Malaysian GP, Sepang: Preview – MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
Following a dominant win in Japan last weekend, Repsol Honda Team’s Dani Pedrosa is the man on-song at the moment as he tries to claw back points on Yamaha Factory Racing’s championship leader Jorge Lorenzo as the MotoGP™ grid heads to the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix for the second race of the triple-header.
First and foremost it will be a very emotional return to the track, where the then San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Marco Simoncelli tragically lost his life in the opening stages of last year’s race, which was subsequently cancelled. This year, riders will aim to pay homage to their late colleague and friend by putting on a tremendous display of motorcycle racing at its finest. And it is Pedrosa who will remain the man to beat, as he pretty much has to win every single race in order to stand a chance at taking the championship. Lorenzo, who holds a 28-point advantage with 75 still on offer, is looking strong, yet not quite able to hold his rival’s pace. But despite the points being stacked in his favour and second-, or even third-place finishes being enough for him to win the title at the end of the season, the Mallorcan has stated that he goes to Malaysia to win, as there remains the mathematical possibility of him taking the title on Sunday.
Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner did well on his return from injury in Japan to finish fifth, yet the reigning world champion will not declare himself happy until he is back to winning ways. Despite showing front-runner pace, the Australian has cited issues with maximum lean angle due to his ankle movement, and fatigue by using usually unused muscles to compensate for his lack of ankle strength. Yet with one race weekend under his belt, he is sure to go one better in Malaysia. Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Andrea Dovizioso, who only lies five points off Stoner in the standings, will be hoping the Honda rider doesn’t find his stride too soon, as the Italian aims to get the upper hand for third in the table. He will once again face a stern challenge however from his teammate Cal Crutchlow, who will look to put the disappointment of running out of fuel in the last race behind him, and focus solely on the terrific display that nearly saw him snatch a podium.
In the battle for fifth in the table things are hotting up, with San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Álvaro Bautista taking the lead with his hard-fought podium in Japan. Heading into Malaysia he will be brimming not only with confidence, but also peace of mind with his contract renewed for a further year. LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl will hope that his arm-pump problem stays away in Malaysia, whilst Ducati Team’s Valentino Rossi will be aiming to squeeze yet further performance out of his Desmosedici. Rear wheel spin was a big problem for the Italian outfit in Japan, which is something they will address in the preceding sessions. Rossi’s teammate Nicky Hayden, who rode with a fractured right radius will be a week further into his healing process, yet will no doubt still suffer slightly under heavy braking. Pramac Racing Team’s Héctor Barberá and Cardion AB Racing’s Karel Abraham will hope to stick with the factory Ducatis this weekend, and fend off the top CRT runners in the process.
Power Electronics Aspar rider Aleix Espargaró will look to strengthen his grip on the CRT field in Sepang, yet will face a stiff challenge from teammate Randy de Puniet, who had a Japan to forget. Lining up along side them will be NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards, Paul Bird Motorsport’s James Ellison, Came IodaRacing Project’s Danilo Petrucci, Speed Master’s Roberto Rolfo, San Carlo’s Michele Pirro and Avintia Blusens duo Iván Silva and Yonny Hernández, who is expected to ride with his shoulder injury sustained in Motegi. The race at Sepang will also be a vital showcase for the CRT pack, to show how far they have progressed since pre-season testing earlier this year.
The Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix could see Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol’s Marc Márquez crowned Moto2™ World Champion if he beats Tuenti Movil HP 40’s Pol Espargaró in the race this weekend.
Márquez will however be looking to put his memories of last year to rest as a heavy crash in practice saw him unable to compete, ultimately costing him a shot at the title. And in the form he is currently in, with his 53-point advantage, there is every possibility he will be crowned, however Espargaró has proven to be a strong challenger, especially when the title is still mathematically possible for him.
The battle for third in the championship is also proving to be an entertaining one, as Interwetten-Paddock’s Tom Lüthi is now only one point off Speed Master’s Andrea Iannone in the table. With Lüthi on good pace in Japan, and having won the Malaysian GP last year, the Swiss rider will be the favourite to take over third spot. Iannone however, despite looking out of sorts in Japan last weekend, is known for pulling performances out of the bag, and will always be a podium contender.
Marc VDS Racing Team’s Scott Redding battled to fourth in Japan whilst still nursing a sore forearm after his surgery to fix him arm-pump problem. He will undoubtedly be hoping to challenge for the podium once more in Malaysia, whilst his teammate Mika Kallio will be looking to put a difficult Motegi weekend behind him, and fight with the front-runners once more.
Redding’s compatriot, Tech 3 Racing’s Bradley Smith, was unable to show an increase in pace due to technical issues last weekend, and him and his team will hope that his run of form will yield a positive result in Sepang. Espargaró’s teammate Esteve Rabat, who recorded his season-first podium in Motegi, showed what he is capable of and will aim to replicate this in Malaysia, whilst Italtrans Racing Team’s latest signing Toni Elías will look to convert his front-running pace into a podium without crashing out, as he did in Japan.
Following a crash in Japan that put paid to his title aspirations for another week, Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Sandro Cortese will have another chance this weekend to snatch the Moto3™ world title at the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Sepang this Sunday.
In Japan he was only three corners away from being crowned, before his teammate Danny Kent and Team Italian FMI’s Alessandro Tonucci got past him, after which the German crashed and finishing in sixth, yet still gaining a 56-point lead. Despite a strong initial reaction, Cortese is known for his composure, and will undoubtedly be racing with his head this weekend, as he knows that victory over Blusens Avintia’s Maverick Viñales and RW Racing GP’s Luis Salom will secure his first ever GP title.
Viñales, whose title challenge was derailed in Aragón due to a bike issue, which since has been clarified as a mechanical engine fault and not an ECU issue by all parties involved, will be hoping that his apparent lack of power compared to the KTMs will not hold him back at the Sepang track, where he took victory in the 125cc class last year. Salom will have an even tougher job, as his crash at Motegi has resulted in a five-place grid penalty for the Spaniard.
Mapfre Aspar Team Moto3’s Jonas Folger, who was the one taken out by Salom as he led into the final lap, will be aiming to put the incident behind him and carry over his good form and high pace, as he looks for another win this season. As the only Malaysian in the entire GP field, all eyes from the locals will be on AirAsia-SIC-Ajo’s Zulfahmi Khairuddin, who is still searching that elusive first podium, despite showing sufficient pace throughout many practice sessions.
The aforementioned Danny Kent looked in ominous form last weekend and could well be anther contender for the podium and even victory, as the Britain looks to have found a way of converting his pace into a race win. And with Tonucci looking on-song, as well as the always-reliable Alex Rins on his Estrella Galicia 0,0 machine a regular in the top ten, the Sepang Moto3 race promises to be an entertaining affair.