Ahead of track action at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, the pre-event Press Conference gathered together newly-crowned Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and home hero Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) to talk about the weekend ahead, with the pressure off for some and ramping up for others.
Marquez spoke first, and first on the agenda was, of course, the title and his celebrations. “It was a nice celebration in Bangkok with the team we stayed one night and celebrated in the proper way and then when I arrived home I celebrated with my friends and family but of course I didn’t forget to prepare for these three races, I prepared in another way but I feel good, more relaxed but the mentality is the same as Thailand. We’ll try to work hard to win on Sunday and that’s the mentality for the last four races to try and prepare for 2020 in the best way.”
And Motegi? The man sat just to his right could be a key threat…
“With Dovi last year it was a nice fight here, unlucky for him he crashed but he will be fast, and it’s one of the circuits where he rides really well. And for Fabio it’s one of his favourite circuits and he’s showed his level and performance. He’s riding very fast but we won’t forget Viñales and Rins, all of these riders will be really fast.”
Next then, it was time to hear from that very same Dovizioso, who debriefed Thailand first. “We tried during the weekend to improve our speed in the last two sectors but we couldn’t be fast enough. The first two sectors we were a bit faster, our bike accelerated very well, but in the last two sectors we took too much. It’s not just about being slower, I couldn’t stay with them. I made a good start; I was fourth and close to Maverick, so I had a chance, but I didn’t have the possibility to stay with them. Very disappointed but this is the reality, so we have to continue to work and find a way to be more competitive in the middle of the corners because depending on the track and the tyres it’s different.
“Here I expect us to be strong and our bike to work very well, there’s a lot of stop and go, but in some corners where we need more speed we struggle compared to the competitor. The result wasn’t surprising, but the gap was the bad part. We have to focus on being second in the Championship, it’s what we can do. Our competitors are stronger, especially the Yamaha riders. We have to be careful in these four races and we want to start with a good race here.”
Here, meanwhile, just happens to be one of the Italian’s best tracks. What is it about Motegi that makes Dovizioso go so well?
“I think my style from 250cc two-stroke when the chassis was good, my braking was really good and I’ve kept that style with other bikes and it’s my way to approach this track. When I have to do hard braking and stop and go, I’m quite good at that and our bike also suits that style too so that’s why I think we can be strong here.”
Rins was next, and he’s now third overall and looking to consolidate it after some tougher races. “The next races we hope to have a good end of the Championship, as Andrea said, we’re fighting with him, Petrucci, Maverick to be there…but anyway, in Misano and Aragon we struggled a bit, Thailand was more or less good for us, top five, but every time I come here I enjoy it so let’s enjoy Suzuki’s home race!”
There’s also Suzuki test rider Sylvain Guintoli on track this weekend as a wildcard – and he’s done a fair few laps of Motegi. Has Rins seen his data?
“No, I didn’t see his data but I know he was trying something different compared to us, so we’ll have to see if it’s working better.”
Viñales was next to take to the mic, and he’s feeling positive despite the track on paper looking like a tougher one for the Iwata marque. “Well actually the feeling is really good, after Thailand I feel great because I feel very positive on the bike and somehow I can push really hard on the last part of the race. Japan on paper looks very difficult for us but the bike is totally different, my mentality is different, so normally for my riding style this tracks suits really good, I’ve been getting good results here so I think we will have a good race, fight for the podium like we did in Thailand and at the maximum as always.”
So what’s the difference? His Crew Chief this year? “Honestly, the biggest change is that we are both straight talking. We have a lot of confidence, we know what I need on the bike, and that’s the most important. We create a good feeling and a good atmosphere inside the team. Sometimes when I don’t feel ready they make me feel ready, and that’s important, create a team and trust each other.”
Quartararo, meanwhile, is also aiming high at Motegi, and he’s not looking at the track on paper either. “I think this year a lot of the time I’ve heard the Yamahas don’t go well at tracks like Austria but we managed to get on the podium so honestly now I don’t think about Yamaha track or Honda track, I just need to focus on this weekend, it’s a track I love. We need to do our best and like during all races step by step, but we’ll have a look at the forecast because for Saturday it looks bad so we’ll have to learn the track really fast!”
He will, but it’s not proved such a problem so far. It’s proved so little of a problem, in fact, that the Frenchman is knocking on the door to Rookie of the Year – already. Is that something he looks at now he’s also fighting for wins?
