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Japanese show dignity in disaster

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Matt Roberts | 14:53 UK time, Thursday, 6 October 2011

There was a time when a first-lap crash from Valentino Rossi would have been the biggest talking point of any Grand Prix weekend but the fact his latest misdemeanour - at Motegi last Sunday - has been all but buried under the debris of the post-race aftermath says as much about the ignominy of his first season with Ducati as it does about the drama of a remarkably eventful Grand Prix of Japan.

Of the 18 riders who started the race (with Karel Abraham not even making the grid due to concussion) only 13 made it to the chequered flag and of those riders only seven avoided an off-track excursion of some kind, be it through the pit-lane or across the gravel.

It was an exciting one to watch from pit-lane and the drama continued long into the night as explanations were given and fingers pointed in the riders' post-race debriefs, with Rossi citing a mistake from Jorge Lorenzo as the reason for his first "DNF" of the year.

"Lorenzo went onto the grass slightly in turn one, and in the next turn he moved suddenly to get his trajectory right," explained Rossi. "He didn't see me because I was slightly behind. When he touched me, it pushed me into [Ben] Spies, who touched my front brake lever. It was normal racing contact, but I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Spies initially shrugged off his disappointment at being shoved off track by Rossi in the same incident and said nobody was to blame for what was a racing incident, although he later suggested otherwise on a social networking site.

Marco Simoncelli claimed he made his jump-start because he saw Andrea Dovizioso move out of the corner of his eye whilst Dovizioso, admitted it was his mistake.

Spain's Dani Pedrosa was jubilant after winning the Japanese Grand Prix. Photo: AP

The domino effect of Dovizioso's impetuosity also caught out Cal Crutchlow, who admitted jumping the start after seeing Simoncelli, while Nicky Hayden said he "almost got baited into jumping".

Álvaro Bautista also blamed a poor start on the confusion at the lights, although he was one of several riders later apologising to his team, including the debutant Damian Cudlin, who crashed when ambition got the better of him in the latter stages of in the race.

However, perhaps the man with the most to reflect on was Casey Stoner, who escaped with a podium finish and saw his title advantage cut by just four points despite running off track and dropping back to seventh place when his brakes failed after hitting a bump.

Up to that point Stoner was odds-on for a win that would have extended his lead to 53 points and left him needing simply to finish ahead of Jorge Lorenzo at Phillip Island next Sunday in order to seal the title. Now his best bet is to take victory and hope for the slightly less unlikely result of the Spaniard not making the podium in order to claim the title at his home grand prix on his 26th birthday.

On a circuit about 70 miles away from the damaged Fukushima powerplant, after all the controversy and some frankly scandalous headlines about radiation fears in the Spanish and Italian press (the latter were represented at Motegi by just one journalist), not to mention certain members of riders' entourages walking around the paddock with geigermeters, it was fitting that the only thing anybody wanted to talk about after the Grand Prix of Japan was the racing.

The Japanese people have shown so much dignity in the face of disaster and their determination to hold this event despite criticism from some quarters (there is an argument that the money spent on repairs to the track could have been better allocated to those areas still in desperate need of humanitarian aid) was summed up by Hiroshi Aoyama, who himself showed great restraint throughout the "will they, won't they" debate staged by some of his fellow riders.

"There are a lot of people still suffering and we have had a lot of support from different countries - a lot of people gave us money - but some things we cannot fix by money so if we can bring MotoGP here we can bring positive energy, a positive mentality," he told the BBC. "This means a lot for the Japanese people."

I am catching up with my blog a little later than usual this week, which is largely down to the mild narcolepsy that seems to come with jet-lag. For some reason I am suffering with it more this year than I have in the past, despite my best (and most noble, you understand) attempts to get onto UK time by heading for a karaoke bar on Sunday night, along with much of the rest of the paddock - riders included.

