The Japanese MotoGP at Motegi, an event the majority of riders had been reluctant to attend due to radiation fears, began with the pre-event press conference on Thursday.
Championship leader Casey Stoner was scheduled to be present at the press conference, but the Repsol Honda rider was unable to make it due to problems with the late arrival of his flight. Honda wild-card Shinichi Itoh took Stoner's place.
The other four riders who took questions from the media were Valentino Rossi, Hiroshi Aoyama, Álvaro Bautista and Jorge Lorenzo.
"Where is Casey?" smiled Jorge Lorenzo, who had been moved to the centre chair where the title leader normally sits. "Am I leading the championship now?" he joked.
The Yamaha star, who is currently 44 points behind Stoner with four rounds remaining, later sized up this weekend's task:
”Casey has won so many races and has finished on the podium more than any other rider, so it's normal he has so many points. Maybe it's too late to fight with him for the Championship, but anyway there are still four races to go, 100 points to be taken, so you never know. You have to give everything and anything is possible. We must fight for the win in every race.”
Lorenzo, who finished fourth at Motegi last year and won the MotoGP race here in 2009, anticipates a tough race this weekend: “Normally it's a difficult track for us because it has a lot of acceleration points and a lot of big straights, but we come here motivated to fight for the win and we will see.”
Rossi lies sixth in the standings at the moment as he and his Ducati Team continue working away on the Desmosedici GP11.1.
The Italian has stood on the podium nine times in the premier class at Motegi, including third place last year following a bitter battle with then team-mate Lorenzo, and would dearly love a turnaround in his 2011 fortunes this weekend.
He will ride the same configuration machine as he rolled out at Aragón, where the GP11.1 incorporated a new aluminium element in the front chassis section.
“It's the same specification with the same modification we already tried at Aragón,” said Rossi of the bike. “Unfortunately there we struggled with rear grip and I destroyed the tyre towards the end [of the race]. Here it will be very different, we have to understand the condition of the track.”