Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang: Pre-event MotoGP press conference & Mini Bikes race
Pressure is building on and off the track as the two Movistar Yamaha teammates address the world’s media alongside Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda), Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team), Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Moto3™ championship leader Danny Kent, where they reflected on a dramatic Australian Grand Prix and previewed the pivotal Shell Advance Motorcycle Grand Prix.
Rossi was the first to speak having seen his lead in the standings cut to 11 points after he failed to finish on the podium for only the second time this season at Phillip Island. It was only the second time this season that Rossi has failed to finish on the podium. The ‘Doctor’ though has his first chance to lift the title at Sepang, a circuit he has won at 6 times before: “We arrive here with two races to go with just 11 points. I think it will be very difficult but at the same time a great battle to follow. The level and the speed are very similar and the point’s difference is small. It’s like one match divided into two parts, like a football match first time and second time in Valencia. It’s the first chance (to lift the title) which means a little bit more pressure for Jorge because he has to arrive in front and try to take some points before Valencia.”
Lorenzo arrives in Sepang determined to reduce Rossi’s advantage even more after his second at the Australian GP. The Spaniard knows he needs to keep the pressure on his teammate and is also attempting to win at Sepang for the first time in the premier class: “These last races we recovered a lot of points. In Australia we lost the possibility to just depend on myself by not winning the race but anyway, it’s okay like that as we could just gain 4 points or nothing. As I said, we’ve always been behind the championship and now we have the possibility to win it so we are going to try our best without fear and with nothing to lose.”
Marquez took his 50th GP victory at Phillip Island and despite being out of the title race know what a vital role he could play in deciding where it ends up: “The target in these last two races is to finish in the best way possible this last part of the season. In Australia we did a great weekend and then on the race, honestly I expected to be a little bit stronger in the race but Jorge made a step, as did Valentino and Andrea so we pushed till the last lap. Of course I’d like to be there in the middle of the battle but it’s not possible so it’s interesting to see.”
Iannone is hoping to fight for the podium once more after his third at the Australian GP: “I think the Ducati at the moment has a really strong engine and in this track with the two straight is a good help for us. But also in another way I think that at this moment I have a good feeling with my bike and team and I hope for a good weekend with a chance to fight for the podium.”
Viñales was another who impressed at Phillip Island where he equalled his best result of the season in sixth: “Honestly, it was incredible because the first laps I could stay with the group with Vale, with Marc and with Iannone and it was really nice to learn how they ride. It was also a big help for me with the lines and you can learn a lot but then when I could keep the same pace as Dani and Crutchlow, it was even nicer as it’s the first time I felt competitive and my bike felt good. We know here it will be difficult with two long straights but we want to try again.”
Taking his place amongst the starts of MotoGP™ was once more Moto3™ World Championship leader Danny Kent. The Brit has crashed out of 2 of the last 3 races but still holds a 40-point lead in the standings over the only man who can deny him the title, Miguel Oliveira: “The body was a bit sore the next couple of days but the main thing is we’re fine. We’ve been very lucky as we had two big crashes, one in Aragon and in Phillip Island. Usually when you crash like that it’s very easy to injure yourself. Forty points with two races left sounds good, but you know in Moto3 you can lose points just like that and we need to just keep working hard.”
At the traditional pre-event for the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix on Thursday 20 riders took to the Sepang International Go Kart Circuit for the annual Mini Bikes race. Representing MotoGP™ were Pol Espargaro, Yonny Hernandez, Jack Miller, Mike de Meglio, Hector Barbera and Toni Elias. From the world of Moto2™ there was Sam Lowes, Jonas Folger, Luis Salom, Hafizh Syahrin and Ricky Cardus. Finally lining up from Moto3™ were Danny Kent, Enea Bastianini, Isaac Viñales, Francesco Bagnaia, Maria Herrera, Zulfahmi Khairuddin. After the usual fun and mayhem on track, it was Moto2™’s Hafizh Syahrin who emerged victorious, ahead of Hector Barbera and Ricky Cardus.
Also on Thursday Ducati Team rider Andrea Iannone swapped job for the afternoon. Instead of piloting a 270bhp prototype MotoGP™ bike he surprised members of the Ducati Club Malaysia by becoming a petrol station attendant at Shell Yazn Enterprise Retail Station. The feisty Italian made fans’ days by unexpectedly appearing to fill up their bikes, sign autographs and pose for photos on the forecourt.
Before the press conference MotoGP™ Javier Alonso – Managing Director, Events Area at Dorna Sports – explained how they would be monitoring the situation with haze in Sepang at the moment: “We have equipment in place at the circuit beside the main grandstand monitoring the info. Today what we’re doing is checking what we have here – we are at 95/96, so in terms of the quality of the air we don’t have a real problem. The next step is the visibility – we have checked the possibility for the helicopter to fly – here you have to have between 1km and 1.5km visibility to be able to fly, the medical helicopter arrived this morning and today there is no problem to fly.”
He added that they will monitor the issue throughout the course of the weekend: “If the situation gets worse, we will have to take decisions, if it gets worse – but we don’t expect it to get worse than today, or yesterday, or the day before. It’s a continuous process, we receive the info from technicians on site about air quality constantly, and info for the helicopter arrives every hour. We are checking routes to transport riders by road, so just in case worst comes to worst we have options to evacuate somebody by road.”
All three classes take to the Sepang International Circuit on Friday for Free Practice, which starts at 9:00am local time with Moto3™ FP1.