Ever since he left Ducati at the end of 2010, Casey Stoner has cast a long shadow over the Italian factory. He was the ever-present specter, sitting like Banquo's ghost astride the Desmosedici that any other rider dared swing a leg over. There was a contingent of fans and journalists who, after every poor result by the riders who succeeded Stoner, would point to the Australian's results and say "but Casey won on the Ducati."
What impressed me most about Valentino Rossi's time at Ducati was the calmness and dignity with which he responded to the same question being asked of him, week in, week out. "Valentino," yet another journalist would ask each race, "Casey Stoner won on this bike. Why can't you?" Not once did he lose his temper, ignore the question, or blank the person who asked it. Every week, he would give the same reply: "Casey rode the Ducati in a very special way. I can't ride that way." More than anything, the dignity with which he answered every week were a sign of his humanity, and an exceptional human being. If it takes guts to attempt the switch, it takes even greater courage for someone repeatedly tagged as the greatest of all time to admit failure.
None were immune. Stoner's former teammate Nicky Hayden would be asked why he could not match the pace of the Australian. Andrea Dovizioso had the fortune to come after Rossi, but even he was subjected to comparison with Stoner. Cal Crutchlow was the same, a situation made worse by the fact that he said before he arrived at Ducati that he believed he would be able to ride the Ducati like Stoner. Since arriving at Ducati, he has admitted that he could not.
On Saturday, Andrea Dovizioso may have taken the first step on the path to expelling Stoner's specter from the Ducati garage. The Italian became the first rider to take pole on the Desmosedici since Casey Stoner did so at Valencia in 2010. In fact, he became the first rider other than Casey Stoner to secure pole position on a Ducati since Loris Capirossi in 2006. For Ducati, having Andrea Dovizioso on pole is a very, very big deal. Perhaps even bigger than the factory themselves realize.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after a thrilling qualifying session on Saturday at Motegi:
Full Recap and Results below:
Jorge Lorenzo has topped the final free practice session for the MotoGP class at Motegi, the Yamaha rider showed supreme consistency to end proceedings less than a tenth of a second clear of Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa also demonstrated excellent and consistent race pace after struggling somewhat in the sessions prior. Fellow factory Honda rider Marc Marquez rounded out the top three, also less than a tenth behind pace-setter Lorenzo, however he continued to show signs of instability under braking, running wide off the circuit on a number of occasions.
The Ducati pairing of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso claimed fourth and fifth spots respectively ahead of Stefan Bradl and Valentino Rossi. Rossi was only three tenths shy of his team mate Lorenzo; signifying the potential for a very close race on Sunday. Cal Crutchlow ended up a further three tenths behind Rossi in eighth but lapped strongly throughout, the Briton managed to edge out the Tech 3 Yamaha duo of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith.
Championship leader Marc Marquez has topped a frantic MotoGP FP3 session as riders clambered for a direct route to this afternoons Q2 in a chaotic final few minutes. Marquez encountered technical problems in the opening stages of the session which were later identified as a new engine acting 'strangely'. In familiar style he didn't let the disruption effect him, he jumped on his second bike and went on to set the fastest ever MotoGP lap at the Motegi circuit, almost exactly one second quicker than his best Friday time. Andrea Dovizioso's quick lap from Friday was enough for him to take second place in combined times for Q1 qualification, while compatriot Valentino Rossi finished second in the session and completed the top three in combined times.
2014 Motegi Friday Round Up: Hard Braking Hondas, Rabat's Imperious Pace, And The Moto3 Manufacturer Mix
Will Motegi turn into another Marc Marquez show? Not on the evidence of the first day of practice. Marquez made the highlight reel alright, but for all the wrong reasons. A crash in the first session of free practice shook his confidence a little, and convinced him to take a more cautious approach during the afternoon.
The crash was typical of Motegi. A headshake coming out of Turn 4 put the front brake disks into a wobble, banging the pads back into the calipers. With the 340mm disks being compulsory at Motegi, there was enough mass there to push the pads and pistons a long way back into the calipers indeed. Marquez arrived at Turn 5 to find he had no front brake, and started pumping his front brake lever frantically. By the time the front brake started to bite, it was too late to do much good. With the wall approaching fast, Marquez decided to abandon ship, jumping off the bike in the gravel trap.
Arriving at a corner at 260 km/h to find he had no brakes had been "a bit frightening," Marquez said. In the afternoon, he had left himself a little bit more margin for error, but that meant he had not matched the pace of the fast guys: Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, the surprising Stefan Bradl, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi. If Marquez is to wrap up the title at Motegi, he needs to beat Pedrosa and Rossi, but he is not looking likely to do that at the moment. He complained of not having found the right set up yet, something which has not happened often this year, but has resulted in him being beaten when he has. But it is still only Friday, and his rivals, at least, are refusing to write him off just yet. "He will be competitive tomorrow," Lorenzo said of Marquez.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the first day of practice at Motegi:
The events of the previous MotoGP race at Aragon look set to have a major impact on tracks around the world in the near future. The crashes by Valentino Rossi and Andrea Iannone, both of whom lost control of their bikes when they hit the still wet astroturf which lines the outside of the outer kerbs, caused the subject to be raised in the MotoGP Safety Commission at Motegi. There, the Safety Commission decided to ask the circuits hosting MotoGP races to remove all of the astroturf from the run off areas around the track. Dorna Managing Director Javier Alonso told the MotoGP.com website that they would start talks with circuits to get them to remove the astroturf as soon as possible, starting with the most dangerous parts of the tracks.
