MotoGP: Motegi 2011
Motegi has been ground zero for controversy throughout the GP season. Following twin catastrophies that befell Japan such a short time ago rumors of circuit boycotts and calendar changes abounded. The circuit was only recently confirmed to be remaining on the schedule. As it stands, the grid will be "full" despite previous setbacks. Also notable is that Motegi represents the 2nd track this season to have undergone resurfacing recently. Considering both the issues experienced at IMS and the drama surrounding attendance this weekend it will be interesting to see how the riders adapt to the situation. At Yamaha expectations have been set high, though temperred with the need for improvement. After a thrilling race last year en route to his championship Jorge Lorenzo is hoping to improve on his form despite the challenges posed by a resurgent Honda. His title retention hopes would have been aided immensely had Casey chosen to sit out the round. With Stoner confirmed to be in attendance his task seems that much harder as Casey continues to manage his championshp lead expertly. Across the garage, Ben Spies showed excellent pace last year aboard the satellite Yamaha but his ultimate result was hampered by a bad start that saw him plummet in the early laps. This year aboard the factory Yamaha he looks to use recently learned lessons that have seen occassions of much improved starts to put the Yamaha at the pointy end early in the race and keep him in contention. While the Yamaha team appears rather cohesive the rivalries at Honda bring interesting intra-team drama to the fore. Despite several claims that they would drop to only two factory rides and riders in 2012, Honda has confirmed that Simoncelli will continue to ride a 3rd factory bike, albeit on a satellite team. This has left Dovizioso twisting in the wind without contract confirmation and his only apparent prospects being satellite rides. Whether this is a step down from what could have been on the table had he capitulated to Honda's wishes to move him to a satellite team this year is not clear as there has been little-to-no indication that Honda would have continued to provide factory support with that move. Considering the economic and political climate it is entirely likely that Dovizioso would have the same options at the end of this season, but without the bargaining position of results afforded by his factory ride. It would be difficult to imagine that Dovizioso envisioned any other form of treatment considering Honda's track record in this regard. In the meantime, Casey Stoner continues to work on fullfilling the prophecy delivered earlier this year. He continues to hold Lorenzo to a 44 point deficit and is returning to a track that he won on using the recalcitrant GP10. On the much more refined RC212V he is a clear favorite for victory this weekend, however he has been very reluctant to race at this track. How the undoubtedly considerable pressure forced on him by Honda to ensure his participation will affect the outcomes of the weekend remain to be seen. Motegi represents Ducati's second race with an aluminum infused chassis, however very large questions remain about exactly which chassis will make an appearance for each race. After an acknoledged positive test that Ducati rather downplayed by only indicating that Rossi was "close to Stoner's times", paddock insiders claim that Rossi's personal reaction was silent but quite a bit more telling. If the chassis is that good, then despite Ducati's continued claims that they will not take a new chassis and the resultant engine penalty it is very likely that an all aluminum GP11.3 will make an appearance before the season is complete to allow Ducati additional testing. The primary restriction for such a quick deployment in previous iteration, namely the time consuming nature of working with carbon fibre, will have been removed. Whether Nicky will be able to make use of the new chassis is also open to debate. He was previously barred from using the GP11.2 due to parts availability (see: carbon fibre). With faster development allowed by the aluminum chassis it is possible (though somewhat unlikely; see: politics) that both Ducati factory riders will be performing on-track testing during race weekends. Finally (for the factory teams) there is the Army of One (tm) - Alvaro Bautista. His form on the undeveloped, underfunded Suzuki this season has been phenomenal, and his confidence has obviously grown from race to race. He has put up several good results this season on the GVR, including an intense battle at the last race. Whether development of the other bikes (Ducati) will push him further down in the pack will be a development worth watching.