This weekend the MotoGP paddock heads to the tropics for the penultimate round of the season, the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang. Fiat Yamaha Team riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo have won 10 out of 15 races between them this year and there has only been one race when one of the pair has not been on the podium, making it the most successful season in the team’s history. This weekend Rossi has his first ‘match point’ – his first chance to win his ninth world championship title.
The 30-year-old’s second place last Sunday in Australia meant that he now holds a 38-point lead over his team-mate and he will win the title simply by keeping a buffer of 25 points between him and his rival after Sepang. Thousands of kilometres of testing at the Kuala Lumpur track mean that most riders have the advantage of local knowledge, but Rossi has an impressive five Sepang victories to his name, including last year when he took a resounding victory fresh from wrapping up the title in Japan. In 2005, second place at the track was enough to secure the Italian his second title for Yamaha and he will be determined to do the same this weekend and avoid a final-race showdown with his team-mate for his seventh premier-class title.
A difficult weekend for Lorenzo at Phillip Island ended in the gravel trap at turn one and the Mallorcan is happy to have the chance to put it behind him so quickly. He escaped with just a few cuts and bruises and, with the championship now all by out of reach, the youngster is simply focusing on a good finish to a brilliant championship and on confirming the number two spot in the standings. The 22-year-old crashed out on lap 12 of the race last year but he nonetheless has a good past record at Sepang, having won there in 2006 and clinched his second 250cc title there in 2007.
Built as a state-of-the-art motor racing venue 1999, at 16 metres across in some areas Sepang is one of the widest tracks on the calendar. With its tropical climate it could not present more different conditions to those of Phillip Island last weekend and the searing track temperatures and high humidity turn the race into a test of endurance and fitness for the riders. With four major hairpins and some fast and frequent changes of direction in its 5.542km layout, Sepang provides a stern workout for the entire bike set-up and its largely consistent, if demanding, climate makes it the ideal winter testing venue.
Valentino Rossi – “Match point”
“Phillip Island was like gold dust for us in terms of points and now we go to Malaysia, another of my favourite tracks, with our first ‘match point’. Of course anything can happen but it’s a great track for me and generally the Yamaha works well there so we have a good chance. We worked brilliantly in Australia and we know that if we can do the same at Sepang then we can have another good weekend. There is no chance to relax – everyone is focused, motivated and excited now that we are at this stage and our number one target for the weekend is to try to close out the championship. We will do our best and see where we are on Sunday night.”
Jorge Lorenzo – “Looking to achieve our target”
“After the disappointment in Australia I am glad to have the chance to be back on the bike so soon. I am not hurt and I will be in good shape to race. We don’t think about the championship now; my target is to confirm the second place in the championship and, in just my second season in MotoGP, I think that this is a great achievement and I will be happy if I can do it. I like Sepang a lot, I know it well from testing and I have some great memories, especially in 2007 when I took the 250 title there. This time my team and I will just be focused on having a good weekend and getting as many points as we can in order to achieve our target.”
Davide Brivio – “An exciting weekend for everyone”
“We’re almost at the end of the championship and Sepang could be the most important race of the year for us. Even though it comes just a few days after Phillip Island we will be back to full concentration and putting our heads down at the circuit from Wednesday. The aim of course is to do the best we can and hopefully secure the title; we have a 38-point lead but we will have the same tactic as in Australia – one eye on the title and one eye on trying to win the race if possible. It’s going to be an exciting weekend for everyone.”
“The first priority for Malaysia is just to be back on the track and in good shape after what happened in Australia. We did some good testing in Sepang last winter and we know that we’re capable of being back in the race there, and this is the main target for everyone. We have two races left and our target is to confirm second place for Jorge and just do the maximum we can in these two important races to finish a great championship in the best way.”