2011 Motegi MotoGP Thursday Round Up - Of Fear, Weight Distribution And A Change In Routine

It was billed by the respected Italian website GPOne.com as "The Grand Prix Of Fear" and finally it's here. Unless something extremely untoward happens - highly unlikely, but the zone is one of the most geologically active regions in the world - by Friday evening, everyone will have gotten over themselves and we'll be talking about bikes on track again.

There are still plenty of signs of advanced paranoia in the paddock, however. The Italian media contingent is reduced to just a few brave souls, while the Spanish media is a little better represented, but still much thinner on the ground. The English-speaking media is actually a little more numerous than originally planned: out of sheer frustration with the panic-mongering being spread about by some of the more paranoid sections of the paddock, veteran MotoGP journalist Michael Scott has added Motegi to his itinerary, a race he would otherwise have covered from home.

The vast majority of riders are present, and all of the crew for the MotoGP teams, but a fair number of mechanics are missing from the support classes. In Moto2, for example, Alex de Angelis' team are all at home in Italy, their duties being taken over by local Japanese technicians for the weekend. In the 125cc class, the Mahindra squad only have their team manager and their riders with them, the mechanics having elected to stay at home, their places taken by temporary mechanics hired especially for this weekend.

Ducati have brought their own specialists with them, with sampling machines located in each garage analyzing radiation levels constantly. A number of riders are walking around looking particularly scruffy, intending to dump their clothes at Tokyo airport before they leave. A lot of people have smuggled food or water with them, to supplement the food at the track and in the hotels. The most egregious example was the Gresini team. Hiroshi Aoyama rolled his eyes during the press conference when he talked about it: "My team brought a huge amount of water," he said, "I don't know how much it costs!"

And of course, there was an earthquake on Thursday evening at around 7pm local time, just to add to the thrill of being there. Originally reported as a 5.6 magnitude shaker, it was later downgraded to a 5.1, with several people reporting that they felt the earth move beneath their feet. The quake was not strong enough to do any damage, though, Rizla Suzuki team boss Paul Denning quipping on Twitter that he didn't even spill his beer during the quake. Many present didn't even feel the quake, with some people present surprised to have missed it.

A quick trawl through the archives of the US Geological Survey turns up the reason that so many people missed the quake. There have been magnitude 4+ quakes within 150 km of Mito at almost every Japanese Grand Prix since the series returned to Motegi in 2004. The earth has shook on at least one day of each event, 2007 taking the biscuit, with 3 quakes stronger than magnitude 4 on the Friday before the race and a magnitude 5 on the Thursday. Earthquakes are so common in the region that you only really notice them when you start to pay attention.

But apart from talk about the perils of Motegi, there were a couple of other subjects that were vexing the paddock. The time set by Valentino Rossi during the private test at Jerez was one such subject, with Rossi denying in the press conference that his times were much to write home about. The track, he said, had been a little bit dirty, and so the lap time had not been "fantastic." But the team had got a lot of work done on the rider position weight distribution, Rossi said, later telling MCN's Matt Birt that he felt this was the key to understanding the Ducati. He was not happy with his position on the bike, and was looking to move a little forward on the bike, with the tank currently the limiting factor for his position.

Ironically, a similar move is what turned around Casey Stoner's season in 2010 on the Ducati. At Aragon, he and his team moved his position on the bike by just a couple of centimeters, and they suddenly found the front-end feel that Stoner had been missing. The Australian went on to win three of the remaining six rounds from then on, the relatively minor change having achieved a major improvement. Conceivably, Rossi's experimentation at Jerez may have found a similar solution, with better riding position allowing him to get more weight over the front. Whether the team have found the magic bullet - and whether that change will transfer successfully from the GP12 to the GP11.1 - should become apparent on Friday, when Rossi takes to the track.

Much focus also on Jorge Lorenzo, and his increasingly uphill task of defending his title. In the press conference, Lorenzo acknowledged the enormity of the task ahead, especially at a track like Motegi. The long straights with tight corners leading on to them are exactly where the Yamahas are losing out to the Hondas, the M1 down on both top speed and acceleration out of slow corners. But, Lorenzo said, there were still 100 points to play for, and he had to keep believing.