The decision is a complete reversal of the earlier policy devised by the Safety Commission, the closed and private forum in which MotoGP riders can discuss safety issues and other concerns with the FIM and Dorna. As a result of a previous request, tracks had started putting in astroturf on the run off areas. That was in response to changes made primarily for car racing, where gravel traps on the outside of corners have been replaced with hard standing, such as asphalted areas. The astroturf was put in place to prevent riders using the run off as extra race track, allowing them to take corners faster.
The difference between a handshake an an officially signed contract is just under four weeks, it seems. Late on Sunday night after the race at Misano, the Marc VDS Racing team put a message on Twitter announcing they would be moving up to MotoGP for the next two years, racing a factory-backed Honda RC213V with Scott Redding aboard. Honda, however, was far from pleased with the team's adoption of 21st Century technology to communicate with fans and media, and the Tweet was quickly taken down. Though agreement had been reached at Misano on all of the details - a three-year deal to lease a factory-spec Honda RC213V, and putting Scott Redding on the bike for the 2015 and 2016 seasons - HRC deemed that the deal was not yet ready to be announced. Though the contract was public knowledge, the team went silent on the deal.
Andrea Dovizioso has topped the second session of free practice for the MotoGP class at Motegi. The factory Ducati man took advantage of the extra soft tire the Italian factory is allowed to use to slash half a second off his time and depose Jorge Lorenzo from top spot, bumping the Movistar Yamaha rider into 2nd. Despite his fastest time coming with the softer rubber, Dovizioso was also quick on the soft tire, the harder of the two options have at their disposal, spending much of the day in the top four spots.
Lorenzo ended the day in 2nd, and is clearly heartened by his win last time out at Aragon. The Movistar Yamaha man was quick throughout the session, only losing out to the extra soft tire of Dovizioso at the end. Stefan Bradl picked up the pace at the end of the session to put the LCR Honda up into 3rd, just nipping ahead of Dani Pedrosa on the Repsol Honda. Pedrosa, in turn, held off Valentino Rossi, the Movistar Yamaha man managing his fractured right injured finger fine, and lapping quickly to finish 5th.
Part of the Japanese round of MotoGP always seems to involve learning a new name for a natural phenomenon. In 2010, we heard of Eyjafjallajökull for the first time, the volcano which awoke from under its ice cap and halted air travel in large parts of Europe and Asia. We laughed as newsreaders and MotoGP commentators tried to pronounce the name of the Icelandic volcano and ice cap (for the inquisitive, Wikipedia has the correct pronunciation), and the race was moved from the start of the season to October.
A year later, in April 2011, it was Tōhoku which was the name on everyone's lips. The massive earthquake which shook Japan and triggered an enormous tsunami, killing nearly 16,000 people and badly damaging the Fukushima nuclear power station. Again the Motegi race was moved to October, by which time the incredible resilience and industriousness had the track ready to host the MotoGP circus. 2012 turned out to be a relatively quiet year, but 2013 saw the tail end of typhoon Francisco ravage the region, causing the first day and a half of practice to be lost to fog and rain.
So it comes as no surprise that the 2014 round of MotoGP at Motegi teaches us yet another new name. This time it is Vongfong, a category 5 super typhoon which threatens the race in Japan. The super typhoon has been described as "the most powerful storm of the year" with recorded sustained winds of 285 km/h, and gusts of up to 350 km/h. It is currently over open water southwest of Japan, but is heading northeast towards Kyushu, the southernmost island of the Japanese archipelago.
The good news for Japan is that Vongfong is expected to weaken as it heads towards Japan, and arrives over much cooler water. Even better news for Motegi is that the typhoon looks unlikely to reach the region in time to affect the race. Vongfong is set to make landfall nearly 1200 km southwest of the Twin Ring circuit, and have weakened dramatically by the time it reaches the area by the middle of next week. 2014 looks like being another year in which Motegi was spared.
That will please Honda greatly. With Repsol Honda riders first and second in the championship, Honda within 10 points of the manufacturers' title, and the factory Repsol squad closing in on winning the team championship – though admittedly, both Movistar Yamahas would have to not score to achieve that at Motegi – Honda would really like to celebrate at home. The Motegi Twin Ring circuit is owned and operated by the Mobilityland Corporation, which is itself a 100% subsidiary of the Honda Motor Company, and so the stakes are high. Motegi is also the main test track used for developing the factory's MotoGP machines, the RC213V having racked up monster mileages around the circuit. The combination of hard braking zones, slow corners, long, fast straights and the occasional fast combo should suit HRC's Honda RC213V down to the ground.
Press release previews of this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone: