Preview Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang, Malaysia

2007-10-18 04:33
With the major prizes of this 2007 MotoGP decided in favour of Casey Stoner and the Ducati factory, only the runner-up spot and top ten placings are left to be fought for. But the fight will be every bit as fierce as it was for the World Crown itself - second overall is better than 10th.

And the protagonists for the coveted runner-up position are former World Champion Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V). Rossi has a 29-point lead over Dani with just two rounds and fifty points available - but the determined Pedrosa will not let up until the task is mathematically beyond him.

And the battle will rage right down the order as
John Hopkins and Chris Vermeulen (Both Suzuki),
Marco Melandri (Gresini Honda RC212V) and Loris
Capirossi (Ducati) fight for fourth place overall.

Hopkins has 165 points, Vermeulen 160, Melandri
154 and Capirossi, after his second place at
Phillip Island last weekend, sits on 150 points.
They won't catch Dani and Rossi but they too will
be going all out for valuable extra points.

And in the searing heat and debilitating humidity
of Sepang, it will be a huge task that faces all
riders. Track temperatures are high in Malaysia
at around the 45 to 50 degree mark, with ambient
temperatures nudging the high thirties. And there
is invariably around 75% humidity. Rain could be a huge issue this weekend.

The 5.548km Sepang track has two long straights,
fast open turns, one left/right flick, and a
tight left turn onto the start/finish straight.
Hard braking at the end of the two straights
requires a stable set-up while sheer power and a
high top speed are at a premium too.

The wide (25m) track offers plenty of overtaking
opportunities through its ten right-hand turns
and five lefts. But is has been resurfaced in
large parts this year and this could throw up new
problems for riders relying too heavily on set-up
information and tyre choice either from last season or from winter testing.

Few would have imagined that defending 2006 World
Champion Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V) would
be fighting to secure a top ten finish overall in
this season's title race, but his recent form has
been strong and the American ace will be eager to
maintain this over the next two races.

Toni Elias (Gresini Honda RC212V) has fought back
manfully from the broken leg at Assen that
derailed his season. And the friendly Spaniard
will be after a result more resembling his third
at Motegi than the 15th he had to settle for in Australia last weekend.

Carlos Checa (LCR Honda RC212V), Shinya Nakano
(Konica Minolta Honda RC212V) and Kurtis Roberts
(Roberts KR212V) have not so far produced the
results they are capable of and here, at Sepang,
is the penultimate chance this season for the trio to confound observers.

Dani, who won here on a 125 in 2003 and again on
a 250 in 2004, and who has now taken pole
position at the last two Grands Prix, is
determined to capitalise on the hard work he will do during qualifying here.

He said: "It really feels like it's time to get a
good result because we've been knocking on the
door for a few races now. The weather has
affected many races this year and it also played
a part at the last one at Phillip Island. Last
year's race here went quite well for me,
especially after crashing in practice and not
being sure that I would even be able to race.
This year I hope things go more smoothly and we
can arrive at a good set-up and tyre selection so
that we can be competitive right to the final lap."

His team-mate Nicky said: "Last week's result at
Phillip Island definitely stung. But at least I
was fighting for the lead when I went out rather
than 12th place - that would have hurt even
more. It's disappointing but I've just got to
get over it. At Malaysia I think I've had fourth
place every year since my debut and now I need to
improve on that. The team's been doing some good
work with the bike recently and we've been
improving our performance, so now I'm really
looking forward to getting to Sepang."

Marco Melandri said: "In Australia the bike was
working really well and I found a good feeling
with the front. We were in good shape to fight
for the podium but unfortunately a technical
problem prevented it. At Sepang it's always
important to find a good set-up from the first
day in order to prepare for the race in the best
way. The track characteristics make it really
demanding on horsepower and acceleration - there
are some long corners and a really fast main straight."

His team-mate Elias said: "Sepang is one of my
favourite circuits. I like the design and I
always feel comfortable here. The track is long
and there are lots of places to overtake. We know
the circuit well because we come and spend
several days here during testing. The surface has
been re-laid, which is good, because there were a
lot of bumps. I'm confident and I can't wait to go racing again."

