Sepang looks like being a Repsol whitewash this weekend, with Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso spread across the front row of the grid for Sunday's race, and FP3 the only session where there wasn't a Repsol 1-2-3 on the timesheets, Marco Simoncelli getting in among the orange, red and black bikes. On Friday, it looked like being a Pedrosa runaway, but his teammates have closed the gap considerably since then. Only the most contrarian investor would risk betting against a Honda victory - and only the brave would take the very long odds on offer for a Honda 1-2-3 - but Pedrosa is not quite the certainty that he was after the first day of practice.
The Spaniard was blisteringly fast out of the box, but as the weekend has progressed, the rest of the pack has closed up, with little to choose between the three Repsols after qualifying. Part of this has been down to tires: Pedrosa has immediately taken a shine to the softer tires, while Stoner has been working with the hard tire all weekend, always his preferred option as a race tire. The problem that Stoner has had has been an inability to get the bike to both turn and grip, sacrificing one to obtain the other. Sepang looks like being one of the surprisingly few weekends when Stoner and his crew have not been able to find a good setup from the start, and the Australian will have his hands full with both Pedrosa and Dovizioso for the win.
Press releases from the 125cc and Moto2 teams after qualifying at Sepang:
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class at Sepang:
Thomas Luthi took charge of FP3 for the Moto2 class at Sepang, leading the pack by nearly half a second. Alex de Angelis was second fastest, just edging ahead of Simone Corsi and championship leader Stefan Bradl. Bad news for Marc Marquez: after his crash on the very first lap of FP1 yesterday, the Spaniard was forced to miss all of Friday. He had hoped to take part in practice on Saturday, but Marquez was still suffering with some dizziness and sat out the Saturday morning session as well. Marquez hopes to take part in qualifying and the race, but he is uncertain as to whether he will be able to.
The timesheets at the end of day one at Sepang are telling. This is a track at which the teams spent six days testing back in February prior to the start of the year, much as they have done every year, and so they have enough data on the track to fill every iPod Steve Jobs ever sold. They should know how to set up a bike to go around this track, despite everyone complaining of a lack of grip, as is often the case in the hot October weather.
With that variable removed, the timesheet is a pretty good reflection of the state of MotoGP: Four factory Hondas sit at its head, the three Repsols followed by San Carlo's Marco Simoncelli; Hiroshi Aoyama on the satellite Honda follows, with the first Yamaha in 6th position, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards happy on the setting they found during the pre-season tests. Alvaro Bautista is 7th, the Suzuki thriving in the Malaysian heat as it always has done, and Randy de Puniet on a satellite Ducati is in 8th. That, in a nutshell, is a pretty good summary of the 2011 MotoGP season.
Press releases from the 125cc and Moto2 teams after the first day of practice at Sepang:
Race Direction have fined the Sepang Circuit for failing to warn the Moto2 riders at the start of the first session of free practice about a patch of wet track at Turn 10. The circuit was still very wet after an earlier bout of rain, and the first riders to arrive in the area - including Bradley Smith, Jules Cluzel, Yonny Hernandez and Marc Marquez - all suffered crashes, as the marshals were not displaying yellow flags to warn the riders of the danger. Bradley Smith broke his collarbone in the incident, while Marquez was lucky to escape with heavily bruised shoulder and a nasty knock to the head. Smith has been ruled out of the race on Sunday, while Marquez decided to skip FP2 and attempt to ride on Saturday.
Below is the FIM press release issued announcing the fine:
2011 FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
Shell Advance Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2011: decision of the Race Direction
Stefan Bradl has got his weekend off to a strong start by topping the timesheets in the second session of free practice, putting in a strong performance in the second half of FP2. The Viessmann Kiefer rider just sneaked ahead of Aleix Espagaro, with the fastest man of the morning, Dominique Aegerter, just a fraction behind in 3rd. Gresini's Michele Pirro set the 4th fastest time, with a little help from a tow by Bradl.
Two victims from the crash this morning during FP1 chose to sit out the session. The Tech 3 team had feared that Bradley Smith had suffered broken ribs in the crash, but it emerged that it was his collarbone and not his ribs which were broken, ruling the Englishman out of Sunday's race. Marc Marquez also missed FP2, returning to the hotel to rest after taking a big bang to the head during the highside this morning. Marquez also has a badly banged up shoulder, but will try to ride on Friday. The circuit was fined 15,000 euros for failing to wave a yellow flag and warn the riders of the danger at that corner.
