Editor's Blog: Why I'm Not At Motegi

Over the past few days, I have been asked by a number of people - either directly or via Twitter - whether I will be going to Motegi for the Japanese MotoGP round this weekend. The short answer is I won't, but I felt I owed my readers an explanation of just why not.

It all started at the Sachsenring. Well I suppose it started earlier, at Barcelona, when the first rumblings of a rider rebellion over the Motegi MotoGP round appeared, and debate erupted in the paddock over whether it would be safe to travel to Japan for the race. The paddock is split roughly into two camps separated mainly by nationality, a fact that the amateur anthropologist in me finds rather intriguing. The Spaniards and Italians - and for some reason, the majority of the Australians too - were and are dead set against the Motegi race going ahead, saying the situation at the track and at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant made staging the event far too dangerous. Those hailing from the UK and the US disagreed, saying that all of the science showed that the situation was safe at the track, and that the nuclear plant was being brought back under control. Arguments were frequent, and though still respectful, there was a complete lack of understanding and empathy on either side. The participants were starting to look at each other as if the others were completely insane.

By the time the MotoGP circus reached the Sachsenring, the atmosphere was getting positively fraught. Even though Dorna had announced that they had commissioned an independent report into radiation levels at the circuit, and the preliminary results were showing that there was no risk from radiation, the division continued. When I asked Jorge Lorenzo in a press conference whether he would be going to Motegi, he turned the question around at me and asked "Are you going?" I told him I was not, because of the exorbitant cost of the race (for the cost of attending the Motegi round of MotoGP, I can fund trips to three or four European rounds). "If I pay, then you will go?" Lorenzo then snapped back. Naturally, I agreed.

Organizing a trip to Motegi is actually more difficult than I thought. So I turned to my friends at Pole Position Travel for some help. Gordon, Dennis and the people there were fantastic, and came back with a quote for two flights from Amsterdam (the second ticket was meant for my wife to travel with me, and Amsterdam is the nearest airport to my home) to Tokyo, and six nights accommodation at Mito. At Brno, I handed the price quote to Lorenzo, and he winced at the price. "That's expensive!" I pointed out that this was exactly why I was not going to Motegi, the cost of it, and promised to get back to him with a cheaper quote.

I never did. Pressures of work meant I never got round to asking Pole Position for a better price. Though the hotel costs were entirely reasonable - this is, after all, Pole Position's core business - it was the flights which were the killer, and spending a couple of hours searching for much cheaper flights, then booking them with the risk that Lorenzo's offer had been mainly bluff was not a good use of my resources. I let the whole affair slide, mostly through a lack of organization on my side.

I also felt that Lorenzo had made his offer because he felt backed into a corner. All of the riders - young men, who are focused completely on racing and all it entails, rather than understanding the nuances and intricacies of radiation risk, earthquakes and the process of bringing a stricken nuclear reactor under control - felt they had been forced into a situation that was not of their choosing, and their hands being forced both by Dorna and the manufacturers to attend the race. Naturally, when pushed into a corner by journalists - part of the job, I'm afraid, and definitely the least edifying part - they snap and say things they don't necessarily stand behind.

Jorge Lorenzo has shown me nothing but the utmost courtesy and warmth in the short time I have known him, and in the rather uneasy relationship which exists between riders and the media. If I had wanted to make a huge point out of the situation, I could have forced Lorenzo's hand and demanded he paid for my air fare and accommodation, as he had said he will. However, that would have been taking advantage of the situation, and I would not have felt comfortable doing so.

I realize of course that this weakens my position when I argue that the risks of racing at Motegi are only small. So be it; I stand by that opinion and if Motegi weren't halfway round the world, I would be there this weekend. It isn't, though, and so I am not, I am following the races from the relative safety of my home. For exactly the same reason, I did not attend either of the two US rounds of MotoGP, nor will I be at Sepang or Phillip Island. 

I wish everyone attending the Motegi round of MotoGP a safe event and that they return in good health.

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"I could have forced Lorenzo's hand and demanded he paid for my air fare and accommodation, as he had said he will. However, that would have been taking advantage of the situation, and I would not have felt comfortable doing so."