In fact, no fewer than four of the 11 who suffered some kind of mishap in the race were there to sing away their blues at the now notorious "Cage" in central Narita. I thought it would be good fun to ask people on Twitter to come up with some song requests for the riders, which threw up some pretty funny suggestions.

My favourite was the request from @jacklewin46 for Jorge Lorenzo to sing "Tie Me Kangaroo Down". If you think you can do better than that, I'd love to hear it.

By the time you read this Héctor Barberá will hopefully have completed successful surgery on the collarbone break he suffered when he crashed out of the race in Japan. Héctor spent 48 hours in intensive care in Dokkyo hospital near Utsonomiya before being cleared to travel back to Spain and go under the knife of Dr Xavier Mir, who conducted similar operations on Dani Pedrosa and Colin Edwards earlier this season.

Hopefully for Héctor's sake the break is more akin to Edwards' than Pedrosa's - likewise the recovery period - so that we can see him back on board at Phillip Island and Sepang in just over a week's time.

With two races in different continents across a seven-day period this is a vital period in which to stay fit, strong... and awake. Hopefully we can all manage it!


  • Comment number 1.

    Good blog Matt and enjoyed wathing the weekend coverage even if it was rally early :)
    I read somewhere that Rossi has injured his hand is this true?
    Who do you think is going to win the Moto2 championship? Marquez seems to have the momentum but Iannone could make things interesting :)

  • Comment number 2.

    Good blog thanks Matt, was good to see the majority of the paddock out there in Japan, I think it’s a small gesture to show support for the people of that area who have clearly been through so much of late. The circuit looked superb especially after you guys said that the track itself was all rippled after the earthquake, well done Japan.

    @alonsoX2, unfortunately I think that is true, MCN are reporting today that the worst injury is to his little finger on left hand, and he had to miss a 1000cc test in Jerez today, but that despite this he should be fit for Philip Island next week. Also personally I think Marquez has so much momentum behind him and confidence it’s his title to lose really, the kid looks special.

    It was a crazy race with riders going off left right and centre, but I think this season so far hasn’t been a classic, I think every race apart from maybe Mugello someone has just bolted at the front and stayed there and we have not had a great battle for the lead, maybe I am being biased but maybe the lack of racing has got to do with the fact that the number 46 isn’t at the front at the moment…

  • Comment number 3.

    Good blog Matt as ever - and yes, it's pretty disappointing the attitude of some of the riders and journalists to the radiation issue. Glad to see the BBC team has it's head screwed on better.

    On the subject of why this season hasn't been a classic, it's clearly a lot to do with the blinding pace that Stoner's wringing out of the honda, and how well-sorted that bike seems to be this year. But yes, the failure of Ducati to sort out their issues has undoubtedly been a factor. But take heart, Simoncelli has made things interesting now and again, Spies is properly quick, and Bautista's been showing some great form on a resurgant Suzuki. Would love to see Hopper alongside him in a 2-bike team next year.... One can but hope.

    One thing maybe you can answer, Matt. Why is the minimum weight limit in MotoGP only for the bike? (150kg up to 800cc or 153 kg over 800cc in the 2012 regs: Surely this puts riders like Simoncelli at a huge disadvantage, and like Pedrosa at a huge advantage? We often talk about Pedrosa being a demon starter, which he undoubtedly is, but when he weighs as much as my lunch, surely that's got to help!

    I mean the F1 rules are positively incomprehensible at times, but even they use all-up weight. Wouldn't we see some closer racing if bikes and riders were ballasted?

  • Comment number 4.

    Jorge Lorenzo prefers Evian to Aquafina because it suds up better.
    2010 Moto GP Road Race Champion Jorge Lorenzo said that he showered in bottled water while he was at the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi out of fear of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant. He opened the bottles and poured them on himself. Not to be outdone, Japanese Grand Prix winner Dani Pedrosa said that he was going to leave all his clothes and gear in Japan because of contamination concerns. Several teams brought Geiger counters to Japan. Perhaps they should also wash the money that the long suffering Japanese people pay them. (mxa)

  • Comment number 5.

