Gordon Hatch, MotoGP Correspondent
Spanish rider takes win at Honda’s home race
Dani Pedrosa gave his Repsol Honda team its first ever win at the Grand Prix of Japan and the Japanese manufacturer their first home GP race win since 2004 with a perfect performance at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in round 15 of this year’s MotoGP championship. Pedrosa crossed the line ahead of fellow countryman Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing) and his teammate and championship leader Casey Stoner.
The first lap saw the three factory Honda’s get a great start with Lorenzo and teammate Ben Spies in close pursuit but in the second corner disaster struck for Ducati Marlboro’s Valentino Rossi who crashed out after finding Lorenzo in his way when trying to turn into the corner giving the Italian nowhere to go then he found Spies on the outside who Rossi hit on his way into the gravel. Spies was able to remount and re-join the race while Rossi was forced to retire.
I'm really happy because at this track I've had a mix of good and bad results and some bad injuries, so come back one year later and win in MotoGP is fantastic.
Stoner was making his customary getaway at the front while Pedrosa and Dovizioso were doing their best to stay in touch with Lorenzo now closing in bringing Rizla Suzuki’s Alvaro Bautista with him. Meanwhile Hector Barbera (Mapfre Aspar) crashed out of the race and the Spanish rider was taken from the track on a stretcher.
While it looked like Stoner was about to check out he gifted the lead to Dovizioso less than six laps into the race when he lost control of his RC212V on the back straight making him run into the gravel and re-join the race in the top ten but with a lot of work to do. Dovizioso had just passed Pedrosa when he and two other riders were given jump-start penalties; Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini), Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and things got even worse for Crutchlow when he ran on into the gravel before he could take the ride-through penalty.
Pedrosa stormed into the lead with Lorenzo chasing him down and in turn they were being chased by Bautista and the remaining factory Ducati in the hands of Nicky Hayden. Stoner was quick to get back up to speed and set his sights on Bautista and Hayden and with the three ride-through penalties being handed out; the Australian was able to fight back through to the frontmen with relative ease.
Pedrosa was over the moon with his victory and hitting the 400th race win mark for Spanish GP riders. “I'm super happy with this victory, for the team that has been working so well, for HRC because this is the first win in Motegi with the Repsol Honda Team and for myself because it is the first time I've won here in MotoGP after doing so in 125cc and 250cc,” said the race winner while adding, “The race was strange at the beginning with Stoner and Dovi really fast on the first few laps, they pulled away and then Casey had some problem and Andrea had a ride through due to his jump start. I was alone in front with Lorenzo very close, but I tried to put my head down and push every lap to pull away. I'm really happy because at this track I've had a mix of good and bad results and some bad injuries, so come back one year later and win in MotoGP is fantastic.”
Lorenzo was very happy with his podium finish and even though he clawed back some points on rival Stoner, he has conceded that winning his second MotoGP title is a long shot now with only three races left. “I didn’t expect such a strange race, Casey going wide and Dovi having a ride through. I thought it was possible to fight with Dani but he came better and better, I think he was inspired today and at a very high level of riding. He decided the victory and I couldn’t follow him. To win now is almost impossible, just maybe some small possibilities! A big thank you to my team who worked so hard this weekend to make a very competitive bike and thank you to all the Japanese fans who came out to support us,” he said.
Stoner was disappointed with third place after his near miss on the back straight. “The whole weekend had gone so well for us and even the start of the race we got a great start and everything felt good in the first laps and I was able to pull a small advantage. Andrea was riding very well on the soft tyre compound and we knew ours would work well towards the end of the race, so the pace we had at that stage I was very comfortable with,” Stoner explained while continuing, “As I came out of the back straight I got a wobble on the bike, we hit the big bump and as the front came down it practically shook the bars out of my hands, I was lucky to hold on. I went for the brakes and there was nothing there so I had to pump them up a couple of times, when I pumped it the second time if flicked me up over the front and I was lucky to stay on the bike.
“Thankfully I avoided hitting the wall at the end of the gravel trap but this pretty much ended our race. It's really disappointing as we had the bike to win here today, but in the end I guess I should be thankful that we were able to climb back up to a podium spot after other peoples misfortunes and mistakes on track. I'm looking forward to going to Phillip Island now and to see what we can achieve the
While Simoncelli and Dovizioso were fighting back through the field the two frontmen were pulling away with Pedrosa still in front of Lorenzo. Stoner made his way through the battle for the latter half of the top ten positions and was now breathing down the necks of Bautista and Hayden. Not before long Stoner was passed Hayden and set his sights on Bautista and third position. While Hayden was chasing Stoner and doing his best to stay with him the American out-braked himself and he ran wide and into the gravel but he was able to re-join into 9th position.
Nearing the halfway point Pedrosa and Lorenzo were now well away from the rest of the field and Pedrosa had a very comfortable lead over his fellow countryman with Stoner now in third position. Dovizioso and Simoncelli were both making good progress through the field and the two Italians were now in 5th and 6th places respectively.
The latter half of the race saw a number of incidents and position changes. Pramac Racing’s substitute rider Damian Cudlin who replaces the injured Loris Capirossi this weekend crashed out with a lowside but the Australian walked away unhurt. Positions remained the same for a short number of laps before the next incident came in the form of the flying Bautista who was looking good for a 4th place finish but unfortunately the Spanish rider crashed out at high speed but thankfully he walked away unhurt from the incident.
While Pedrosa continued to push Lorenzo now looked to be holding station and settling for 2nd place. Stoner was chasing Lorenzo for second but the gap to his main championship rival looked to be too large for the Australian. The race entered its final stages with positions at the front unchanged but the higher places in the top ten were still up for grabs. Toni Elias had more bad luck this weekend and while in place for his best finish of the season he crashed out on his LCR Honda.
The main battles in the field now saw Spies chasing Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and also nearer the front Simoncelli was right on the back wheel of Dovizioso as the two riders fought for pride following on from their ride-through penalties. Spies kept up the pressure on Edwards and he was duly rewarded and passed his countryman within the dying stages as did Simoncelli on Dovizioso on the second last lap after the Repsol Honda rider hit a patch of grass when going onto the back straight.
Hayden would eventually finish in 7th ahead of Edwards in 8th while home hero Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) came home in 9th place much to the happiness of the home crowd. The final place in the top ten went to Frenchman Randy de Puniet on the Pramac Racing Ducati. Crutchlow would eventually finish 11th ahead of this weekend’s two wildcard riders; Kousuke Akiyoshi (LCR Honda) and 13th and last place finisher Shinichi Ito for the Honda Racing Team. Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Motoracing) did not start today’s race because of slight concussion that he carried over from a crash at the previous round in Aragon, Spain.
Pedrosa was untouchable in the dying stages of the race and with tyre wear now preventing most riders making any further progress the Spaniard mono-wheeled his RC212V across the line to the delight of his Repsol Honda team and the Japanese fans. Lorenzo crossed the line in second and keeps his championship hopes alive after gaining four points on Stoner who was a picture of disappointment when finishing in third place. Stoner now leads the championship on 300 points to Lorenzo’s 260 as MotoGP travels to Stoner’s home race at Philip Island in Australia on 14th-16th October.