Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang: Raceday roundup – MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) took his second ever victory at the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix, as he navigated the torrential conditions of Sepang to emerge as the ninth winner of 2016: an all time first for the MotoGP™ World Championship to write another chapter in the ever-changing history books of the premier class. After dueling for the lead earlier in the race, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) came home P2, with teammate Jorge Lorenzo completing the podium.
Lorenzo got the best start off the front row, but it was Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) from Row 2 who moved through the furthest – up to second around Turn 1 – with Lorenzo ahead and the frontrunners shuffling. With Rossi pushed down to P4, the front group of the Movistar Yamahas, Ducati Team and Marquez were joined in the fight at the front by Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Aleix Espargaro – before the Spaniard then slid out at Turn 1; able to rejoin but down the order.
Rossi fought his way back into the lead before Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) struck to take P1 – despite still recovering from a cracked vertebra from a crash in Misano – and the Maniac held firm. Teammate Dovizioso was holding off Marquez in third and fourth, with Jorge Lorenzo stalked by Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) just behind.
A duel broke out at the front between Rossi and Iannone, with the Maniac true to form and hitting back as the Doctor attacked, before a Turn 15 move saw Iannone take back the lead and power out of the corner ahead – with the speed of the Desmosedici GP16 unthreatened on the main straight.
Dovizioso and Marquez were far from out of the fight, with both moving back to gain on the Italian duo in the lead. Lorenzo was the rider finding himself out of podium contention as he fell down to sixth, moving back into the top five as Phillip Island winner Crutchlow then fell at Turn 2 – the first shot of melodrama in the Malaysian GP.
Two more high profile crashes then rocked the front group, as reigning World Champion Marquez lost his Honda at Turn 11 and slid out – rejoining in the points but out of contention for the victory – followed by early superstar Andrea Iannone at Turn 9, who was unable to rejoin but walked away unscathed.
Dovizioso vs Rossi: Italy vs Italy: Yamaha vs Ducati became the duel at the front – and Rossi was beginning to suffer with the front tyre. With a handful of laps remaining, the rider from Tavullia ran wide at Turn 1 and left his compatriot able to get through, with ‘DesmoDovi’ needing no further invitation to start building a gap.
Keeping it calm and on the road, the number four Ducati crossed the line an incredible margin clear by the penultimate lap, before letting that advantage eke away on his way to the flag – keeping everything minimal risk. Rossi kept his Yamaha upright in second, as Lorenzo took a solid result in the wet to complete the podium, with the caution that at the start saw the Mallorcan overtaken then converted into a good haul of points as he kept it on the road.
Dovizioso’s spectacular win, as well as marking the ninth different victor of the year, is his second premier class victory – the first being Donington Park in 2009 – and the second win this season for the Borgo Panigale factory, after a long drought since 2010.
Loris Baz and Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing) were the unsung heroes further back on track as the drama ahead stole the spotlight, with Baz showing incredible wet weather pace once again, into fourth with five laps to go. Barbera then overtook his teammate, with the two crossing the line to complete the top five in another Brno-esque triumph for the team.
Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) had an uncharacteristically quiet race as the Silverstone winner struggled slightly in the wet conditions, nevertheless taking a solid P6 and good haul of points. Alvaro Bautista shone for Aprilia Racing Team Gresini once again in Malaysia with an impressive seventh place for the Noale factory, ahead of Assen winner Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich), who completed the top ten.
World Champion Marc Marquez – despite his crash – crossed the line eleventh to retain Phillip Island as his only DNF in a stunning year on his scorecard.
The paddock now return to Valencia as Marquez prepares to ride at home for the first time since taking his third premier class crown – but the one remaining race now begs the question…
…can there be a tenth?
The skies opened ahead of Moto2™ lining up on the grid in Malaysia, with Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) facing down his first chance at the Championship from a soaked pole position – but the Frenchman played his hand perfectly to take an unbelievable win, in front of more podium finishes for Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) and wet weather specialist Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP). With Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) finishing in P6 and Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP40) outside the top ten, Zarco took the crown in stunning style.
Folger got the holeshot as the spray kicked up off the start line, with Morbidelli then soon taking him back as polesitter Zarco slotted into third. Title rival Tom Luthi moved from P5 to P8 in the opening stages as the Swiss rider remained cautious in the difficult conditions, with third Championship challenger Alex Rins moving up ten places from 23rd on the grid to 13th in an impressive early gain. But Zarco, 22 points clear of Luthi and a few more of Rins, was the one with the advantage.
An early crash saw some drama in the intermediate class follow that of Moto3™, as Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) slid out followed by Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) at the same corner – before front row starter Axel Pons (AGR Team) then also retired in the difficult conditions.
Morbidelli led the field from Zarco after the Frenchman took Folger back, with Xavier Simeon (QMMF Racing Team) in fourth and local rider Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia) moving into the top five. Luthi then had a shaky lap as he was passed by both Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) and Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Racing Team), with the second man in the title standings down in P8 – but the rain then stopping and conditions improving steadily.
As Simeon was reeled in by those on the chase, Rins was on the fight back further back on track – with the Spaniard moving up into the top ten by 13 laps to go but out of title contention. As Luthi struggled in the conditions, the two men in Zarco’s way were then down in P8 and P9 and the title got ever closer for the Ajo Motorsport rider.
The front trio of Morbidelli, Zarco and Folger were locked in a game of chess at the front, as the German kept setting the quickest laps of the three, before Zarco pounced for the lead with 6 laps to go – and disappeared into the distance as he tucked in and pulled away from Morbidelli.
Another win, after another pole, and another intermediate class crown – the first man to defend the Moto2™ title since its introduction in 2010.
