MotoGP powers up for Sepang

The MotoGP World Championship paddock assembled at the Sepang International Circuit today and prepared to gather its collective strength for another weekend of intense action just days after arriving in Malaysia from the previous round in Japan. In energy sapping humidity of 94% and with temperatures touching 30ºC, a handful of riders took the chance to cool off with a ride aboard a Formula 1 powerboat in the nearby capital city of Kuala Lumpur. John Hopkins, Makoto Tamada, Loris Capirossi, Rubén Xaus and James Ellison saw their thirst for speed competently quenched by a 256km/h machine driven by eight-time World Champion Guido Cappellini.

Back at the circuit Valentino Rossi kept his feet on solid ground as he outlined his intentions for the thirteenth round of the season. The Italian needs a top four finish to make sure of the crown for the fifth successive season and can also win it by finishing within twelve points of his only remaining rival, Max Biaggi. However, the reigning World Champion insists his target will once again be victory despite missing his first chance to seal the crown with a rare crash in the race at Motegi four days ago.

"Sepang is one of my favourite tracks," said Rossi. "The bike worked well here during the tests in the winter even though we had some problems at the time, but we have made a lot of progress since then so I am interested to see how well everything works when practice starts on Friday morning. As far as the championship is concerned, of course I wanted to win it at Motegi but it didn't happen and we still have five more races to go. I am not feeling any more pressure than before and I will be riding to win at every round. For sure Max Biaggi will be strong again but this season there has been a different rider on the pace at almost every round, like Loris Capirossi in Japan."

Biaggi strengthened his grip on second place in the championship with his second consecutive podium finish at the last round in Japan. The Italian is 16 points clear of Colin Edwards and 23 points ahead of his compatriot Marco Melandri, who joined a long queue of patients at the Clinica Mobile today. Melandri has spent the week in a wheelchair after suffering a deep wound to his foot in the infamous collision with Rossi last Sunday and is not planning to ride at least until Saturday morning.

"They let me fly on Monday night and to be honest it was a comfortable flight, there were no problems," said Melandri. "Right now the injury doesn't hurt but I know that it will be tough on the bike. Maybe I'll try on Saturday but I have a lot of stitches and the area is still quite swollen. I don't know if I'll have the strength I need to control the bike."

Dani Pedrosa also underwent checks from the MotoGP doctors although the outlook is much brighter for the 250cc World Championship leader, who expects to be back to full fitness by Friday morning after damaging his shoulder in one of three practice crashes in Japan. "The shoulder is getting gradually better, I'm applying ice to reduce the inflammation and these few days have been good for me to rest and recuperate," reported Pedrosa, who finished second at Motegi despite the injury and now leads the quarter-litre series by 63 points from Casey Stoner. "I left Japan completely exhausted from the effort. In the end the result was much better than we expected but these things just go to show that we have to keep focused from race to race because the whole situation can change in one weekend."

125cc World Championship leader Thomas Lüthi was also on the treatment table today, undergoing intense physiotherapy on the dislocated shoulder and ankle injuries he sustained in a dangerous crash at Motegi. The Swiss youngster leads the series by three points from Mika Kallio and is confident of defending his advantage this weekend. "At the moment the ankle is more painful than the shoulder but I'm planning to ride," he explained. "I don't know exactly how it will be until I get on the track but I am determined to race on Sunday."


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