Jorge Lorenzo won only his second MotoGP race in Japan yesterday with a brilliant ride to defeat Fiat Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi in a captivating Twin Ring Motegi race.
The Spaniard, who hadn’t won since the third race of 2008 in Estoril, fended off the determined challenge of reigning world champion Rossi to win the 700th premier class race in history.
Fourth at the end of the first lap. Lorenzo quickly latched onto the back wheel of Rossi’s factory YZR-M1 after the Italian had failed to make an early breakaway from the pursuing pack.
Lorenzo needed two attempts to claim the lead on the ninth lap, his second clinical move under braking at the end of the back straight proving decisive.
Rossi, who was also second in the season’s opening race in Qatar, exerted intense pressure on Lorenzo until lap 15 when an electronics glitch blunted his charge, and that pitched him back into an exciting scrap for third with a resurgent Dani Pedrosa.
The Repsol Honda rider, who had made a stunning start to burst through to third at the first corner from the fourth row of the grid, passed Rossi twice on lap 17, but any hopes he might chase down compatriot Lorenzo were quickly dashed as 30-year-old Rossi hit back on lap 19.
Rossi himself then mounted an impressive but futile late attack to pressurise Lorenzo into a mistake, but the double world 250 champion remained ice cool to win in front of a huge gathering of senior Yamaha management.
Lorenzo, who leads the championship by a single point going into his home race in Jerez this weekend, said: “I didn’t think I would get the chance to win, because in Qatar I finished so far from (Casey) Stoner who won. But I was looking at the video of the Qatar race and I could see some mistakes from me and I wanted to get to Motegi and to solve these problems. Some of them I solved and now I am quite fast in the middle of the corner, which was my problem. But I didn’t expect to win. I made a bad start I think. I finished fourth in the first lap. And also Valentino had gone a little bit. I recovered the gap and I tried to pass him. It was difficult because he brakes so late, but when I passed him I opened a little gap that I maintained that in the middle of the race. He was pushing hard and I had to ride the best I could and at the end I won. I am leading the championship, but I still think I have to continue working with the Bridgestone tyres, because still we are not fast enough.”
Eyeing his home race in Jerez as the championship leader, Lorenzo added: “It is unbelievable for me. As I said, I didn’t expect to lead the championship. I think maybe I take some risk in Jerez to try and win.”
Rossi was gracious in defeat, simply admitting that he didn’t have the speed to cope with Lorenzo.
He was just happy that the race had been a much more exciting affair after the dour and processional opening race in Qatar.
“It was a funny race for me. I think it was funny for everybody, completely different to Qatar with close battles and a lot of overtaking. MotoGP like this is a lot more fun. I made a great start and I’m so happy, because it will be so important during the season to do this. I did a great first lap too, but soon I understood I was not strong enough to go away unfortunately. I tried my best, but I was not fast enough and Jorge arrived and overtook me. I stayed close to him for some laps, but at halfway I had some problems. I was not confident and I didn’t have enough feeling with my bike. So I lost time and my rhythm was not strong enough. I then had a good battle with Dani, but I knew that I was a little bit faster. I improved my lines and improve my lap times and in the end I recovered close to Jorge and made some good laps at the end, but unfortunately it was too far back to try to and attack him. We go back to Europe without victory, unfortunately, but with forty important points for the championship. And I think the championship will be very interesting because we have four riders capable to win.”
Pedrosa described his podium as ‘unbelievable’ but his race was determined by his incredible start as he had a close battle with team-mate Andrea Dovizioso for long periods.
The 23-year-old said: “I think the key point of my race was the start, because I went from eleventh to third place. The start was perfect and I tried to go as fast as possible because I didn’t make a good practice on Friday. And at the beginning I was surprised that I could be in the front group, so I was thinking for how long I will stay up there? Then it was five laps, six laps, I still couldn’t believe it, and still I was there. I couldn’t believe I was constantly keeping the rhythm in front and so close to the Yamaha. After all this winter with some problems, to be on the podium again in the second race is good, but I think nobody expected this, even me. I’m very happy, but still we have so many things to do on our bike, because we have some problems. And we need to fix them, but for the moment I’m happy about this result.”