Favorite for Sunday's race remains Casey Stoner, and the championship leader was due to be at the press conference. But a delay to his flight meant he didn't land until well after the affair had finished, causing Lorenzo to joke that he had suddenly become the championship leader - in the MotoGP press conference, the championship leader is always given the central seat of the five. The Honda is both fast in a straight line and strong out of the corners, and Stoner is on a roll at the moment.

Honda badly wants a win at the circuit it owns, not having had a victory here since 2004, when Makoto Tamada took victory on the Bridgestone-shod RC211V. Stoner is their best bet of breaking their unlucky streak at home, with the only minor fly in the ointment the fact that Motegi will be the first race that Stoner has been without his wife Adriana since 2007. With Adriana pregnant, the couple decided that she would remain in Australia while Stoner raced at Motegi. The Australian told the press at Aragon that it shouldn't be a problem, but sometimes, breaking habits and rituals can upset the rhythm that a rider gets into over a weekend. Motegi 2011 will be a general rehearsal for Stoner's future life, attending the races without his wife (and soon child) and it will be interesting to see how he handles it. On the evidence so far, it would be a foolish man who bet against him.

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I understand that Rossi was able experience improve feel with the position change, but was he able to explain how much this was attributed to the new "Almost-Deltabox" frame?

Motegi has always been a good Ducati track. Hopefully we might see another podium out of the Doctor before the season's over.

Though not a Rossi fanatic, I'm a fan of the man, and watching him struggle all year after such an omnipotent career has been fascinating to watch. It's really humanized a legend...

I've read Rossi said that to move him forward several new pieces needed to be made. That he had talked about it with Filippo and they where working on it but it would take time, so I don't know if they'll have something for Friday.

Yes, the seat foam is a stressed member of the chassis. But alas, the new seat foam pad will require different engine mounting points, hence a new set of engines. They are hoping to be able to debut the new seat pad around Brno 2012.

"Yes, the seat foam is a stressed member of the chassis"
The question is whether it's twin spar foam or single sided foam. Until we know, it's all just guess work.

Perhaps they can borrow the seat foam technology from the FTR Moto2 bike.

I was in Tokyo a couple of weeks back when they had a Earthquake measuring 6.2. I looked at the local guys in the office who initially showed some concern and then started laughing as it went on. My theory was that if the local guys panic then I am going to panic. In regards to teams taking water into Japan, I never had any issue getting French or other European mineral water for the week I was there.

I wonder if these smaller teams will see a cost benefit of hiring local mechanics for this race and start to employ that as a cost saving measure for other flyaway races.

All of, what, two weeks ago Rossi was reported as suggesting that the Ducati had been designed around Stoner's dimensions and was therefore 'too small' for his larger frame - now it is that the tank is too long to allow him to move far enough forward?

Stoner is not noticeably overly long in the torso/arms department, so these two statements seem to be contradictory. What is noticeable in pretty much every cornering shot of Rossi and Stoner of late is the extreme forward position Stoner takes on ANY bike - almost dragging the bike behind him through the corners, while Rossi seems more glued to the seat.

Somehow this all seems as if Ducati are still floundering to try to put disparate bits of set-up information together into anything cohesive. It's not hard to understand why Stoner was annoyed at the apparent suggestion by Burgess that his (Stoner's) team were ineffective at finding the best available set-up for what is obviously a capricious and sometimes downright malignant beast.

It seems unbelieveable that after all this time Rossi has suddenly decided that his position on the bike is the problem. This after the successful changes Stoner made at Aragon a year ago.

Surely this is one of the first things they should have tested, before they spent millions changing so may other things. Maybe they were too proud to follow Stoner's advice: understand the bike before you change anything.

And Rossi is denying that they tested a new aluminium twin spar frame at Jerez, or that the times he set were anything special. So was the story about the Jerez test that was run on this site and a lot of others completely wrong? Is it all smoke and mirrors? Very strange indeed. Something just doesn't add up.

