The announcement by Honda at Aragon that the Japanese factory would be fielding two wildcards at Motegi, in the form of veteran rider Shinichi Itoh and test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi, as a display of solidarity with the tsunami-stricken region of East Japan meant that for once this year, it looked like there would be a grid of 19 riders in MotoGP. But a crash early in the race saw Loris Capirossi fall heavily on the shoulder he had previously injured at Assen, and the Italian was advised not to race in Japan by famous paddock physician Dr Claudio Costa. With Capirossi out, it looked like MotoGP would be down to 18 riders once again.
But Pramac - undoubtedly with the support and encouragement of Dorna - have decided to replace the veteran Italian, due to retire at the end of this year for the Motegi round. Australian jack-of-all-trades Damian Cudlin is due to ride the Pramac Ducati at Motegi, taking the place of Capirossi at the Japanese MotoGP round. Though Cudlin's name will be unfamiliar to many casual fans, the Australian has a vast amount of experience in motorcycle racing, having competed in the German IDM championship and the Endurance World Championship for several years. Nor will this be Cudlin's first time on either a Grand Prix bike or a MotoGP machine: Last year, Cudlin substituted for Axel Pons at the Sachsenring, and Cudlin has been heavily involved in the development of the BMW-powered Suter CRT machine for MotoGP next season. That experience should help him adapt to a proper MotoGP prototype, though this year shows that the Ducati is the hardest machine of all to get to grips with.
Below is the press release announcing Cudlin's ride at Motegi from the Pramac team:
DAMIAN CUDLIN MOUNTS DUCATI PRAMAC FOR MOTEGI RACE
The MotoGP championship moves to Japan for the first stop on the four-race stretch that will conclude the season. Loris Capirossi is forced to miss the Japanese round due to the right-shoulder dislocation suffered at Aragon. The MotoGP veteran will rest in hopes of recover for the Australian GP. Twenty-nine-year-old Australian Damian Cudlin will ride in his place. Randy De Puniet is ready to take on the Motegi track, where he has posted two podiumfinishes in the past (a third place in 250cc, and a second place in MotoGP).
Fabiano Sterlacchini - Technical Director Pramac Racing
"Motegi is a fairly complex track, with its many stop-and-go sections that will certainly demand a change to the bike's setup. Randy has done well here in the past, so we expect a good showing from our Frenchman.Meanwhile, it will be a good opportunity for Damian Cudlin, who will substitute Loris at this race, to showcase his talents. He's a good guy, and we had the opportunity to get to know him a little last year in Moto2, where he raced at the Sachsenring GP."
Randy De Puniet - Pramac Racing Team
"I really want to finish out this season as well as possible. I've been unfortunate in many races, and I've committed errors in others. But we worked well in the last race, at Aragon, and I hope to also start Motegi off on the right foot. It's one of my favorite circuits, and I've had some good results there in the past."
Damian Cudlin - Pramac Racing Team
"It's hard to put into words what this opportunity means to me. I've dreamed about starting in MotoGP since I was a boy, and until now it's been just that- a dream. Now it's become a reality and to be honest, I'm still in shock! I'm under no illusions about how difficult this race will be. I've never ridden a real MotoGP bike before and I've never been to Motegi either, so realistically my expectations can't be too high. I just want to do the best job I can, enjoy the experience, and just see what happens. I've really got nothing to lose, so why not? I don't know what I've done to deserve this. I still can't believe I'll be replacing Loris Capirossi- I had posters of him on my wall as a kid! I just want to thank Sito Pons for recommending me, the Pramac Racing Team for giving me a chance, and also my current BMW Team for allowing me to use this opportunity. I hope I can make everyone proud that they took a chance with a guy like me."