In the week in which MotoGP marks ten years since the remarkable Norick Abe tragically died in a traffic accident (an occasion which MotoGP.com is marking by posting videoes of some of Abe's career highlights on their Facebook page), news comes of extra Japanese presence at the Motegi round of MotoGP. There will be at least two Japanese riders on the grid for the start of the race on Sunday, 15th October.
With Australian rider Jack Miller out through injury, the Marc VDS Honda team will be fielding Hiroshi Aoyama as a replacement at Motegi. The choice of Aoyama should come as no real surprise: the former 250cc champion is one of HRC's official test riders, and still heavily involved in Honda's MotoGP effort, and especially with the development of the Honda RC213V. With Miller being under contract to HRC, it was Honda's prerogative to choose a replacement for the Australian. And Aoyama's work as a test rider means he already knows many of the HRC staff currently working with Jack Miller.
Marc VDS team boss Michael Bartholemy explained the role HRC played in the press release previewing Motegi, and announcing Aoyama as a replacement. "Firstly I'd like to say a big thank you to Hiroshi for stepping in at the last minute to replace Jack in Motegi and to HRC for arranging everything at such short notice," Bartholemy stated in the press release. "I am looking forward to welcoming Hiroshi into the team this weekend. It won't be completely new for him, as he's worked with many of our technical staff previously, so we start already from a good position. I am sure he will do a good job for us this weekend and I hope he enjoys this opportunity to race once again in front of his home crowd."
The other Japanese rider at Motegi is Katsuyuki Nakasuga. The Yamaha test rider - and the driving force behind Yamaha's three victories at the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hour race - will be making his customary appearance at Motegi as a wildcard. Nakasuga is likely to be racing a 2018 Yamaha M1 prototype in factory colors. The five-time All Japan Superbike champion will be racing for the Yamalube Yamaha Factory Racing team, a separate effort from the Movistar Yamaha factory team of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales.
Aoyama's return to MotoGP is likely to be extremely brief. Jack Miller is making excellent progress in recovering from the broken right leg he suffered just over a week ago. Miller posted a video on his Instagram feed on Friday, showing himself cycling on a stationary bike, just five days after having surgery to fixate the fractured tibia in his right leg with a titanium plate. Miller is well on the way to being fit enough to race at his home Grand Prix in Phillip Island, on Sunday, 22nd October.