Weather and tyre issues brought about an end to Valentino Rossi's slim title chances today, as he finished 13th in Motegi despite a heroic ride which saw him lead the race at one point. His Fiat Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards suffered similar problems in what was an extraordinary race, finishing one place behind Rossi in 14th.
With the asphalt still wet after a morning of light rain, the riders started with wet-weather tyres on a fast-drying track. Rossi got a poor start from second on the grid and crossed the line for the first time in seventh place, with Edwards behind him in eighth. An outstanding ride from the seven-time World Champion then saw him fight his way back to the front, making up five seconds on the leaders and taking the lead on lap 14. The racing line by now was almost completely dry however, and behind him most riders had already opted to pit and change onto their second bikes with slick tyres. When Rossi eventually came in to change one lap later he had built up such a lead that he was able to re-join the race in second place, behind eventual winner Loris Capirossi, but Yamaha's jubilation was short-lived as Rossi immediately ran into serious issues with his front tyre and was forced to pit again. He rejoined the race in 15th but was able to make up only two places to the finish as he struggled with grip. Edwards, who was in third place when Rossi came in for the first time, rejoined in eighth but had similar tyre problems and also dropped back through the field to cross the line two seconds behind his team-mate.
Red Bull KTM 250 star Mika Kallio rode to his maiden 250 cc victory in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix to score a hat-trick on the Motegi circuit, an appropriate way to also mark the birth of his first child, a baby girl born last Sunday Kallio won the 125 cc races on this circuit in 2005 and 2006. "It looks like Motegi is a very good track for us," he said. The 24-year-old Finn had a great start from the second row of the grid, but calculated his moves very carefully in tricky and damp conditions, before opening a lead of almost five seconds by the end of the race.
"By mid-race, I overtook Dovizioso and continued to push, but I was always followed very closely. There didn't seem to be any change to get away so I decided to just ride at my own rhythm. Then it started to drizzle again, which was disturbing, but I was able to keep my speed. I only noticed in the last lap that Dovizioso was the only one left behind me and the fact that he slowed made it easier in the end."
Kallio's performance also drew praise from Technical Director Harald Bartol. 'His race was a tactical masterpiece. In the beginning, he was looking carefully how the grip level was and how the tyres were doing, and in the end, he had an ace up his sleeve that he pulled out in the right moment.'
Coming from a racing family, Ratthapark Wilairot is the Thai rising star in the world of motorcycle racing. Being the eldest son of motorcycle Champion Christmas Wilairot, Ratthapark (Film), who has been officially named to represent Thailand by the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
Christmas Wilairot has two sons Fort and Film who both race for their father's racing team, with Film (Ratthapark Wilairot) now racing for AP Honda in the All Japan championships and GP250. Ratthapong Wilairot (the youngest son) doing some Thai domestic 125cc road champion racing.
Ratthapark Wilairot, 19, from Chonburi started to ride motorcycle when he was between 5 or 8 years old and quickly became under the guidance of his father as a skilled rider.
Rizla Suzuki's Chris 'Stalker' Walker took his best qualifying position of the season securing second place on the grid at the 12th round of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Donington Park today.
Stalker spent three practice sessions building up his effort, slashing his lap times every outing on circuit. He started strong in qualification but left his best effort to the final minutes, setting a blistering pace at the 2.5-mile long twisting and challenging circuit.
Cal Crutchlow was vying for the top spot on the time-sheets during every session and was challenging again in qualification but was held up by traffic on his quick laps, eventually ending up fifth fastest and heading up the second row.
Valentino Rossi sealed his tenth front-row start of the season ahead of tomorrow's Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi today, the Italian taking second place on an all-Michelin front row in between Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden. Colin Edwards also had a good session, qualifying seventh at the head of the third row.