“At the beginning of the year the goal as to be Rookie of the Year so we’ll try to achieve that this weekend, but honestly I don’t think about it. We’ll try to make the best result possible, try to be fast and consistent and fight with these guys.”
Finally, it was time to hear from Nakagami. The home hero has already made a few headlines with a contract extension and the news he’s going to miss the last few rounds of the season for shoulder surgery, and it was chance for him to talk everyone through the issue and the better news on the way in to his home Grand Prix.
“On Tuesday afternoon, we announced the positive and negative news. Postive as you know next season I renewed my contract with LCR Honda which is really positive for me and I’m really happy with LCR Honda and HRC. And the negative news is my injury. But I didn’t want to talk about this…until the last moment I didn’t want to talk to anyone but before Aragon I thought it was time to explain it to the team, Lucio and HRC. Since Assen I felt pain in my right shoulder and let’s say race by race I feel I’m losing performance. For me it’s a hard decision, I miss the last three races and of course I wanted to finish the season but now it’s quite impossible, even in the last few races I struggled to finish and depending on the track layout….Aragon it was so bad, I struggled to hold onto the bike, after that I decided, ‘ok it’s time to do surgery’ and of course I’m disappointed to miss Australia, Malaysia and Valencia, but it’s happened and I try to think positive about next season.”
That’s it from the Press Conference, for more on the upcoming Japanese GP head to motogp.com and tune in for another awesome race on Sunday 20th October at 15:00 (GMT +9).
Anything goes in minimotos: madness reigns at Motegi!
Before the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, there’s the small matter of tradition to take care of, and in this case, it’s the minimoto race. Some of the most brutal action of the weekend but in miniature, there are no rules that are adhered to and the winner takes all. This year that was Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), with Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) playing it fast and loose for a dramatic last-gasp second just behind him. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) completed the podium, all three fighting tooth and nail for the ultimate supremacy of being the king of the minibikers.
So how does it work? Grid positions are decided by drawing straws, and that set the Espargaro Bros (no Mario here) up for quite a comeback, as they started seventh and eighth of nine. Syahrin wasn’t far ahead either, the Malaysian starting from P6. But chaos reigned from lights out as Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) blasted through the pack from the second row, Syahrin ended up off the track and rejoining almost the whole lap later, and most of the riders still upright headed over at least a few metres of grass – with rookie Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) in the lead. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) was next to go down in the melee but the Portuguese rider was, at least, a little kinder to the rulebook as he rejoined the correct way and at almost the same part of the track…
Meanwhile at the front, Syahrin was getting away with it and keeping the ill-gotten lead. Pol Espargaro wasn’t going to go down without a fight, however, and the Spaniard blasted past not long after to regain some supremacy. At that point, the two were in a duel, but Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was catching fast…
That was before the pit stops. See, in the Motegi minimoto race, the rider does three laps, switches with his teammate – some lucky local kids – and then watches them do their three laps before getting back on the bike. With a tight pit entry, it was a high-pressure switch and although everyone got out ok, the switch back caught a few out, namely Rins. The number 42 went toppling over into the infield, somehow leaving Aleix Espargaro as the man in the lead as the cards dealt a bit more chaos. Rins fought back and pulled a Syahrin though, rejoining pretty much wherever he wanted.
Finally onto the final lap, it remained everyone’s game – and the Espargaro Bros had the same idea. Which was, essentially, cutting from Sector 1 to the final corner straight across the grass. Everyone else then half followed suit except Syahrin, who once again switched it up and ran himself and the bike towards the line. Which was better? Pol Espargaro pulled off the swiftest cheating of the leading pack, but Syahrin was able to get the better of the rest of them, just edging ahead of Aleix by the flag…and then rolling off the bike and coming to a stop with a breathless grin.
In the pack behind, it was hard to see who had quite managed what but Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) deserved the fair play award for actually attempting to use the track, Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) took the style award for his wheelie and Joan Mir and Oliviera acquitted themselves well as rookies. Oliveira did, however, have some thoughts on his teammate’s antics, to which Syahrin would respond that he also learned the hard way last year, and in minimotos, anything goes.
For the video of the showdown head HERE, and tune in for another awesome race on Sunday 20th October at 15:00 (GMT +9) on slightly bigger machines…