The catastrophic earthquake that hit northeastern Japan on March 11th caused devastation beyond comprehension to a large section of the Pacific nation, the tsunami the quake triggered adding further destruction. Even though the thoughts of everyone either involved in or following MotoGP were first and foremost with the nation of Japan and its people, they could not help but consider the fate of the Japanese Grand Prix, due to take place on April 24th.
The initial response of Dorna was the only sensible one: to wait and gather more information on the ground. As the scale of the devastation became clear, it became evident that racing would be impossible on the scheduled date. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta told Mela Chercoles of Spanish sports daily AS that the decision lay in the hands of the Motegi circuit: "we will do what they ask us to do," Ezpeleta said.
News is now emerging that the Motegi circuit and Dorna have decided that a postponement is the only option. The race has now been rescheduled to October 2nd, filling in the four-week gap between the Aragon round of MotoGP and Phillip Island, creating three flyaway races in a row, just like last year after the Japanese GP was rescheduled due to the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjalla. The difference this year is that not all three are back-to-back; there will be two weeks between the Japanese round and Phillip Island, with Sepang following a week later.
The decision to postpone the race was the only realistic possibility for the race organizers. Reports from the town of Mito, which accommodates most of the teams and part of the press, has suffered serious structural damage, and the highway leading from Mito to the Motegi circuit is badly damaged in places. There are even reports of damage at the circuit itself: Honda had at first denied this, but later acknowledged that the Honda Museum, located at Motegi, had suffered some damage, and there are reports from the Times of Malta that cracks have appeared in the circuit itself.
And the news from Japan just seems to get worse: The Fukushima nuclear power station is having massive problems containing three of its six reactors, and high levels of radiation are reported to be measured around the plant. The situation has become so bad that the Italian foreign ministery has issued a travel advisory to avoid traveling to Japan if at all possible, according to GPOne.com.
The rescheduling of the Japanese MotoGP round to October 2nd gives the Motegi circuit and the nation of Japan a chance to recover and rebuild, before the MotoGP circus is due to descend upon the track. But given the scale of the disaster, even that may be too early. There are already some calls for the round to be canceled altogether, and for Dorna to put the race sanctioning fee it would otherwise have received from the track into a reconstruction fund for Japan, though the practicalities of such calls are open to debate.
The problem is that MotoGP has nowhere else to go right now: Motorland Aragon was designated as a reserve circuit for the 2010 circuit, and then given the Grand Prix after construction of the Balatonring in Hungary never really got started. For 2011, there is no reserve circuit, and there are very few tracks capable of housing and hosting a Grand Prix. The only realistic alternative would be to take MotoGP to the Portimao circuit on the Portuguese Algarve coast, but a sixth Grand Prix on the Iberian peninsula might be a little bit too hard to sell.
For now, the Japanese Grand Prix has been moved to October 2nd. But booking flights for the race may yet prove to be a little bit premature.