2016 MotoGP™ World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was joined in the pre-event Press Conference at Sepang by Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Phillip Island winner Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar), and Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone. With the contrast in temperatures between Phillip Island and Malaysia, conditions were a big talking point – as well as the newly resurfaced track.
Marquez was first to talk, setting out his aim for the weekend – and wants to compare the track’s new surface with his experience in pre-season testing. “Phillip Island was a difficult weekend, and then I made a mistake in the race. We’ll try here to push from the beginning again, but with a different result. I’d like to finish as a minimum! But hopefully I’ll get on the podium and fight for the victory.
Here it’s completely different and a lot warmer. This year the layout is the same but the surface and some of the banking in corners has changed. It will be interesting to see how we compare to the pre-season. We’ll see how the grip is with all bikes out on track, and see how the tyre wear is. I think it will be a normal weekend with the tyres and we’ll concentrate on the riding.”
Rossi, who arrives from a storming race in Australia from fifteenth on the grid to the podium, is now ready to refocus on Sepang – hoping conditions allow more time to work during the practice sessions. “I enjoyed the race in Phillip Island a lot. I was fast and strong and felt good with the bike, but I think in the second half of the race there I wasn’t strong enough – Cal was stronger than me. Now we concentrate on Sepang, and it’s a track I like a lot but it’s the toughest race of the season with the temperature. Now we have the new asphalt and we’ll see. Hopefully we’ll have more time in practice to setup for the race, and then try and get on the podium.”
Another of those to have fought back from a Q1 knockout at Phillip Island was Maverick Viñales, who attacks Sepang aiming high but with an open mind – with the only concrete goal as yet to qualify much further up the grid. “Here in Malaysia we’ll try and have a better qualifying – on the front row or second row at least – and give everything. Normally I go quite well here, but last year with less power and without the seamless gearbox it was difficult. But now, we arrive with an open mind. This is one of the most difficult races – both physically and on the bike – so we’ll try to be at 100%.”
Cal Crutchlow is the only rider who has as yet tested the new track surface, as the LCR Honda rider did a Michelin test at the track following the asphalt changes. The Australian GP winner said the grip then had been less than expected – but recognized there were only a handful of bikes on track and other evidence seems to suggest the new surface will be faster.
“We know from the race in WorldSBK that the grip of the new asphalt is good when the track cleans up. They were going faster,” explained the Brit. “So we look forward to seeing how it evolves. Hopefully it will stay dry. Turn 15 is a slightly strange corner now – the braking point is nearly the same but with the track dropping away you have to be more patient. Maybe that adds a bit more excitement for everyone.”
Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso agreed with the challenge of the conditions, and wants to see how the promised higher levels of grip translate into race performance for the Desmosedici GP16. “It’s tough but it’s always nice to ride a track like Sepang – especially on a MotoGP bike because you can use all the power. The temperature and conditions are on the limit but they’re the same for everyone. The straights should suit us but the grip will make the difference so we’re interested to see how the conditions are. If there’s good grip, with the improvement we’ve made in the last two races, we have the chance to have a good race.”
Dovizioso’s teammate, Andrea Iannone, was also present as he gets back in the paddock after missing four races due to injury sustained in a crash in Misano – knowing Sepang is tough and made tougher by his ongoing recovery. “I am very happy to be back in the paddock – back in my world. My condition isn’t so bad, for sure I’ve improved a lot but I’m not yet at 100%. I talked a lot with the doctor and he told me that to get back to 100% is two or three months – but I wanted to come here because I miss the bike and the team. I’ll try my best here, and in the last two races. The Sepang track is difficult, and I think it could be a difficult weekend for us – with my condition and the temperature, but we’ll try to improve step by step through practice and close the weekend with a good result.”
Pitlane opens for MotoGP™ at 9:55 local time (GMT +8) as engines fire up in Malaysia, with riders, teams and tyres getting their first taste of the new track surface – and cambers – of Sepang International Circuit – with the new Turn 15 sure to shake things up.