He's lucky he said that to someone who isn't a jerk.

It'd be nice if he offered you an in-depth interview as a courtesy. I'm not a huge JL fan, but I do respect the guy a lot, love watching him mix it up, and overall love getting real insight into these riders apart from what is chopped and rehearsed for the usual press releases. I believe your actions here have proven your merit and compassion that is so elegantly phrased in your articles.

Wasn't there a time when you were going? I seem to recall reading that early on as this story developed.

Not calling your integrity into question with that, just wondering. I really don't think it's a big deal you're not going...

..we turn to for our first-person perspective since you won't be there to provide it?
It would be nice to know who our favorite moto-journo looks to when he needs news.

On a side note, Jen and I went to Mugello this year with the Pole Position Travel group, and indeed, Gordon provides a great experience for a lot less than it's probably worth.

Is it in poor taste to ask a ballpark figure for what that entire quote was? Or perhaps it'd be easier to tell readers how much the airflight was? (I'm guessing US$1,500 per round-trip ticket?)

Quite darn steep. And to think that airlines sometimes struggle to make margin even with such high prices!

Dorna should pay for your trip! You have one of the best websites for MotoGP fans and are doing alot for the sport!

Well its quite funny to find out that you were the one behind that question.
I remember Lorenzos attitude and he really should have followed through privately and at least
offered to pay part of your trip. You should look for support from the spanish journalists like mela chercoles, dennis noyes (an adopted spaniard) or ernest riveras to corner him and get that interview or at the very list For him to pay a couple of rounds at valencia.

That exchange provided for some well needed humor in that press conference. Thank you & JL. Thanks for this post too. Expense is certainly an issue if radiation may or may not be. I'm sure JL may have made good on the offer but glad you took it as it was probably offered; sincere if called on but mostly for the sake of humor. Good on you.

Your sincerity that you would have gone was borne out by the fact that you planned to take your wife with you. Nuff said.
I am usually in southern Thailand in October/November, I'd be happy to be your fill in for Sepang :-)

Speaks for you that you didn't take advantage of the situation. I think he could afford it though!
But still, fair decision.

Well, none of us on here really needed an explanation, (as entertaining as it was). You still have my support. Before I even read your explanation why you would not be making it, one of my first thoughts was, too expensive. Still sticking with the site anyway...... can't get rid of me or few more that easily.


David, I quite enjoyed reading that : )

And it got me to thinking... what chance a MotoMatters.com fan-funded (or part thereof) trip to Australia in October 2012... I'm sure all the Aussie MM fans would love the opportunity to meet you in person, and I have no doubt you'd have a blast at the PI event.

That's quite a protracted explanation for someone who has made an effort to show his nonchalance towards a situation others treat with 'lack of understanding and empathy'.
Well, I know Sepang has Cobra and all other manner of nasty critters, but I agree, they have nothing on those Fairy Penguins at The Island! I understand the reluctance, really I do.

Paul, that may be a very good price for that flight, but it is only low if you have got that much to hand (I certainly don't). Let's not confuse the income some of the star riders get with that of a journalist (hope I'm not doing you a disservice there, David) who can still do a good job remotely. Like David said he could attend a number of European races for the same cost, and Japan is also very costly as far as time is concerned.

Interesting that whatever Jorge earns the quote still made him wince - nice to see he still has his feet on the ground.

When you finally come to the Island you can bunk in with us if you like, we don`t eat our young or anything like that. Almost civilised really!!

team-myers, I agree. Also, flights were as much as $13,000+ by page nine on my link, so I really can't say how high a figure Jorge heard and reacted to. One other thing; I only provided the link as it might come in handy for Dave (or anybody else who wasn't aware of it) on down the road.

It seems Lorenzo is using the money he saved on David's not going to Motegi to pay for enough Evian to bathe in. He admitted that both he and Hector Martin are not showering with the local tap water when asked by Michael Scott in the post quali press conference.

David, hats off to you. Strangely enough I read the article because it was linked on one of lorenzo's tweets. Now I have to admit he won the real deal sincerity for me. Class A act, impressed, another #99 fan added.