Duncan Bishop

Japan puts demons to bed

Duncan Bishop

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Folklore and mythology are often as
baffling as they are fascinating, yet at times they offer us an unparalleled
insight into a country's culture and attitude.

Japan has some of the most confusing
examples of folk legends, but one was particularly apt this weekend as Motegi
put some MotoGP demons to bed.

Tsukumogami are Japanese spirits - everyday objects that come to life once they
reach 100 years of age. They show personality and a friendly nature upon assuming
their spirit form.

Now, Motegi is just under 15 years old, but
the track assumed a personality of its own during the most recent MotoGP visit
to the Twin Ring.

After so much talk about riders boycotting
the Japanese GP and the inevitable backtracking, it was time for statements of
intent from all involved in the world's premier two-wheeled world championship.
And it was healing time for Motegi.

A visit to the circuit is a strange
experience at the best of times, with the paddock huts, bento box catering,
indecipherable GPS systems and hotels straight out of 'The Shining'. It reminds
us of the amusing differences between countries involved in a global
competition. This time around, it was also a humbling experience.

Those present were continually approached
by local residents and Japanese bike fans keen to thank them for returning to
Motegi. This was a community hit hard by the March earthquake and tsunami, and the
subsequent stigma surrounding visits to Japan.

The local economy will take a long time to
recover. Attendance was down - as had been the general trend anyway for the GP -
but everyone was glad to see the circus back in town.

It is now widely accepted that Casey Stoner
will be crowned MotoGP World Champion this season, but that only shifted the
focus onto other riders and their intertwining stories. He had his turn at
breaking his Motegi jinx last year; this time it was Dani Pedrosa's time to

This win is a timely reminder that a fit
Pedrosa can challenge for the title in 2012. If he can stop his average of one
serious injury every campaign. If Stoner and Lorenzo make a few more

In a year in which Pedrosa has taken time
out for recovery and Stoner has blitzed the competition, taking Honda's only
800cc home win at Motegi was a good way to remind the bosses why they have made
him their number one priority in recent years.

The most touching stories, however, had a
slightly lower profile on Sunday. It started with the late Norick Abe's father,
Mitsuoo, riding his son's 500cc Yamaha around the track.

It ended with Shinichi Itoh completing the
Japanese GP. He hadn't left a dry eye in the house when he was part of the winning
Suzuka Eight Hours winning team in July, but this race was perhaps even more
special. Itoh lost seven members of his family in the earthquake and tsunami and
had come out of retirement at the age of 44, riding at the highest level to
honour them and to find some comfort in a tragic situation. When I went to
interview him in his 2007 wildcard appearance for Pramac Ducati, he laughed and
asked why anyone would want to speak to someone with no chance of winning. This
past Sunday, everyone understood.


Jorge Lorenzo didn't manage to catch
Pedrosa in the race, but will have been glad to have stepped onto the podium:
Firstly because it keeps his miniscule title hopes alive, and secondly because
the champagne shower was probably his best wash of the weekend (he had told the
media that he had refused to use any local water for the entirety of his stay
in Japan).

Valentino Rossi is still massively popular
in Asia. The fans certainly didn't care that he had contemplated skipping the
race, and continued their tradition of mobbing him on his journey between
paddock cabin and garage. They could have seen him take a second podium of the
season too, based on his practice pace. As it was, he had an all-too-brief
stint on track on Sunday.

Across the other side of the world, two
riders finally got just rewards for up and down careers. Congratulations to
Carlos Checa and Chaz Davies - two class riders and great guys.

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