Over the past few days, I have been asked by a number of people - either directly or via Twitter - whether I will be going to Motegi for the Japanese MotoGP round this weekend. The short answer is I won't, but I felt I owed my readers an explanation of just why not.
It all started at the Sachsenring. Well I suppose it started earlier, at Barcelona, when the first rumblings of a rider rebellion over the Motegi MotoGP round appeared, and debate erupted in the paddock over whether it would be safe to travel to Japan for the race. The paddock is split roughly into two camps separated mainly by nationality, a fact that the amateur anthropologist in me finds rather intriguing. The Spaniards and Italians - and for some reason, the majority of the Australians too - were and are dead set against the Motegi race going ahead, saying the situation at the track and at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant made staging the event far too dangerous. Those hailing from the UK and the US disagreed, saying that all of the science showed that the situation was safe at the track, and that the nuclear plant was being brought back under control. Arguments were frequent, and though still respectful, there was a complete lack of understanding and empathy on either side. The participants were starting to look at each other as if the others were completely insane.
By the time the MotoGP circus reached the Sachsenring, the atmosphere was getting positively fraught. Even though Dorna had announced that they had commissioned an independent report into radiation levels at the circuit, and the preliminary results were showing that there was no risk from radiation, the division continued. When I asked Jorge Lorenzo in a press conference whether he would be going to Motegi, he turned the question around at me and asked "Are you going?" I told him I was not, because of the exorbitant cost of the race (for the cost of attending the Motegi round of MotoGP, I can fund trips to three or four European rounds). "If I pay, then you will go?" Lorenzo then snapped back. Naturally, I agreed.
Organizing a trip to Motegi is actually more difficult than I thought. So I turned to my friends at Pole Position Travel for some help. Gordon, Dennis and the people there were fantastic, and came back with a quote for two flights from Amsterdam (the second ticket was meant for my wife to travel with me, and Amsterdam is the nearest airport to my home) to Tokyo, and six nights accommodation at Mito. At Brno, I handed the price quote to Lorenzo, and he winced at the price. "That's expensive!" I pointed out that this was exactly why I was not going to Motegi, the cost of it, and promised to get back to him with a cheaper quote.
I never did. Pressures of work meant I never got round to asking Pole Position for a better price. Though the hotel costs were entirely reasonable - this is, after all, Pole Position's core business - it was the flights which were the killer, and spending a couple of hours searching for much cheaper flights, then booking them with the risk that Lorenzo's offer had been mainly bluff was not a good use of my resources. I let the whole affair slide, mostly through a lack of organization on my side.
I also felt that Lorenzo had made his offer because he felt backed into a corner. All of the riders - young men, who are focused completely on racing and all it entails, rather than understanding the nuances and intricacies of radiation risk, earthquakes and the process of bringing a stricken nuclear reactor under control - felt they had been forced into a situation that was not of their choosing, and their hands being forced both by Dorna and the manufacturers to attend the race. Naturally, when pushed into a corner by journalists - part of the job, I'm afraid, and definitely the least edifying part - they snap and say things they don't necessarily stand behind.
Jorge Lorenzo has shown me nothing but the utmost courtesy and warmth in the short time I have known him, and in the rather uneasy relationship which exists between riders and the media. If I had wanted to make a huge point out of the situation, I could have forced Lorenzo's hand and demanded he paid for my air fare and accommodation, as he had said he will. However, that would have been taking advantage of the situation, and I would not have felt comfortable doing so.
I realize of course that this weakens my position when I argue that the risks of racing at Motegi are only small. So be it; I stand by that opinion and if Motegi weren't halfway round the world, I would be there this weekend. It isn't, though, and so I am not, I am following the races from the relative safety of my home. For exactly the same reason, I did not attend either of the two US rounds of MotoGP, nor will I be at Sepang or Phillip Island.
I wish everyone attending the Motegi round of MotoGP a safe event and that they return in good health.