Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang: Preview – MotoGP, Moto2 & 125cc
After a dream weekend at his home race at Phillip Island in which a ninth victory of the year sealed him the 2011 title, MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner arrives at the Sepang International Circuit for Round 17 of the season satisfied that his first campaign with the Repsol Honda team has been a resounding success.
The Australian is set to make his 100th premier class GP start this weekend, and despite having secured his second MotoGP title with two rounds remaining will be just as hungry to continue his phenomenal form in 2011. On the podium at every round except one this year (Round 2 at Jerez), Stoner has not been off the rostrum for the last 14 races and will be out to deliver Honda their first win of the 800cc era at Sepang Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a track at which the 26 year-old himself has won in the 125cc, 250cc and premier classes.
Jorge Lorenzo was a notable absentee from the starting grid in Australia and the deposed World Champion will also miss this weekendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s race as well. A nasty finger injury picked up in a Sunday morning warm-up crash at Phillip Island ruled the Yamaha Factory Racing rider out of the race, and following surgery he will not be able to compete in Malaysia either.
LorenzoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s position as runner-up looks to be almost secured despite his inability to ride, although third-placed Andrea Dovizioso could still mathematically beat him to second in the final standings. The Italian finished on the podium in Australia as he pushes hard in his final races with Repsol Honda before a switch of teams in 2012, and he remains four points ahead of team-mate Dani Pedrosa in the duoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s battle for positions in the factory outfitÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pecking order.
YamahaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ben Spies missed last SundayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s race in Australia after taking a heavy blow to the head in a crash in qualifying, but expects to be fit to ride at a track on which he finished fourth in his rookie season last year. The American remains on course for a top-five Championship finish in his first season on the factory YZR-M1.
Thanks to his second podium of the year in Australia, San Carlo Honda GresiniÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Marco Simoncelli drew level on points with Valentino Rossi (Ducati Team) in the Championship and is still well able to challenge Spies for fifth. For Rossi the Phillip Island weekend could not have finished in more disappointing fashion as the Italian crashed out for a second successive race, as his woes on the Desmosedici continued. The nine times World Champion has taken nine podiums from his 11 previous premier class visits to Sepang, and his last MotoGP victory came in last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Malaysian GP.
On the other side of the Ducati Team garage Nicky Hayden continues his search for a second podium of the season at a track he is yet to step onto the rostrum, but where he has finished in fourth position on five previous occasions. A solid top-five ride in Australia will have boosted Colin Edwards on the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 as the American sees out his final two races with HervÃƒÂ© PoncharalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team before a switch next season, and Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) appears set to achieve a top-ten finish this season after it was announced in Australia that the Japanese rider will bid farewell for now to the MotoGP World Championship at the conclusion of the campaign.
Mapfre Aspar rider HÃƒÂ©ctor BarberÃƒÂ¡ is working hard to be fit to ride in Malaysia following surgery on the fractured collarbone he suffered in Japan just over two weeks ago, and John Hopkins will accompany ÃƒÂlvaro Bautista on the Rizla Suzuki GSV-R as a wildcard at the circuit where the Spaniard scored his equal best premier class result of fifth last year.
The Moto2 class remains the most finely balanced of the three World Championship classes as just three points separate title rivals Stefan Bradl and Marc MÃƒÂ¡rquez going into this weekendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s penultimate round.
The pair both finished on the podium on Sunday in Australia, Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing) placing second behind race winner Alex de Angelis after a last-lap scare in which he nearly crashed, and MÃƒÂ¡rquez (Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol) in third after mounting a stirring fight through the field having started from last position on the grid due to a qualifying penalty.
The title could be decided this weekend if Bradl were to win and MÃƒÂ¡rquez scored less than three points, but such an eventuality is highly unlikely and this title scrap is poised to go down to the final round in Valencia which follows a fortnight after Sepang. Both riders rode impressive races here in Malaysia last year, Bradl coming from 22nd on the grid to finish seventh in the Moto2 race whilst MÃƒÂ¡rquez won the 125cc race from pole on his way to the title.
With all eyes focused on the thrilling battle at the very top, a no-less engrossing contest plays out further down the field. With his first win of the season, in Australia, De Angelis (JiR Moto2) closed the gap to third-placed Andrea Iannone (Speed Master) to just eight points and the two are certain to fight tooth and nail to the bitter end for a top-three finish.
Similarly, fifth spot in the standings remains wide open with just six points spread across Simone Corsi (Ioda Racing Project), Thomas LÃƒÂ¼thi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2) and rookie Bradley Smith (Tech 3), with Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing) a distant eighth but closely pursued by Esteve Rabat (Blusens-STX). Aleix EspargarÃƒÂ³ (Pons HP 40) currently completes the top ten, but has Swiss rider Dominique Aegerter (Technomag-CIP) close on his heels.
There will be two wildcard riders added to the Moto2 field this weekend, with Malaysians Zamri Baba and Hafizh Syahrin on Moriwaki machinery for Petronas Malaysia.
After a season-long battle the race for the last-ever 125cc title could finally be decided this weekend at Sepang. With the introduction of the four-stroke Moto3 category which will replace the current two-stroke machinery in 2012, the name of this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 125 Champion will go down in history as another chapter closes in the annals of the World Championship.
Spaniard Nico Terol is in prime position for the honour and the Bankia Aspar rider could seal the crown this weekend. His only remaining rival for the title, Frenchman Johann Zarco, currently sits 25 points behind in the standings with two rounds remaining, and if Terol finishes this weekendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s race in front of the Avant-AirAsia-Ajo rider he will be crowned Champion. Even if both riders failed to finish the race, Terol would still take the title by virtue of his superior race win count this season. However, Zarco will not make life easy for Terol, as he has refused to do throughout the year.
Aside from the title, Terol could also pass the milestone of 1000 career points in the 125cc class, an achievement which only five other riders have managed.
While the two concentrate on the title, Sandro Cortese (Intact Racing Team Germany) will endeavour to consolidate third position in the standings which he took with victory last time out in Australia. The German rider, who before this season had never won a GP but now has two victories to his name, took ApriliaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 14th win of the season in the 125cc class, equalling the record which is already held by the Italian manufacturer and which was previously set in 2007 and 2009.
Rookie Maverick ViÃƒÂ±ales (Blusens by Paris Hilton Racing) is almost guaranteed fourth position in what has already been a superb debut season in the World Championship, but the Spaniard can still overhaul Cortese for third as just seven points separate the pair with two races remaining.
The competition for fifth spot remains open and will be decided between HÃƒÂ©ctor Faubel (Bankia Aspar), EfrÃƒÂ©n VÃƒÂ¡zquez (Avant-AirAsia-Ajo) and Jonas Folger (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport), although Luis Salom (RW Racing GP) could mathematically still enter the fray, a scenario which is unlikely however due to his 33-point deficit to Folger. The Spaniard has had a solid season in the World Championship, underlined by a second podium of his campaign Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and career Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in Australia.
Zulfahmi Khairuddin (Avant-AirAsia-Ajo) will be hopeful of an impressive home race, and will be accompanied on the track by another Malaysian rider, wildcard entry Muhamad Farid Badrul Hisham who will ride a Derbi machine under the AirAsia SLC EVO banner.
The Shell Advance Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix takes place from October 21st-23rd and gets underway at 9.15am local time on Friday, when the 125cc class takes to the track for the opening free practice session.