    @alonsoX2 yes that's right Rossi injured his little finger in the crash at Motegi and has pulled out of testing at Jerez so Nicky Hayden has taken over. OK for Australia though. As for Moto2, I agree with @malcolm46 that Marquez has the momentum now, as well as the consistency, & it's hard to see past him for the title. He's an incredible talent.

    @thirteen_ball the weight limit is a contentious issue but I believe it is due to the fact that particularly on big powerful MotoGP bikes, whilst smaller riders like Pedrosa may have an advantage in terms of straight line speed they are potentially at a disadvantage when it comes to muscling the thing around & using their body to transfer weight under braking or in direction changes. Obviously this is not an issue in F1 as the driver's position is relatively fixed.

  • Comment number 6.

    Having watched the MotoGP on TV, definitely great fun!
    It suprises me that these guys who think nothing about hurling a bike into blind bends at XXX mph are basically cowards! The likelyhood of them developing two heads or turning green by going to Motegi was nil! Showering in bottled water (if true) shows a total lack of respect for those long suufering people who have to live there. The "boycott" was always going to be avoided as the manufacturers and sponsors wouldn't have allowed it, but geiger counters on the pit lane.
    GET A GRIP GUYS and grow a set!

  • Comment number 7.

    First time I have ever read your blogg Matt, and I am not really a MotoGP fan, but your thought provoking representationof events in Japan (and build up) has grabbed my interest. Especially since you respond to bloggers (like Footie Focus' Dan Walker) rather than just sending you missives out into the ethers like most others.
    I am interested and some what confused by the details of mechanics and laws that you mention, but I loved to read about the points of contact between Disaster struck western Japan and the sport. I have friends who have traveled to Fukushima prefecture to assist in reconstruction. Have heard nothing about radiation problems from them.
    How often do you blogg? You might have made a convert out here in Connecticut, New England.

  • Comment number 8.

    Personally i think the problem with the riders questioning the supposed radiation safety issues was more to do with who they were listening to. It was reported that the Italians, mainly the Ducati guys, didnt trust the report issued by the Japanese saying that there was no danger, so asked thier own radiation experts in Italy to check, and even tho they came up with the same 'no danger', they still didnt believe it.

    Hence the pathetic sight of Simoncelli with a geiger counter in the pits... just a pity the Japanese were too polite to have told him where to shove that.

    Had no idea that only one Italian journalist went there tho, thats beyond words.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm sadly not supprised to hear of the negative comments on Italian and Spanish media, they have not got a clue where Japan is, yes a sad bunch they are

  • Comment number 10.

    It is appreciated that we can comment on your Blog, and you normally put in a reply
    It seems to me, many journalist/commentators either cant be bothered or think they
    are too important to respond to Joe Public, so once again thank you Matt.
    As for Japan i am glad all the riders and teams turned up, but i suspect Yamaha, Honda and Dorna amongst others applied allot of pressure behind the scenes to ensure a full attendance.
    Think the riders and teams were correct in asking questions about the situation around Motegi, but Lorenzo and Stoner seemed to have a paranoia about going there and Rossi seemed to have the wobbles about attending.
    But to be fair to them, maybe the TV/Press in some countries portrayed the situation in Japan very differently than it has in the UK.

  • Comment number 11.

    Further on Marc Marquez Matt, what has changed for him? I don't really believe the whole story that Suter are showering him in gifts to improve the bike. How much further along the development line is his machine compared to the Suters of Redding and Iannone for example?

  • Comment number 12.

    @thirteen ball, but Marco has longer arms and can move his weight back on the bike to keep the back in line as he enters the corner. I guess it's a question of Marco and the other taller heavier riders using more energy to make up time on the brakes whereas DanPed knows as long as he keeps his right wrist pinned he has a couple of tenths right there? I don't think Ped can ever win a championship, especially now he is second wheel at RH, but there is more to his speed than straightlining.


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