Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) started second on the grid and chased Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) for 12 laps before making his move to overtake and then keep up a fast pace throughout the remaining 12 laps to secure his fifth victory of the season. The race followed the same pattern as in the previous GP at Aragon – Pedrosa shadowing Lorenzo closely for the first half, waiting for his rival to lose pace and then pouncing, powering past to quickly open a clear lead to a certain win which reduced Lorenzo's lead in the championship from 33 to 28 points. Alvaro Bautista (San Carlo Honda Gresini), fifth in qualifying, fought a long tough battle for third to secure his second podium of 2012. Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda Team), returning after a three race absence due to his injury at Indianapolis, managed to finish fifth. With nine wins out of 15 races, Honda maintain a clear lead in both Constructors and Team championships, and the Rider's title still remains a possibility, with this victory taking Honda one step closer to reversing Yamaha's lead and taking the triple crown for the second year running.
Yes, after things went smoothly in practice, in qualifying we were suddenly hit with vibration and chatter problems. Things were OK till the end of the session on hard tires. When we switched to soft in order to get faster times, instead we got vibration that kept us slower. So we tried using the same wheels on the spare bike, but this time we got chatter. Vibration and chatter produce similar symptoms but the causes are very different, so we couldn't understand why this was happening. Still, Dani was getting his fastest pace on the race tires, and I reckoned he was set to win unless something happened. He had some chatter in the race, but it was nowhere near as bad as in qualifying. For the first half, he stayed behind Jorge while carefully watching the condition of his tires. Jorge set a fast pace, but when he slackened a bit in mid race Dani saw his chance and quickly established a very clear lead. They were lapping around 1'46" for the first half, but after Dani took the lead he shaved a second off that and was setting 45s. Jorge then evidently chose to ride for a safe second finish, so Dani was over four seconds ahead at the finish.
The fundamental characteristics of our bike are its braking, leaning and acceleration performance. And Motegi is a very typical stop-and-go type circuit that really needs all three for a win. The current bike dates to Round 10, when we introduced the new engine and chassis, and ever since then Dani has been getting better and better performance out of it. As he has said, the new engine brought improved braking and corner entry, while the modified chassis made it much easier to stand the bike up again on corner exits. Each race he rides, he is getting better performance out of the bike, and I'm sure it is contributing to his wins. In the first half of the season, new minimum weight rules and changed front tire specs meant we had to rethink the whole balance of the bike, so there was a long period when we were racing with a stopgap set up. That all changed after the summer break though, and we are now back to our form of last season.
Well, everyone says that, but the way I look at it is we're talking about the past. You can't go back and redo a race, you just have to get on and do your best next time. The only way for Dani to become champion is to win every race now. It's a tough one, since all Jorge has to do to stay ahead is to come second in each of the remaining three races. Anyway, it makes things simple for Dani, and for us. There's only one possible strategy – to go for a win, every time.
His ankle has recovered enough that he no longer needs crutches for walking, but it's not good enough for him to have resumed training. Motegi is a circuit where you need to do a lot of shifting your body weight and moving around on the footrests during braking and acceleration, and that all puts a big burden on his right ankle. However, he's able to use that ankle more smoothly now as he rides, and he's also shifted to a riding style that makes it work less hard. Unfortunately, even though Casey improved his pace more than we imagined possible, all our work on his setup wasn't really able to help his performance much. If we'd been able to do better on that point then I'm pretty sure he would have been on the front row of the grid. Even though he would still have had to ride through the pain of that ankle, I reckon a front row start would have put him on the podium with Dani and Jorge. We are talking about Casey Stoner, after all, and I'm sure that having to chase Dani and Jorge would be a powerful motivation for him. As it was, from the start he was stuck back in the groups battling for third and fourth place. It was a remarkable effort for someone who still isn't fit enough for training though. I'm really looking forward to seeing how he can do in Malaysia and Australia.
Yes, Alvaro had such good averages in free practice and qualifying that I was quite confident he would be on the podium. This season, the podium has been pretty much dominated by Dani, Casey and Jorge, and Alvaro had his first podium at San Marino, where Casey was out and Dani had to retire. This time he was facing the same top three again, but Casey was still not back in condition and that gave him his chance. However, this third place was different from San Marino – you could see Alvaro is riding better because his time was so much closer to the front two. I really hope he keeps this pace up for the remaining races. Stefan, on the other hand, had his first problems with arm pump due to all the hard braking here. That meant he couldn't up his pace. The switch from 800cc to 1000cc this year has made the braking requirements at Motegi a whole lot harder and this was a tough one for a rookie, but it's just something he'll have to focus on and train for from now on.
I can't really say that we felt under any special extra pressure to win here just because it's the Japanese GP. Our feeling is that we want to win all 18 races, and we do our very best to win every one of them. In that sense, it's just one of 18. On the other hand, we do have extra special support here from all our local fans and from all the local Honda people too. So I certainly do feel relieved that we got this win. Now we have two back-to-back races at Malaysia and Australia, and I really hope we can keep this performance going and pull a miracle out for the championship. Whatever happens, we'll be going all out for the final three races, and I hope all our fans out there will be rooting for a Honda win.