"All of, what, two weeks ago Rossi was reported as suggesting that the Ducati had been designed around Stoner's dimensions and was therefore 'too small' for his larger frame"

I'm not convinced. Regardless of whether or not that was true of the GP10, the sheer number of revisions they've made this year would suggest that it's no longer the case. I mean, Preziosi knows Casey has left the building, right?

Associating Casey's name to their current design woes is a little disingenuous, I think (and I know he's not the only one).

Back in the day they would have had someone behind the pits cutting and shutting the tank with a gas welder and doing whatever else was needed to position the rider where he wanted to be ASAP. Why with all this technology we have can't Ducati have someone just whip up some parts quickly on the fly? Is this a skill that is being lost with the advent of CAD and CNC? What else does Corse have to do mid-season? Minimal WSB involvement so shouldn't all the resources go to GP?

After seeing a pic of the GP10/11 without a fairing the first thing I said was they needed more weight over the front. Good to see they finally agree. We'll see if it is the solution soon enough.


Back when I spent 3 months in Tokyo in 93' I'd regularly wake from my sleep and wonder if this was my train stop and I'd nodded off again, only to find i was in bed and it was just another tremor... Japan shakes like you wouldn't believe!! It's just not so often that it get's shaken to the core and a follow up wave comes through and wipes out anything that got overlooked in the original apocalypse. But it's not by accident that they've built great concrete structures along the coast line intended to dampen the effects of a rogue tsunami

What a laugh! Someone cutting and shutting the tank and whipping up parts in MotoGP? On a DUCATI ? A hastily welded together tank would look rather tacky for Ducati's top shelf image, don't you think ? And Ducati's 'Minimal' involvement in WSBK - Really... Checa's team is a big Factory effort. Hell, if you watched the last race you would have seen Filippo Presziosi himself, sitting in Checa's camp applauding his latest win in Race 2. Hardly minimal..

Spies was riding around with a not-so-well attached extender on his tank...

Hell, gas welding aluminium tanks is a bit tricky, but they could have kicked in the back of the tank and glued a bit more foam at the front of the seat hump :)

Actually, I assume there has to be some sort of homologation process for the tanks, to ensure no one sneaks in one that holds an extra litre. How do they police the fuel limit in fact?

Remove tank, fill tank, measure contents. Check that fuel line lengths are reasonable. That's about it.

i thought some of the bikes had the fuels housed under the seat or in a different location for mass centralization. i could be wrong.

i would respect a team for kicking in or cutting up a tank on the fly to win. there arent any points for style. make it pretty for the next race, winning is everything!

but well within the bounds of possibility. A shot bag, mallets and a TIG welder and someone with the necessary skills. Of all places, Italy would be one of the easiest place to find these.

Superbike Planet recently had a photo of Spies' M1 tank that looked as if it was the recipient of some very rapid " functionality " changes............

There was an article only a month or so ago where JB didn't have enough adjustment available, I'm pretty sure that Presiozi had to build a new swing arm/linkage and therefore a new engine to attach it too because the old one had the holes in the wrong place, all so they could just see what happens if they move one aspect round a little more, god only knows what major adjustments would entail. The longer presiozi messes with it the worse it looks. Should get out now with a handful of good results(it's still quite an achievement!) and move on, there is no guarantee it will ever be any better than it is but 3 years of blind alleys to suggest that it could and will only get worse..

Ducati's title was in the days of unlimited testing and tire choices. They continued success with Stoner winning races but in the mean time he crashed a lot when not winning. Especially when then testing ban came in. This is Ducati's first attempt at really making the bike ridable for everyone else. It should have been done three years ago but now with the Dream Team onboard it just magnifies every little problem. Yes, they should just say this is for the 1000 and continue racing the GP11.1 like Hayden.

They also could have spred some of their chassis theories to Capirossi and Randy, who are ofcourse quality riders. It might have gone under the radar, but for sure they are wasting good talent while it is available.