking us to hire the Interwetten brolly girl to stand beside you while you type.)

Toni Elias is closing in on his first world championship this year over at Moto2. He figures to clinch the 2010 title at Sepang. He could actually clinch this week if he wins the race and Julian Simon, Andrea Iannone and Thomas Luthi all crash out together in a big old heap of metal, rubber and Europeans.

The weather forecast for the Motegi area this weekend calls for a 70% chance of rain on Sunday … that’s good news for Marco Melandri, anyway.

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