Press conference: Moto2™ title contenders talk pressure
Zarco, Luthi and Rins meet the media ahead of the penultimate showdown of the year in Malaysia
Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport), Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) and Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) sat down for a pre-event Press Conference as the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix gets underway, with the pretenders to the Moto2™ crown still locked in battle for the title as the engines fire up for the penultimate round of the season. Talk centered around the title fight – and the pressure that goes with it.
Zarco spoke first, as the Championship leader, and focused on the positives of his position – 22 points clear at the top. “It’s pretty close and it’s good to remember that! I was focusing on Alex, but now Luthi has gained on me. The person in second is the thing I focus on. He’s pretty strong at the moment. In Australia I could have got a few more points…but the same for Tom, it could have been 5 points less.
“In Austria I had a good advantage and it seemed almost simple…then in Brno I couldn’t find the feeling in the wet. Then I made a mistake in Silverstone and maybe I lost some confidence. In Japan I had a good race and I was happy to be on the podium. Australia wasn’t like that but I know Phillip Island is a tough track for me. I found my limit and couldn’t get past it. But that’s why the Championship is so good, and it’s interesting to have this situation.
“We have to keep working at maximum capacity, but I’m probably in the best position because I’m leading. I can feel the pressure, but I’ve learnt to live with it. After Aragon the situation was worse but now I have a bit more advantage.”
Key rival Tom Luthi has now taken three race wins in the last five races, something that has changed the landscape of the title fight – and sees him head into Sepang as the closest challenger to Zarco. “These last races have put me in a completely different place in the Championship. I think for me it’s easier than for Johann because there are no calculations. I just want to continue my form and continue working. I think these wins are a result of the consistent work that we do. I changed my Chief Mechanic this season and we’re still learning to understand each other. We’re growing together and it’s something we want to continue.
“I like it very much at Sepang. It’s brilliant to race here and I have good memories. Now the asphalt it new so that’s a little question mark and it’s a challenge, which I like a lot.
“All riders have pressure but it’s about how you handle it, and being able to use it as positive pressure.”
Whilst Luthi’s traction has been increasing, Zarco and Rins have had a bigger challenge in the intermediate class of late. Rins, especially, has seen a season of ups and downs and now focuses forward on one thing only: winning. “This year I’ve had a lot of problems. In Qatar we had a ride through. In Mugello I started last…then I broke my collarbone. I was ill in MotorLand…I don’t know what will happen until Valencia, but this season has been hard for me and I’ll just try and give my maximum and beat these two guys – they’re hard rivals.
“My shoulder is ok. In Japan I was a bit scared because it wasn’t good when I crashed, but I love the track here in Sepang and the track in Valencia. In these two races I need to win, but that will be difficult. Tom won the last two and he’s on a good level, and Johann is always strong.
“Everybody feels pressure, but pressure can be good. For me, needing to win the last two races, it’s pressure but it’s also a challenge. I’m nervous for all races, but I think Zarco is under more pressure than me.”
Moto2™ head out for FP1 at 10:55 local time (GMT +8) as the battle commences, with Zarco knowing that if he wins the race, he wins the title – with two incredible competitors standing in his way.
Pedal Power: Sepang pre-event
Malaysian GP kicks off with some cycling before the pre-event Press Conferences
Hot and humid are two words that define the conditions at Sepang International Circuit. Challenging for the riders with a whole lot of horsepower and top speeds well over 300km/h, the Malaysian GP pre-event saw some of the grid back to basics as they swapped their engines for bicycles…and took on the Malaysian heat in a different kind of race.
Aleix Espargaro (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich), and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini duo Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl headed the line up for 35kms of cycling in the heat of Sepang – joined by home heroes Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia) and Drive M7 SIC Racing Team’s Adam Norrodin and Jakub Kornfeil.
Left with a bit of time to cool off ahead of track action getting underway on Friday, it was back
to the box after the pre-event shakedown; ready to get back into their leathers and take on newly resurfaced Sepang International Circuit once again at higher speeds – with higher stakes.