Checa said: "I always enjoy Sepang and I hope
it's again very hot and difficult for riders -
this might give me some physical advantage with
my fitness. At this track, with the long
straights and fast corners, you need a strong
engine and precise handling so we will again work
at the maximum in the practice sessions to find the best set-up for the race."

Nakano said: "I enjoy Sepang. It's almost home as
it's part of Asia so that also makes it special
for me. I know the track well - each and every
corner. Because of this, we know what problems
we've had there before so that helps and it means
we can concentrate on getting a good set-up from
first practice. I've had some good memories at
Sepang, including a 4th place finish in 2001, and
we all know that we've only got these last two
races to fulfil our potential and get some good results."

Roberts said: "We don't have data on Sepang with
the 800 so it's difficult to start with a
baseline. The two big factors will be the tyres,
as parts of the track have been resurfaced, and
the unpredictable weather here this week. But
we're back among friends and former colleagues
(Proton) and will be doing our best to get a good result."

In the 250cc category reigning World Champion
Jorge Lorenzo (Aprilia) holds a 45-points
advantage over his gallant pursuer Andrea
Dovizioso (Scot Honda RS250RW). Dovi has hounded
him all season, but now it seems only a freak
collapse from Lorenzo offers any hope for Dovi.

Lorenzo won here in 2006 and although Dovi will
never give less than his all, the task before him
in terms of the title is, to all effects, nothing
short of impossible. Alex de Angelis (Aprilia),
27-points shy of Dovi, will in turn be working on
the Italian Honda runner for second overall.

Dovi said: "I like Sepang and I set a 125cc pole
here in 2005. It's a fast track, but the Honda is
sometimes penalized in terms of engine power
compared to the Aprilia due to the long straights
and high temperatures here. If it rains and it's
cooler it might suit us better. I'm confident and
motivated for this Malaysian race, because the title race is not over yet."

Julian Simon (Repsol Honda RS250RW) said: "I like
the track in Malaysia. Last year I almost got on
the podium, but in the end I was fourth. The most
important factor will be the heat and maybe the
rain. Whatever the case we are going to fight as
hard as we can. The circuit has two long
straights, but luckily after that there are quite
a few curves, which I like. Malaysia has always been kind to me."

Shuhei Aoyama (Repsol Honda RS250RW) said: "Since
the race in Brno I have had some great sensations
on the bike and I can maintain a good pace during
the races. My objective for this race is to
finish on the podium and I'll have to work hard.
Sepang is a circuit I don't really know, but I
want to continue moving forward."

Ratthapark Wilairot (Stop And Go Racing Honda
RS250RW) will be a star here at his 'virtual'
home race. The Thai star has ridden a very
creditable rookie season, despite recent setbacks
and he will be well received here at Sepang.

He said: "Australia left me with a bad taste in
the mouth as I crashed in the second qualifying
session and could only take 19th in the race. My
right hand is recovering quickly and it shouldn't
be a bother this weekend. I know Sepang a bit as
I raced here a few years ago in a round of the
Asian Motorcycle Series. Everybody in the team is
giving his best and we hope to eventually get a reward in Sunday's race."

The 125cc World title fight is a straight dice
now between Gabor Talmacsi and Hector Faubel
(both Aprilia) with the Hungarian on 237 points
to Faubel's 236. Talmacsi has never been on the
podium in Malaysia, Faubel scored his first
podium here last year. This will be an intriguing tussle.

British rider Bradley Smith (Repsol Honda RS125R)
has a disappointing ride in Australia where his
team-mate Esteve Rabat (Repsol Honda RS125R)
finished a fine fifth. Both need a rousing finish
to their seasons after shining sporadically at selected Grands Prix.

Rabat said: "I like Sepang and go into the race
with more confidence. The bike was very good at
Philip Island and I hope we can continue the same
way. I am really looking forward to the race.
It's one of my favourite circuits, but to run
with the top group I need a good start, even
better than the one I made in the race last week."

Smith said: "I didn't race at Sepang last year so
I have no information about the track or ideas on
set-up. After all our problems last week at
Phillip Island that's probably a good thing
because I can start from our normal baseline set-up and work from there."

Source: Honda Pro Image

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