Alex Hofmann: Motegi Round Up

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The Japanese Moto Grand Prix promised so much for PUMA’s partner team Ducati, yet in the end delivered just a seventh place for Nicky Hayden. Valentino Rossi, riding the second red bike, was pushed wide and into the gravel on the opening lap, ending the Italian legend’s impressive run of 26 consecutive points’ finishes.

There is little doubt in my mind that Valentino was heading for a strong podium placing and his best finish since the French Grand Prix back in mid-May – after the race he said so, too – while Nicky was in line for at least a top five finish on a circuit he admits does not play to his style, only to go wide during the heat of battle and lose a couple of places.

It was a race of attrition, with the Ducati riders not being the only ones to fall prey to mishaps. Pole starter Casey Stoner lost the lead after his Honda slid wide, Alvaro Bautista looked set for a podium place when he crashed his Suzuki unaided, while Andrea Dovizioso, Marco Simoncelli and Cal Crutchlow all headed down the pitlane to take drive-through penalties after allegedly jump-starting.

Ben Spies could have scored a podium had Valentino not taken his Yamaha with him when pushed out by Ben’s team-mate, Jorge Lorenzo, as they funnelled into Turn 1. It certainly was a dramatic race, and almost half the field had a tale of woe. The Grand Prix kept the fans on their feet, and hopefully allowed them to forget, if only for an hour or so, the havoc wreaked by the earthquake/ tsunami.

Due to the distance and time zone differences I missed this race live, instead covering it from our studio in Germany. But even from afar it seemed Ducati had found something, because Valentino was impressive in warm-up, and it was just such a pity he was unable to capitalise on it during the race after getting tangled up in that scrum.

Being in the studio also meant I was unable to accurately judge the ‘jump-starts’. I must say from my TV angle it didn’t look as though ‘Dovi’ gained an advantage as his Honda made only a small jump before he caught himself, but I couldn’t actually see the line. The penalties sure spiced up the race.

That said, I admit Motegi was never one of my favourites. I seldom enjoyed racing there on account of its stop-start nature. Its bumpy, medium-speed straights make aero extremely important, and the many sharp corners demand ultra-hard braking. These characteristics make it difficult to build up a flowing rhythm, and even the smallest mistake or lock-up is usually punished by either a fall or a visit to the gravel traps – as almost half the field discovered.

All these incidents enabled Dani Pedrosa to take a fine win for Honda on home soil – literally, as the company owns Motegi – with Jorge doing Yamaha proud with second. Casey recovered well to finish third, meaning he now leads Jorge by 40 points in the championship.

The next round is at Phillip Island in a fortnight, and if Casey scores ten more points than Jorge, he clinches his second title on home soil; if not, he still has two rounds remaining. Winning a title is a dream come true for any rider, but doing so in front of your home crowd has to be the cherry on top. I’m sure Casey will go all out Down Under!

I will be travelling there as we have the Malaysian Grand Prix a week later. Phillip Island is precisely the opposite to Motegi, being a sweeping circuit which follows the little island’s natural contours. That should better suit Ducati’s riders.

All eyes turn to Oz then!!