Under glorious morning sunshine Jack Miller has responded to a disappointing Friday performance to top the opening Moto3 practice session at Motegi. The Australian's time of 1:57.072 was over a second quicker than Danny Kent's standing lap record and three tenths quicker than the Briton's benchmark time from yesterday. Kent continued his strong showing however to finish the session less than a tenth behind Miller in second as Isaac Vinales took third position a further tenth behind.
Mahindra's Miguel Oliveira also continued his positive weekend form to take fourth spot ahead of Championship contender Alex Rins and fellow Mahindra rider Brad Binder. Zulfahmi Khairuddin made a welcome return to the top ten ahead of Spaniard Efren Vazquez while Jakub Kornfeil and Juanfran Guevara claimed ninth and tenth places respectively. It was an incident packed session and Championship leader Alex Marquez suffered a nasty high side early on, he never quite regained his confidence and had to settle for 17th place. He will look to regroup ahead of qualifying later today.
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:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams 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.
Tito Rabat put on a fearsome display of fast riding on Friday afternoon at Motegi, completely dominating the second session of free practice for the Moto2 class. Rabat topped the timesheets almost from the off, ending FP2 with an advantage of a third of a second, and close to the outright lap record at the circuit. Johann Zarco eventually took 2nd spot, closing the gap with a very fast lap at the end of practice, and nudging Maverick Viñales back into 3rd spot. Domi Aegerter took 4th, while Julian Simon had a strong outing to end FP2 in 5gh, just ahead of Tom Luthi and Mika Kallio. Kallio has some pace to find if he is to cut the points advantage of his Marc VDS Racing teammate Rabat.
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.
Danny Kent has topped both sessions of free practice for the Moto3 class at Motegi, leading the way on the Husqvarna in both the morning and afternoon sessions. Kent held off a late challenge from Alex Rins, the Honda rider having been quick throughout the session. Miguel Oliveira took 3rd spot on the factory Mahindra, making it three different manufacturers in the top three, with Brad Binder confirming the strong form of the Indian manufacturer in 4th.
Title contenders Alex Marquez and Jack Miller had a much tougher day of it. Marquez ended the day in 7th, half a second behind Kent and Marquez' Estrella Galicia teammate Alex Rins, while Jack Miller struggled to 13th, nearly three quarters of a second off the pace of Kent. It was not for want of trying, Miller running off the track on corner exit several times through the session.
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:
Preview press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams ahead of this weekend's races at Motegi: