MotoGP Riders Still Worried About Racing At Motegi: Hayden, Lorenzo, Rossi And Spies Speak Out

With the Japanese round of MotoGP at Motegi now just five weeks away, it is getting close to crunch time for the riders to decide whether they are going to race at the circuit or not. The report on the radiation situation at Motegi commissioned by Dorna has been presented to the riders and the teams, and everyone has had some time to digest the report. Some teams have already made clear that they will be attending the race - the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team made an official announcement at Brno, and Jorge Martinez of the Aspar team said earlier this week that his teams would be attending the race in Japan - but many teams have not yet made a decision.

The problem for the undecided riders centers around the situation at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where continues on bringing the damaged reactors under control and cooling the plant. This issue was not addressed in the report, and with the media reporting both every new earthquake and every incidence of high radioactivity found at or near the plant - though maintaining a deafening silence on the progress being made towards getting the plant under control - fear of the situation is still running high among the riders.

The differing advice given by various governments is also clouding the situation: while the Japanese government is maintaining a 20 km exclusion zone around the plant, other national governments are advising their citizens to keep further away from the plant. The Dutch and Belgian governments advise remaining 50 km away from Fukushima, while the British government are telling UK citizens to stay 60 km away, the only exception being for traveling through the area on the Tohuku Expressway and the Tohuku Shinkansen Railway, which both pass closer to the plant that 60 km. The Australian foreign office is the most cautious of western governments, advising its citizens to keep at least 80 km away from Fukushima.

Calls remain to have the whole race moved to the Suzuka circuit, in the south of Japan and several hundred kilometers away from Fukushima. When asked at Brno whether such a move would be possible, HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto told the press that he felt it was not possible, given the safety standards at the circuit: Suzuka is currently classified as Class C, while MotoGP is only permitted to race at circuits homologated to Class A, with much higher safety standards. He did express a preference for Suzuka as a motorcycle racing track, a statement which appears to have been misinterpreted by some sections of the Italian media as condoning a switch from Motegi to Suzuka. You can judge for yourself what Nakamoto said on the subject in the transcript of the press conference the HRC boss gave at Brno here. According to Spanish TV presenter Marc Martín, Dorna managing director and member of the Safety Commission Javier Alonso said that Suzuka was not an option. "It's not safe and the changes made for Formula One have made it even less safe," Alonso told Martín.

Naturally, with the riders reconvened at Indianapolis, the press asked the riders for their opinions on the subject. Below are some of their comments on Motegi, and how they fell about racing there.

When asked if he had made a decision on racing at Motegi, Nicky Hayden was non-committal. "I haven't, no," Hayden told reports. "Our team is looking at some different reports. It's looking more likely we're going now, though there was another earthquake two days ago. So it changes every day, every report you read is something different. But I certainly don't have that on my mind this weekend." Asked whether he had a deadline for a decision, Hayden responded that he did not. "The team's still getting some information," Hayden said. "There's a lot goes into it, it's no just staying home. Until we get more information, no, I haven't made a decision."

Jorge Lorenzo emphasized that the problem was not one of information, but of who to trust. "I think it's a question of trust. Anybody can say that Motegi is OK, and anybody can say Motegi is not OK," he told reporters. "The situation is changing every day, with earthquakes." On the report, Lorenzo said it was "one source of information. But for us, we need more information. You can have all the information you need, but you have to trust this information." Lorenzo said he would make a final decision in September.

Rossi expected to make a decision earlier, he told the press. "I have still not made a decision. I have to understand exactly the situation, but I'm not happy to go," the Italian said. "But between here and Misano I will say my position, and I hope that the other riders will also agree with me."

Now that Lorenzo and Casey Stoner had relaxed their earlier total opposition, Rossi was forced to explain his position in more detail. "For me is not a good idea to go to Motegi to make a motorcycle race, because it is dangerous," Rossi told reporters, "especially because it is not too far from the nuclear power station, and the station is not under control. And over there [in Japan - Ed.], always the earth move, so... It's scary. I'm very scared to go, and also all the people that have to come with me are very scared, from my people to also all the people from Ducati, all the guys, all my team. So I think it is not a good idea. You know, risk in a place like this is not good for a motorcycle Grand Prix." Asked whether he had come under pressure from Ducati and main sponsor Marlboro, Rossi replied that he had not. "Not a lot, less than the other manufacturers. For a choice like this, for me the pressure from outside is not the main problem. You have to be brave to take your decision."

Factory Yamaha rider Ben Spies spoke at some length on the subject of Motegi. "I'm not thrilled about going there," the Texan said. "I think everybody has the same exact feeling. We want to race, we want to go to Japan, we want to represent for everybody, but there's a lot of unknowns, and we don't know..." It was the long-term effects that were most worrying, according to Spies. "You know, everything could fine, but there could be repercussions years down the road that we don't know. I'm not saying that will happen, but nobody knows, Japan doesn't even know and they're not saying anything. It's a touchy subject, and to go just for a motorcycle race, I don't think it's the best time to do it. It's not something I'm worried about too much, but I think there could have been some alternatives, for sure."

The irony of a motorcycle racer - someone who rides a motorcycle at over 300 km/h for a living - being afraid of something unseen like radiation was not lost on Spies, but he emphasized that the difference was one of control. "We have a choice to go 300 km/h, that's normal for us," Spies told reporters, "but this is something that's out of control." Spies also questioned whether the risk was worth it: "And just for a motorcycle race, it's a difficult one to answer, because you want to do it, but also at the back of your mind, you know what's going on there, but you don't know how bad it is. I didn't study any of that stuff at school, and don't know anything about it, but I just know from what I've read that nobody knows exactly what can or can't happen and what could happen in twenty years."

The Dorna-commissioned report had been useful, Spies added, but it had failed to address some of the riders' fears. "It's not that I don't have faith in the report," Spies said, "it's just that it's not 100%, it's one of those things, you don't know. It's like having stuff in food, OK, it's good to eat now, but it really might not be. It's not very clear what can happen or what could happen down the road. Maybe nothing happens, but not knowing is one of those things." Other venues for the Japanese Grand Prix could have been explored, Spies told the press. "Like I said, I think there could have been alternatives. Different places to race at..." Spies did have some sympathy for the situation the Japanese manufacturers found themselves in. "It's tough, because all the manufacturers but one are Japanese, so they have to represent and it's totally understandable, but in the end, it is what it is and it's not a great situation, and it's just for a motorcycle race. So think it's a little bit pushed upon for everybody to go. I think everybody's on the same opinion, it's not the best scenario, so, what do you do?"

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Sounds like he has made his decision and is just delaying the announcement for some reason.

he simply doesn't want to be the first one to say no... he's hoping Jorge or Casey will say it first and thus avoid sounding like the instigator again...

Quick google, not carefully researched, but it was the first question I had after reading the above: Motegi is apparently about 120km from Fukushima Daiichi.

phew, finally we hear from a bunch of barely educated racers on the topic of dangers from radiation! there are people who LIVE there, and these guys who are gonna fly in and fly out, are gonna complain? they SAY they are "with japan" but c'mon, let do a little more than pay lip-service!

Yes, people still live around the plant, and people still have to work in the plant. It's quite an unfortunate situation for those people, but they don't have a lot of choice or alternatives, there are certain things that must be done.

The riders on the other hand have a choice, and no matter how you slice it, all sport and racing is a frivolous endeavor when compared to what the people over there must deal with...

I'm not saying what the riders should or shouldn't do, nor do I know what is "right." But I won't be giving anybody any grief over what decision they make either way.

yes, but my point is lets put our(the riders) enormous egos aside, think about someone other than ourselves (can VR do that at all anymore?), and do something FOR the people of the area.

Well, we (you & I, and 99.9% of the fans) will not be doing or sacrificing anything for those people with regards to the race. Awfully convenient for you to nominate the riders and teams for that task.

I said this in another post a few weeks ago, and I don't want to beat a dead horse. But I worked 3 blocks from Ground Zero in NYC for 3 years prior to and 3 years after 9/11. I went back to work 7 days later, because our building was amongst the first to get power back because there were FBI offices in our building. We walked to and from our offices from the subway for another 2 weeks after that through what turned out to be toxic dust like it was freshly fallen snow. We were lied to by the esteemed Rudolph Giuliani (mayor) and Christie Todd Whitman (head of the EPA). They said the air was fine, just change your air conditioning filters they said... Well, I am quite fortunate, no ill effects to my health to date. But others were not so lucky. To this day it boggles my mind the magnitude if my naivety.

Again, I don't plan on judging anyone whether they decide to go or not. But lets be real, even if a full field of racers take to the track in Motegi, it will be doing very little and helping a scant few who really need help there.

That's great that you gave monetarily, but that has nothing to do with the race. You say you would go if you had a job that took you there, again, it's great that you've made your hypothetical decision based on whatever information you have.

Now let the people that will actually have to go there make up their minds, and respect their decisions based on whatever factors that matter to them.

Holding a motorcycle race FOR the people of the area isn't going to give them the help they need. I don't see how it helps at all. "Sorry about your nuclear power plant disaster with all the radiation leaking out and it ruining your daily lives. Why don't you come to Motegi and pay for a ticket or a VIP package to watch a race?" Yeah, that will completely bring the nuclear plant under control & put an end to any radiation in the soil, water, or air in the entire region! Good thing there wasn't a motorcycle racetrack near the forsaken Chernobyl Plant back when it went up in 1986!!! People like you would have said the same thing...come on guys you need to show your support for the people of the area. Sorry to inform you that having a basic survival instinct is NOT the same thing as having an emormous ego....and if you believe everything the media tells you, then you're a lost cause! The report was Dorna-comissioned. That means Dorna went out & paid their own money to come up with a report about the radiation levels at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Do you really think that report would possibly say the levels were too high & posed a threat to public safety when Dorna used it's own money to compile the results??? That report is utterly tainted because Dorna wants nothing other than to go to Motegi to race. Lorenzo has it right, you don't know who to believe. I agree with not going or holding it elsewhere.

Really Dorna & the FIM are the ones to blame. Seems like they played their cards to not explore other options. Spies said at the Indy press conference, "...I think there could have been some alternatives, for sure." They had plenty of time to come up with alternative locations. If the FIM wanted to bring up the safety of Suzuka they could have earlier in the year & just hold off on Motegi until a future time when things get better sorted out. Hell, all they need to do is jump southwest for a bit & hold the race in China at the Shanghai International Circuit.

the entire japanese economy is suffering and could use any help but the population around Motegi has not suffered from the tsunami or radiations from the plant!
Millions of people live there and they have never been even remotely considered in danger or worth of evacuation.

This is why there is no reason to cancel the Grand Prix, this is why 2 rounds of Japan Superbike and one round of trial world championship have been held at Motegi, because the situation is the same than before the catastrophe.

Holding Motegi GP is not really a matter of helping the population, it's much more that there is no reason to cancel it.
People live there, work there, do their grocery shopping as usual and NO international organization, independent experts or foreign governments have ever doubted the safety of this area, 120 km away from the plant (the more conservative government issued warnings for the areas 60 km away from the plant).

What kind of message does it convey for the inhabitants if some riders boycott the event? How are they going to take it? It's the riders saying "we don't believe that you are safe out there, we believe the entire world is lying to you so we won't come to Motegi. The situation may be good enough for you but not for us."

The riders have been criticised for failing to understand the low risk posed by the radiation levels in the area of the race, but it seems that finally David and others are accepting that while those levels are low, the situation regarding the stablitiy of the reactors and the contiuning threat from seismic activity could pose a danger. And let's face it, while the risk might be low, the consequences of further developments could be very serious indeed. If you run across a road without looking and don't get hit, that doesn't mean that what you did was safe or a good idea. It is unlikely that anything will go wrong if the race goes ahead, but if something does go wrong, it could be very big. It is too easy for those of us not heading for Japan to criticise the riders for their uncertainty.

I'd be interested to know if the likes of VR and other high earning sportsmen can get insurance cover for the trip?

Curious to know what happened to the other racing events that were supposed to take place before MotoGP or those which are already over.

Were/are they also canceled due to non-participation? Or did they went as scheduled?

If at all those events went ahead and completed then I don't know what is all the fuss about it in just the MotoGP

As far as I know all scheduled events have taken place.

Hi guys
The Urainum rods at the power plant are all spent now. and cooling is no longer an issuse.
The problem is the radiation in the surrounding buildings and on the ground.
But mind you that if you where to go near the main Avionics room on a USA War ship/ air craft from the 1970's to 1990's you would have ten fold more radiation in the air then at Motegi. (same deal with the 747 passanger air craft)


"The Urainum rods at the power plant are all spent now. and cooling is no longer an issuse."

According to who?

"The Urainum rods at the power plant are all spent now. and cooling is no longer an issuse."

Not according to TEPCO's August status report - the spent rods in the pools are now being cooled by a stable circulating system, but the damaged rods (i.e. melt-down) and the damaged containment, require constant injection of water and recovery of loss, and injection of nitrogen to reduce the chance of another hydrogen explosion - not even TEPCO describe that as stable.