After making a poor start to the weekend by finishing 14th yesterday, Rossi made a step up this morning and put in the second fastest time in free practice. His qualifying session did not get off to plan however as he made an off-track excursion in the opening minutes and then found himself down in 18th place mid-way through. Edwards meanwhile, was doing little better in 17th, but both began to steadily improve as they worked on refining their race settings and finalizing their tyre choices for tomorrow
Once it came down to qualifying tyres it was clear that Rossi especially was on top form and his first run put him in second place, before improving again with his second tyre and moving one place higher
Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet and Anthony West overcame soaring temperatures and exhausting humidity at the Motegi circuit this afternoon, to qualify their Ninja ZX-RR machines on the second row of the grid for tomorrow's 24-lap Japanese Grand Prix.
Kawasaki wild card rider, Akira Yanagawa, will be chasing his team mates from the seventh row of the grid, after qualifying in 19th position today.
De Puniet opened proceedings this afternoon by switching to a qualifying tyre just before the halfway point in the session, capturing pole position with his first attack lap. The 26-year-old Frenchman held onto the top spot until the final six minutes, before finally being deposed by eventual pole sitter, Dani Pedrosa.
Rizla Suzuki's Cal Crutchlow set the third fastest time in the dry morning practice before the rain fell in the afternoon at the 12th round of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Donington Park in Derbyshire.
He was just 2/10ths of a second behind the fastest rider in the morning and while the second session started dry the rain started to fall with just under half-an-hour remaining, scuppering his chances to improve. He was seventh fastest in the weather interrupted afternoon practice.
'I'm very happy with my pace in the dry," explained Cal. "I started with my Rizla Suzuki set up exactly as I left it at Cadwell Park and tried a couple of tyres this morning. It was extremely windy so I had to be careful. In the afternoon I started on a used tyre with softer suspension and it was comfortable but never had a chance to try fresh rubber and go for a lap time before the rain fell.'
Scorching sunshine welcomed the MotoGP paddock to Motegi today as the fifteenth round of the season got underway at the Japanese track. Temperatures reached a maximum of 34 degrees during this afternoon's free practice and it was a difficult day's work for the riders and teams alike, with Fiat Yamaha pair Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi finishing the day 11th and 14th respectively in the combined standings, which were topped by Dani Pedrosa.
Just five days after his spectacular victory in Portugal, Rossi got off to a less auspicious start today, finishing the morning session fifth but dropping to fourteenth this afternoon after his number one bike suffered a technical problem and he was forced to complete the hour on his second machine. Edwards meanwhile did not fare much better, finding himself down in 13th this morning and climbing just two places in the second session, despite making some improvements to his set-up this afternoon.
Rizla Suzuki is ready and raring to go racing at the penultimate round of the 2007 Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Donington Park in Derbyshire this weekend after a three-and-a-half week break from track action.
Cal Crutchlow piloted his Rizla Suzuki GSX-R1000 to his best ever Superbike results at Cadwell Park at the last round in August with a fourth and fifth and is looking to make the elusive step onto the podium at the challenging 2.5-mile long Donington Park.
"I feel that I am riding better than ever and my Rizla Suzuki is doing everything I want," explained Cal. "For the last few rounds we have made very few changes and my results have been getting better and I think it will be more of the same this time out. I want a podium finish before the end of the season and will be doing all I can to achieve it at Donington Park."
The Red Bull KTM Team returns to Japan this weekend pumped with confidence. The team scored victories in both classes on the famous circuit last season, the bikes are expected to do well and both Aoyama and Koyama are riding in front of their home crowd.
Last year's Grand Prix in Motegi was unforgettable for KTM. Mika Kallio out-braked newly-crowned world champion Alvaro Bautista in the last lap of the 125 cc race, celebrating his third victory of the season. Then Aoyama turned team pleasure into pure unadulterated euphoria by coming home first in the 250 cc category. "A historic day," remembers Technical Director Harald Bartol. "Of course it was our secret plan o be prepared and to do well in Motegi. Even though they don't admit this, the Japanese manufacturers are pulling out all stops to succeed at their home Grand Prix. That's what makes these two victories so valuable."
So what of 2007? First it will be an occasion for Aoyama and Koyama to excel in front of what is always an animated crowd at the spectacular 4.8 km circuit set in rolling hills about three hours north of Tokyo.