MotoGP bosses determined Japanese Grand Prix will go ahead

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MotoGP bosses are determined to ensure Sunday’s pivotal Japanese Grand Prix goes ahead after the first day of practice was wiped out by adverse weather conditions.

Morning mist remained for the duration of a rain-hit day in Japan and the poor visibility prevented a vital medical helicopter from landing at the Honda-owned complex this morning.

With no viable alternative on offer in the event of an emergency evacuation scenario arising, all six practice sessions due to take place today were cancelled.

Forecasts are predicting further weather disruption tomorrow and contingency plans have been put in place that could see practice, qualifying and the races all take place on Sunday.

Race day forecasts are the best of the weekend but Race Director Mike Webb confirmed that under no circumstances could practice be run today without the essential medical helicopter on site.

He told a packed press conference at the Twin Ring Motegi earlier today: “The cancellation of FP1 and FP2 today was because of a lack of a medical helicopter on site. Without a helicopter here for evacuation and with no viable alternative we are not prepared to run under these conditions when there is a risk that a seriously injured rider may not be adequately treated.

The reason there is no helicopter here is the low cloud and lack of visibility. Under Japanese law in these conditions it is not allowed to fly a helicopter. The helicopter has been trying to get permission to fly to the circuit since Thursday and not been allowed to. It has been on standby and has even attempted to take off but been told to go back down and it is ready to fly as soon as possible.

The reason that today’s sessions were not immediately cancelled but were on hold was because our advice from the pilot was as soon as permission was granted he would take off and we could have rescheduled practice and got them underway. We have been hoping all day that we could run practice but the helicopter was never given permission to fly.”

Webb said a range of solutions had been explored but without a satisfactory alternative, rider safety had to come first and practice had to be cancelled.

He added: “Since we arrived at the circuit we have been working with our Japanese colleagues on alternative medical evacuation procedures. The big problem of Motegi is location. It is more than one hour by road by ambulance to the accredited hospital. Our medical staff has advised us that under these conditions it is not safe in case of a seriously injured rider.

Many alternatives were proposed like part way by ambulance and part way by air and closer medical facilities but no reasonable solution has been found.”

When asked by MCN how close to the Twin Ring Motegi track the helicopter is based, he said: “It is five minutes flying time away approximately I am told. Because Motegi is quite high and subject to this low cloud base, we looked to see if there was a lower area not restricted by the cloud base that the helicopter could be stationed somewhere close to the circuit where we could reach it easily by ambulance.

The answer to all alternative proposals for medical transport has been no. The possible alternative helicopter locations around the circuit are subject to the same weather conditions. The reason we were on hold during today was that our advice was that as soon as the helicopter could take off we would have it here in 10 minutes and we could prepare practice on that basis."

The fallout of today’s disruption will see a revised format for the rest of the weekend.

Webb explained the contingency plans and he said: “Our plans going forward mean you are probably aware of brighter forecasts for tomorrow and Sunday. We are committed if at all possible to run this race. The circuit has contingency plans in place that if the helicopter can’t fly tomorrow afternoon, it will be dismantled and shipped by road to the circuit and re-assembled ready for Sunday morning when we expect weather conditions to be significantly better.

We have put possible schedules in place if we can run tomorrow. We will run free practice for as long as possible and move onto a normal Saturday afternoon and normal Sunday schedule. If we are not able to run tomorrow morning the Saturday afternoon schedule will be classed as free practice and run as long as possible and then a heavily revised schedule for Sunday involving practice, qualifying and the race.

If it is not possible to practice at all tomorrow we are still expecting Sunday to be significantly better and we have a provisional heavily revised schedule that includes practice, qualifying and the race on Sunday. We are still committed to running all three classes of this Japanese Grand Prix. The length of the sessions depends entirely on the weather and what time we can start. I’ve written up draft schedules for every possibility.

Current weather suggests we have rain in the morning and easing to around 2pm and it depends on what time the weather conditions allow us to run. We will give as much track time as possible to all classes. Nothing is fixed because it depends on the weather but we might have 75 minutes for MotoGP in the afternoon. Taking into account the lack of daylight we will run as long as possible.”

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt