The AirAsia Grand Prix of Japan began on Thursday at the Twin Ring Motegi as Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez was joined by Yamaha Factory Racing duo Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, Avintia Blusens’ Hiroshi Aoyama, Tuenti HP 40’s Moto2 title contender Pol Espargaro and Italtrans Racing Team’s Takaaki Nakagami in the Thursday pre-race press conference.
The day itself started with important news for the Moto2 class, as championship contender Scott Redding was declared fit for opening free practice, after suffering a fractured left wrist in a crash at Phillip Island last weekend. At the same time, LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl will also make a return to action, following his fractured right ankle sustained in Malaysia.
Marquez, who could take the title this weekend should he beat Lorenzo by eight points or more, commented to those gathered in the Motegi press room:
“Motegi will be another race and I hope it will be much better than Phillip Island. Confidence is high. We’ll see the weather here because it doesn’t look so good, but I look forward to riding here with a MotoGP bike. I said at Phillip Island that the most important thing is to get the title, but it doesn’t matter when. Jorge is closer now and did a very good race in Australia, but now we’ll see how we can manage the situation. We have two important races so I hope to be there fighting for victory or the podium.”
Lorenzo, whose win last time out at Phillip Island was the 50th of his career, will be hoping for more success as he continues his fight for the title, but explained that his Yamaha M1 could struggle under heavy braking should conditions remain dry.
“Before the race, we almost had the championship lost,” the current title holder admitted of Phillip Island. “With one mistake from Marc and his team, we don’t have the championship in our hands – because it’s still very difficult – but we have another chance and we have to play our cards in the best way. The weather could play either in our favor or against us. It’s true that braking is not normally our strong point, but we have good corner speed and acceleration. We have won here at Motegi in the past and this year the weather could play in our favor.”
His teammate Valentino Rossi could prove vital in helping Lorenzo fight for the title, especially with the Italian looking on good form of late. However, with a typhoon in the vicinity, the multiple World Champion knows Motegi could provide another unusual set of circumstances in the 2013 season.
“We are now more or less at the end, with two races left, and this championship has gone very quickly for me,” Rossi began. “Last weekend everything happened and I was able to do a good result and work well in such a strange race. We arrive here and I like this track. It is very difficult and so demanding for the body and bikes, especially under braking. It could be an issue if it is dry, but the weather doesn’t look fantastic and everybody is expecting wet conditions. We will have the chance to run in the wet; I don’t think it has rained this year since Le Mans, so we’ve been lucky all season and now it looks like this weekend we’ll pay a bit for the weather.”
Aoyama, for whom this year has been plagued with injury, will look to put this behind him and aim for a strong race in front of his home fans:
“I was injured earlier in the season and was a little bit down, but my confidence is coming back race by race and physically I’m getting better. This is one of my favorite race tracks and I have had good results here in the past. It is not so easy with a CRT to keep up with the MotoGP bikes, but who knows what could happen with the weather. We will see where we can finish on Sunday.”
Espargaro, who stands a chance of taking the Moto2 title this weekend after celebrating victory at Phillip Island, laughed at the possible dramas rain could provide and stressed that dry conditions would be favorable. At the same time, he is pleased to see title rival Scott Redding (Marc VDS Racing Team) attempting to race at Motegi.
“I found Scott in the hotel and he said that he is okay,” Espargaro recalled. “He has pain in the arm but he will try; that is good for the championship, for him and for the people following him. I was not 100% happy in Australia because, although we got first position in the championship it was not perfect without him being there, but this sport is dangerous, you have to be very careful and one mistake can win or lose you the World Championship. It was bad luck for him in Australia but I’m happy to see him here in Japan and to know that he will try tomorrow.”
Other local boy Nakagami, who has narrowly missed out on the top step of the rostrum on numerous occasions this year, now hopes to take that extra leap with his home support:
“Sure, this is a big chance. I have been waiting for Motegi since before the season started and now I’m here. After the summer break we had four second places in four races and I was very close to my first victory. Here, as always, I will push 200% and hope to be on the podium and maybe on the top of it on Sunday. We will see.”
On Wednesday, there had been a gathering at the Spanish Embassy in Tokyo as Marquez, Lorenzo, Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, GO&FUN Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista, Italtrans’ Julian Simon, Aoyama and Dorna Sports were made Sporting Ambassadors of the Spain-Japan Dual Year, which between June 2013 and July 2014 is marking 400 years of exchanges between the two countries.