The stars of the 2015 MotoGP™ World Championship were present at the official Press Conference to kick off the Motul Grand Prix of Japan.
The Press Conference officially marks the start of the Japanese GP at the Twin Ring Motegi, round 15 of the MotoGP™ World Championship. The two main title rivals, Movistar Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, were joined by Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, Ducati Team’s Andrea Iannone, Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Aleix Espargaro and Aspar MotoGP Team’s Nicky Hayden.
2006 MotoGP™ World Champion Hayden was the first to address the world’s media as he announced that he would be leaving MotoGP™ to join the Ten Kate Honda team in WorldSBK’s for 2016: “Well this will be my last year in MotoGP as I’ll be moving to World Superbike next year with Honda and the Ten Kate team. It’s about all there is to it, not a lot more nothing too dramatic! These last two years have been not so good and I wasn’t in a position to get the result to keep a high level bike in MotoGP. I’ve always thought SBK might be something I want to try, liked the racing there, the opportunity felt like a good fit. I’m getting a bit older but I still enjoy the sport and the game. It’ll be a fresh challenge and a new opportunity to go there and have some more fun. Of course I’ll miss MotoGP and I’ve had a great opportunity here and been part of some great teams and worked with some great people but nothing lasts forever and we got to keep moving, go to SBK with Honda and hopefully have some fun.”
After Hayden’s announcement it was Rossi’s turn to speak. The nine-time World Champion leads Lorenzo by 14 points in the standings, and knows he can not afford any mistakes at Motegi: “This championship is very tough, It’s still 100% open and now we have the last four races and for sure it will be the most difficult moment because everything is tighter and closer. Three races in a row I like a lot, I like the tracks a lot and starting from Motegi I’ve won here just twice but apart from that we’ve had good results. Last year was a good race and usually Jorge is very strong here, he was won the two years. Just to give the maximum and try our best, try to arrive on the podium and make a good race like in Aragon with a good battle.”
Lorenzo arrives in Japan buoyed by his win at Aragon but carrying a slight shoulder injury after a training accident. The Spaniard has won the last two races at Motegi: “I had a crash last Saturday so I was quite worried, firstly because I thought it could be much worse. When I arrived in hospital before the X-ray I was also worried because they were thinking maybe it would need an operation. Luckily after the X-ray there was no need for an operation and I breathed very deeply! I was less worried; anyway I feel some small pain. Not so much pain but not comfortable when moving the shoulder. Luckily it has improved each day and we’ve done everything we can to accelerate the process of recovery. I think tomorrow I will be better and Sunday I think I will be better than on Friday. Maybe I won’t be 100% but I’m also not 100% on the right, maybe on Sunday I will be close to 100% though.”
Another rider who has suffered an injury in the run up to the Japanese GP is Marquez. The reigning World Champion broke the little finger on his left hand during a training accident and had surgery on Wednesday: “My injury is not so bad, okay it’s different to Jorge because here the bone is broken but I feel OK and we’ll see how we feel on the bike tomorrow as I’m a little worried in the braking points as we’re pushing so hard during this point. But we try to fix with a special handle bar with the team and we will see on the bike. Until I ride the bike I don’t know. Everything else I feel well and ready and we’ll try to do our best again.”
Fourth in the standings, Iannone is hoping to fight for the podium at Motegi, despite still recovering from his dislocated shoulder, after his fourth at Aragon: “Yeah, I’m really happy about Aragon so I think it’s a really good race for us. I try in the race to follow Vale and Dani but they have 2 or three tenths more than me so it’s impossible for me to stay with them. But at the end I’m happy, as feeling with the shoulder is improving during the week and day by day and this is important. At the moment I think the condition is 70% and at this track it’s important because this track is famous for strong braking points and for the difficult of stopping the bike.”
Pedrosa showed that he was back to his best during his battle with Rossi for second at Aragon and he hopes to keep this momentum going at Honda’s home track: “Yes it’s true after the last race we’re coming to this track where I enjoy riding and I have some wins in the past. Obviously we have to work very hard from practice, as we know the Yamahas are very strong this year. It’s a good track that I like and when you enjoy riding you can perform better. I had a lot of messages from people saying I should ride like this more so we’re hoping to repeat another good weekend.”
Aleix Espargaro took his place on the stage after his best result of the season at Aragon, sixth: “It’s an important weekend for Suzuki. I know a lot of important people of the brand will come to the race after three years of no racing activity. So we have to show them we can be completive and fight with the top brands. We’ll have to work hard.”
A number of riders got involved in some racing action on Thursday before the on-track action officially starts in Japan as they took part in an electric mini bike race. Dani Pedrosa, Bradley Smith and Aleix Espargaro lined up on the grid alongside Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Pol Espargaro, Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar), LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista. While the action was more about fun than serious racing, as always when you get these guys on track, chaos ensued. After a 3-lap training session, the riders were let loose on the MotoRacer kart track located at the Twin Ring Motegi for a 5-lap race. There was lots of elbow bashing and some massive crashes as the riders showed off their competitive streaks on bikes that have a tiny bit less power than their normal fire-spitting 260bhp MotoGP™ machines. In a dramatic finish it was Pedrosa who emerged victorious ahead of Smith and Aleix Espargaro, but the real battle will kick off on Friday when Free Practice starts.
The on-track action begins on Friday with Free Practice starting at 9am local time in Motegi.