Round fifteen: Pacific Grand Prix
Twin Ring Motegi, October 13/14/15 2000
Plenty to play for at Motegi
All-American hero Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) may have been crowned 500 World Champion in Brazil last weekend, giving Michelin its 20th 500 title in 25 years*, but there's still plenty of racing to be done in the final two Grands Prix of the year.
While Roberts' position as the new king of 500 racing is beyond doubt, the closeness of this year's series means there are no less than seven riders fighting for the runner-up spot: Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin), Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin), Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin), Alex Barros (Emerson Honda Pons-Michelin), Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin), Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin) and Loris Capirossi (Emerson Honda Pons-Michelin). The prestigious Constructors' World Championship has also yet to be decided. The riders and factories have two races left in which to sort out their differences - this weekend's Pacific Grand Prix and the season-closing Australian GP on October 29. Motegi is Japan's second World Championship event of the year, following April's Japanese GP at Suzuka. This is the first time the nation has hosted two GPs in one season. The circuit, built by Honda to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary back in 1998, hosted its first GP in April 1999. Christened Twin Ring Motegi, the venue is a vast motorsports complex featuring a full F1-spec circuit, Indy oval and various other tracks. * A special press document celebrating and commemorating Michelin's historic 20 500 World Championship is available now on the web.
The riders and the track
Japanese fans flock to Motegi this weekend hoping to witness another home-rider victory. So far only two Japanese 500 GPs have been won by a Japanese rider and Norick Abe is the man who won both those races. Abe won his first GP at Suzuka in 1996, riding Michelin tyres, and repeated that Suzuka success last April, again with Michelin. This weekend he goes for a third home-tarmac victory, but he's not the only home-grown hero out to please the local fans. Tadayuki Okada (Repsol Honda-Michelin) is keen to finish a so-so season on a high note, as is Nobuatsu Aoki (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin).
Despite his double success at Suzuka, Abe is not hugely confident of a repeat performance at Motegi on Sunday. The spectacular youngster, who won the 1994 Japanese 500 title aged just 17, finds the recently constructed circuit less suited to his style.
"I prefer circuits with high-speed corners," he says. "Motegi is all slow - speed corners - brake, turn, gas on, brake, turn, gas on and so on. I don't find that so much fun. Fast corners are much more enjoyable because you can feel the bike moving around and it's more exciting. I don't like the track so much." "It's what you might call a very straightforward, simple circuit, which means it's easy for everyone and that will mean very close lap times in qualifying and maybe lots of riders together in the race." "I don't think it's not so good for me, I would prefer to race at Suzuka again! I like all fast tracks like Suzuka and Phillip Island, maybe I would prefer to race around the Motegi Indy oval! But Motegi is another Japanese race, so it's important for me to get a good result, I must try my best."
Abe is one of those riders whose joy is obvious every time he climbs aboard his YZR500. He uses a radical style with high corner speed and massive amounts of lean, and is never less than hugely entertaining to watch. This season is his sixth full World Championship campaign and he is still able to better his best-ever performance of fifth place in the 1996 series. Last time out at Motegi, on April 25 1999, Abe rode through atrociously wet conditions to take third place, behind winner Kenny Roberts and former world champ Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin). "I was lucky it rained for the race, so I could get on the podium, because I'd not ridden there so much. The first time I rode there was last year, I did just a little bit of testing, then the race. The track surface is grippy and it's also not so bumpy. I think you can use quite soft tyres, and that's what I prefer because it's easier to control slides with soft tyres."
Michelin's solution to the challenge of Motegi
Michelin has totally dominated the 2000 500 World Championship, taking pole position and victory at all 14 races so far. The French tyre manufacturer has illustrated its technical mastery in this most demanding of motorcycling disciplines, developing and improving its tyres with every outing.
Much of this year's technical interest has centred around rear tyre choice, riders choosing between Michelin's 17in and 16.5in rear slicks. Until very recently, the 17in was the most popular tyre but the 16.5in has dominated at recent events, with Garry McCoy enjoying a particular amount of success with the tyre. But while more and more riders are switching to the 16.5, which offers a larger contact patch at maximum lean for more grip, cooler running and extended life, Michelin still brings a batch of 17in tyres to Motegi.