Baldassarri came home in a lonely fourth after getting the better of those behind but unable to catch the front trio, with home hero Hafizh Syahrin getting a good pay off for his battles throughout the race as he completed the top five.
Tom Luthi finished the race in P6 after finding some more pace later in the race – but was unable to stop the Frenchman from taking the title. Fellow hopeful Alex Rins, after starting in P23, came home in fourteenth to similarly bow out in Malaysia.
An incredible ride from Alex Marquez saw the 2014 Moto3™ World Champion move up from a difficult qualifying in P21 to fight for P4 and then cross the line in seventh – gaining 14 places in tough conditions a week after sitting out the Australian GP through injury.
Xavi Vierge (Tech 3 Racing) made good on his practice showings at Sepang to ride through the field into an impressive top ten position, as the 2015 FIM CEV Repsol Moto2™ championship runner-up came home in P8. Luca Marini (Forward Racing Team) split the Tech 3 Racing Team in P9 in tough conditions, with the second Tech 3 of Isaac Viñales completing the top ten as all three took some serious scalps on their way to big points hauls.
Wildcard Ramdan Rosli (Petronas AHM Malaysia) had a stunning ride at his home GP, as he came home in twelfth and ahead of some usual Moto2™ frontrunners.
The curtain came down with a wheelie across the line as Zarco cemented his place in history once again – becoming the first Frenchman to win more than one Championship in Grand Prix Racing, followed by a trackside celebration as both he and a body double did a signature backflip.
Next stop: Valencia, and the Circuit Ricardo Tormo – where Rins, Morbidelli and Luthi will now have their final showdown behind the new World Champion in the table.
Francesco Bagnaia (Pull&Bear Aspar Mahindra) took his second ever career win at Sepang International Circuit, as he escaped at the front ahead of a demolition derby through the field – with Jakub Kornfeil (Drive M7 SIC Racing Team) taking second for an amazing home result for the SIC team, ahead of another rookie podium for Dutchman Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo).
A largely dry track, high ambient temperatures and a full Moto3™ grid characterized the start of the race, before the drama began early and went on to claim almost half the field. There were high rates of attrition on Lap 1, with a first incident at Turn 2 seeing Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46) losing control of his KTM and making contact with RBA Racing’s Juanfran Guevara to take both out of the race. Ayumu Sasaki, replacing injured Enea Bastianini at Gresini Racing Moto3, was another early casualty as the 2015 SAATC winner and 2016 Red Bull Rookies Champion retired.
There was then a crash at Turn 6 on Lap 1, as Jorge Martin (Pull&Bear Aspar Mahindra) caused a domino effect crash through the racing line on the corner, with Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46), Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Philipp Oettl (Schedl Racing GP) caught up in the incident.
The next drama saw the lead group suddenly shaken up at Turn 7 – after local hero Adam Norrodin (Drive M7 SIC Racing Team) also fell at the corner – when World Champion Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Joan Mir (Leopard Racing), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Sky Racing Team) and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing Moto3) all slid out in unbelievable unison – leaving Bagnaia free at the front to build an incredible lead of over three seconds. Binder and Dalla Porta rejoined, but out of the points and lapped.
Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0) then crashed at the final corner, losing out on the chance to haul in absent Bastianini for P2 in the title, as a missed gear at the end of the back straight put paid to his chances at points – leaving the top six in the Championship again unable to score in the Moto3™ race, after a similar situation in Phillip Island one week earlier.
Turn 9 then claimed two casualties as Ongetta-Rivacold teammates Niccolo Antonelli and Jules Danilo crashed out in separate but almost simultaneous incidents, with only Antonelli able to remount and remaining in the points.
At the front, Bagnaia was building his lead over four seconds with 12 laps to go, with Jakub Kornfeil, Bo Bendsneyder and RBA Racing’s Gabriel Rodrigo next on track in the second group. Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing) found himself in space on the chase, with World Champion Binder coming back out to rejoin the race after repairs and then sharing the track with the Frenchman.
The battle over sixth saw local hero Khairul Idham Pawi (Honda Team Asia), Andrea Locatelli (Leopard Racing), Maria Herrera (MH6 Team) and Marcos Ramirez (Platinum Bay Real Estate) locked together on track, with Livio Loi (RW Racing GP BV) in tenth but back from the group, fighting to catch up.
After a trip through pitlane, it was the South African World Champion on the move despite being down the order in terms of position, as he passed Quartararo and Rodrigo to unlap himself at least once – his superior pace allowing him the chance – as Frenchman Quartararo started to reel in the podium places.
Lapped Dalla Porta moved over to let the podium fight through, with Bendsneyder taking advantage to take Kornfeil for P2, as Binder did the same to allow Quartararo back past for the chance to continue his charge towards the podium.
A crash for Maria Herrera at Turn 15 in an incident with Livio Loi then prefaced a Red Flag, and with well over two thirds of race distance completed, the results would stand – with the positions determined by standings on Lap 13 as the last full lap completed by the whole field; a dramatic end for a melodrama of a race.
Bagnaia therefore took his second career victory by an incredible margin, free at the front in an impressive, concentrated ride, with Kornfeil taking P2 by virtue of his position on Lap 13, and rookie Bo Bendsneyder completing the podium.
Quartararo was fourth as he lost the laps needed to reel in the podium, with teammate Locatelli further back but completing the top five. Marcos Ramirez took another fantastic haul of points in sixth, with Rodrigo, home hero Pawi and Loi in P7, P8 and P9 respectively, despite an apparent problem for the Belgian by Lap 15 when the flag came out. Darryn Binder was tenth in another impressive ride after his P4 in Australia, completing a double top ten for the Platinum Bay Real Estate team.
The season finale now awaits, as the Circuit de Ricardo Tormo in Valencia gets ready for the Moto3™ grid for the last lights out of 2016.