Move it to Suzuka or cancel the round. There is enough questions (hell all the governments don't even agree) to warrant skipping it. Everyone complaining about the riders are being hypocrites. No chance I would make the trip if I were in the situation. What for? The GP going on as planned is going to make it goody goody gumdrops and cure the radiation problems in the area? Would you take your family to that area when other areas are available?

Whomever mentioned Vale's ego, keet right? Your comment was pretty ignorant. Rossi is as nice as can be off the track. On the track all these guys have egos or they wouldn't be GP racers.

Sorry David, tired of reading people on this site constantly bashing riders over this. Whatever rider they don't like they point the finger at, childish.

You know why they really don't want to go? Because they take huge risks already for a living every lap and extra risk they do not want.

Quit pointing the finger or you fly over there first and post pictures. I don't even like Lorenzo or Stoner but I agree with them on this. Too much uncertainty.

But it's all Stoner's fault remember? Or did that bandwagon die out once they swallowed the fact that it wasn't?

Giving the riders the respect that their opinion deserves takes very little, and it's not just the fans and casual commentators either. Plenty of journalists have a lot to answer for as well.

Would be interesting to know which journo's and photographers are intending to go to Motegi. Any chance of you conducting a poll David?

So basically, we have a bunch of people (riders, families, crews, teams) who don't trust government and corporate sources, regarding the status of the plants... *gasp* ...As if either would ever lie to suit their own interests.

Personally, I find it hard to argue with that position, as I wouldn't trust them either.

Suzuka is "currently" classified as Class C safety standards. Was the safety standards there Class A before April 20, 2003 when Daijiro Kato was killed there? If they stopped racing there after his tragic death, then why the hell haven't they abandoned the Misano World Circuit??? Shoya Tomizawa lost his life there in 2010 & Wayne Rainey's career was cut short there in 1993 & no one says a thing about that circuit being too dangerous too race at! By that thinking all they need to do at Suzuka to make it Class A safety standards is just race in the opposite direction like they decided after Rainey's crash.

The late Tomizawa and Lenz (and Craig Jones in WSSP) have lost their lifes because they were hit by another rider after they crashed, these tragic events could happen on any track...

Kato lost his life because he went full speed in a concrete wall that should never have been there. It could have been avoided by adopting better safety standards. Unlike the other accidents.

I for one respect the individual (hopefully collective team) decisions of all involved. Whether that is attending or not.

If you want blame I'd be apportioning it to Dorna for not putting a contingency plan in place the moment this disaster struck. Their obstinacy is at the heart of this debacle.

I think part of what the riders are reacting to is that it is kind of unseemly to choose to go to a place where others are suffering...when you don't have to go. Not to mention Dorna's neglect to properly address the concerns. Neither one of these things is "good" for the sport. Yesterday, despite perfect weather, I elected NOT to take my kids to the beach (in NJ) while others were boarding up their homes and preparing to evacuate.

after an unprecedented 5.8 quake shaking the eastcoast of the united states earlier this week, you can officially take the americans off the attendance list. nicky's not saying it, but he's not going. spies will show solidarity with lorenzo. and edwards will be in divorce court before he ever made it to the airport. after the video of the exploding reactors (that we've all seen), not sure how this morphed into a discussable topic anyway...? i contend only someone baby young (not around for TMI or chernobyl) would think going to motegi a good idea.

Seems to me, riders and anyone going to that part of Japan are very sensible in asking is the area safe. Personally i think the risk is close to negligible, but the opinion that really counts is that of the riders and team personnel that make the show work.
If riders genuinely do think their lives or health would be at risk by going to Motegi and do not attend, i would respect but not agree with their views.
If there is a mass boycott, i wonder if there would be any retribution against individual riders by Japanese manufacturers,FIM or Dorna. Only a fool would think he is indispensable, but lets hope it does not come to that.
Do find it food for thought that the FIM Trials went ahead recently in Motegi without no mass boycott, and i understand the Indycar series is due to go there later this year, has anyone heard of any rumblings of discontent from the car teams or drivers?

re: "Only a fool would think he is indispensable"

actually they are fairly indispensable. it's why we have the game of musical chairs where essentially the same core group of riders keep getting re-contracted season after season after season. many have continued long after their expiration date despite interest from less talented upstarts that could theoretically be had cheaper. indispensability is part reason for this.