"Our policy is to make all our tyres available to everyone, and while the 16.5in has been popular at many recent racetracks, there's no guarantee which tyre will suit Motegi until we get there," says Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli. "Like most of the riders, we don't have a lot of experience of Motegi because it was raining most of the time at last year's Grand Prix and we've never done much testing there. That will make the event a special challenge for us, since we don't have much information about the track surface and how it's affected by different temperatures and so on."
"It's a stop-go track, all braking and acceleration. We do know that you need a strong rear tyre for Motegi because there's a lot of acceleration from low gears. For this kind of track, you also need a lot of front grip, so riders need a soft front, especially if the conditions are cold. The problem is that there's so much heavy braking involved that they also need a hard construction front! As always, it's a compromise."
"No one has tested properly at Motegi this year - McCoy has ridden there, but that was on a street bike to learn the track, because he didn't ride at last year's Japanese GP. The other complicating factor is the weather. The track is in the mountains, so the conditions can be very changeable and since it's autumn in Japan, we're not expecting it to be very warm." Following Sunday's action at Motegi, riders and teams pack up and head south for the final Grand Prix of the season at the high-speed Phillip Island in Australia's state of Victoria. The event takes place on October 27, 28 and 29.
Motegi tyre information
Michelin transports approximately 2400 tyres to Motegi this weekend - 1800 slicks and 600 rain/intermediate tyres. A total of 17 Michelin staff looks after the needs of riders - six technicians, nine fitters, one manager and a co-ordinator.
Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin)2m 02.889s, 140.643kmh/87.392mph (1999 race run in rain)
Pole position 1999
Kenny Roberts (Suzuki Grand Prix Team-Michelin), 1m 50.826s
Recent winners of the Grand Prix of Motegi in 1999
Kenny Roberts (Suzuki Grand Prix Team-Michelin) 51m 54.386s (First GP at track)
<pre> Provisional positions 1 - Kenny Roberts (Suzuki-Michelin) 224 points 2 - Valentino Rossi (Honda-Michelin) 173 points 3 - Garry McCoy (Yamaha-Michelin) 150 points 4 - Carlos Checa (Yamaha-Michelin) 142 points 5 - Alex Barros (Honda-Michelin) 141 points 6 - Max Biaggi (Yamaha-Michelin) 129 points 7 - Norick Abe (Yamaha-Michelin) 126 points 8 - Loris Capirossi (Honda-Michelin) 126 points 9 - Alex Crivillé (Honda-Michelin) 112 points 10 - Nobuatsu Aoki (Suzuki-Michelin) 103 points 11 - Régis Laconi (Yamaha-Michelin) 96 points 12 - Tadayuki Okada (Honda-Michelin) 94 points 13 - Jurgen v.d. Goorbergh (Honda-Michelin) 80 points 14 - Sete Gibernau (Honda-Michelin) 68 points 15 - Jeremy McWilliams (Aprilia-Michelin) 66 points 16 - Tetsuya Harada (Aprilia-Michelin) 33 points 17 - David De Gea (Modenas-Michelin) 23 points
500cc category / Michelin partners
N° Rider Team 1 Alex Crivillé Repsol YPF Honda Team 2 Kenny Roberts Telefonica Movistar Suzuki 4 Max Biaggi Marlboro Yamaha Team 5 Sete Gibernau Repsol YPF Honda Team 6 Norifumi Abe Antena 3 Yamaha - D'Antin 7 Carlos Checa Marlboro Yamaha Team 8 Tadayuki Okada Repsol YPF Honda Team 9 Nobuatsu Aoki Telefonica Movistar Suzuki 10 Alex Barros Emerson Honda Pons 15 Yoshiteru Konishi Technical Sport Racing 17 Jurgen v.d. Goorbergh Rizla Honda 18 Sébastien Legrelle Tecmas Honda Elf 20 Phil Giles Sabre Sport 24 Garry McCoy Red Bull Yamaha WCM 25 José Luis Cardoso Maxon Dee Cee Jeans 31 Tetsuya Harada Blu Aprilia Team 46 Valentino Rossi Nastro Azzurro Honda 55 Régis Laconi Red Bull Yamaha WCM 65 Loris Capirossi Emerson Honda Pons 68 Mark Willis Proton KR Modenas Team 99 Jeremy McWilliams Blu Aprilia Team