With the situation in the Fukushima nuclear power plant continuing to look grave, and facing the giant task of rebuilding after the devastation caused by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Japan, the outlook for the Japanese MotoGP round remains bleak. The race has so far officially been put back from April 24th to October 2nd, Dorna and the rest of the MotoGP paddock wanting to show their support for the country which is so central to the sport of motorcycle racing. But the expanding radiation exclusion zone around Fukushima (extending to very close to the Motegi circuit), the massive damage done to the region surrounding the track and the perception of inappropriate priorities that rebuilding the circuit while so much more needs to be done would suggest is looking ever more likely to see the Japanese Grand Prix canceled for a year, allowing the country to return to some semblance of normality before concerning itself with something as frivolous as motorcycle racing.
Consequently, attention has turned from Motegi to tracks capable of replacing the Japanese track. The ideal solution would be a return to Suzuka, but the fact that the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix takes place the week afterwards (October 9th) means that neither the track nor Dorna would be interested in running the race there, as the fans would be forced between attending the two events, with MotoGP almost certain to emerge the loser from that contest. (This, incidentally, is the same reason the Australian Grand Prix will not be moving to the spring, because the Phillip Island circuit owners do not want to be competing with the Formula One race at Melbourne).
As we mentioned on Friday last week, paddock rumors have been suggesting that the Istanbul Park circuit could be lined up to replace the Motegi race. The rumors were fueled by reports that key officials from the Turkish motorcycling federation had had meetings with senior Dorna executives at the opening round of MotoGP at Qatar three weeks ago. The Istanbul Park circuit hosted a MotoGP round from 2005 until 2007, and was popular with both the riders and the fans. The track was dropped from the calendar after low attendance and a lack of support from local authorities meant that the circuit was unwilling to pay the required sanctioning fees for the race once ownership of the facility was taken over by Bernie Ecclestone, F1 supremo.
Attempts to confirm the discussions have so far met with failure. One paddock veteran expressed severe doubt that MotoGP would go back to Istanbul, precisely because of the low crowds. Low attendance was not a problem for tracks like Qatar and Abu Dhabi (due to host a race in either 2012 or 2013), as the sanctioning fees they pay finance a substantial part of the costs of MotoGP, but at a cash-strapped track like Istanbul, Dorna would be unlikely to want to return, the insider said. IRTA sources concurred, Herve Poncharal, boss of the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP team, saying he had heard absolutely nothing about it.
Though a return to Istanbul would no doubt be welcomed by the fans, the chances of a race actually taking place there appear to be rather slim. With Motegi likely to be canceled, the 2011 MotoGP season will probably be reduced to just 17 races instead of 18.