Dominique Aegerter caused a surprise in the first session of practice for the Moto2 class at Sepang, the Technomag CIP rider topping the timesheets by the narrowest of margins ahead of Interwetten's Thomas Luthi. Alex de Angelis followed in third, three quarters of a second behind, but just ahead of Andrea Iannone.
But the big news of the Moto2 session was the crash by several riders on the first lap out. Some water left on the track after a brief burst of heavy rain during the MotoGP session caught a bunch of riders out, with Marc Marquez, Bradley Smith, Yonny Hernandez and Jules Cluzel all falling heavily. Marquez came away with a badly bruised shoulder, the injury severe enough to rule him out of the rest of the session, while Bradley Smith suffered suspected broken ribs and is looking likely to miss the race on Sunday.
Press release previews from the Moto2 and 125cc teams ahead of Sunday's race at Sepang:
2011 Sepang MotoGP Thursday Round Up: On Marquez' Big Mistake, And MotoGP's Silly Season Winding Down
After an eight-hour flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, the MotoGP circus has rolled up at the Sepang circuit ready to do it all again a week later. Fortunately for most of the teams, they have had a day or two in Kuala Lumpur to acclimatize to the sweltering Malaysian heat, quite a contrast to the blustery cool of Phillip Island.
The climate inside the air-conditioned rooms where negotiations are taking place over 2012 is just as fevered as the hot and sweaty conditions outside, however. The spare time forced on the paddock has given riders, their managers and teams time to try to reach agreement over next season. With just two races of 2011 next to go, and with all of the major pieces having slotted into place, the final seats on the grid are starting to shake out.
The biggest announcement came on Thursday afternoon at the circuit, and had held much of the Spanish press in its thrall throughout the week. Marc Marquez finally announced that he will be staying in Moto2 for another year, and not moving up to MotoGP as many had hoped he would. For the full details, see this story here, but part of the decision was down to Marquez' personal backing from Repsol. The Spanish petroleum giant is getting an unprecedented bang for their buck at the moment, with Casey Stoner dominating in MotoGP on the Repsol Honda - and Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso picking up the baton on the rare occasions that Stoner falters - while Marc Marquez is storming up the field in Moto2. Repsol is getting massive exposure in their home market from having the two championship favorites on their books, and will be hoping to capitalize with a brace of #1 plates in both MotoGP and Moto2 next season.
Marc Marquez is to stay in Moto2 for another year. After all of the recent speculation, the 18-year-old Spaniard told the media at Sepang on Thursday that he had decided against switching to the MotoGP class after reviewing the options on offer to him. He will race for the Repsol-backed Catalunya Caixa Moto2 squad run by his mentor Emilio Alzamora aboard a Suter for 2012.
Marquez admitted that he had been surprised at the speed of his own progress. "This is my first year in Moto2, and my level is much better than i expected at the beginning of the season," he told the MotoGP.com website, and that had caused him and his manager Alzamora to explore the options available to him. In the end, though, he felt it was better to remain in Moto2 for another year, to gain more experience before stepping up to the premier class. "At the end of the season, it was time to check all the possibilities, and I think the best one is to stay one more year in Moto2, because every race I learn something new," Marquez told MotoGP.com. "It was a difficult decision, but I think we took the right one."
The FIM today released the list of teams accepted for next year's Moto2 and Moto3 championships, and both championships are looking healthy. Twenty teams have been entered in each of the two classes, and grid size is expected to be 32 riders in both Moto2 and Moto3. That is actually a reduction in size for the Moto2 class: in previous years, 40 riders have been given starts, but this caused a number of complaints from the teams. Having 40 riders line up on the grid was widely regarded as being a little too many, creating dangerous situations as riders desperately try to make up as many positions as possible off the line.
Although the rider lists will not be officially released until Valencia - and even then, those lists are subject to massive change, as we have seen in previous years - there are still some interesting names on the list worth examining. In the Moto2 class, Marc Marquez' Monlau Competicion team has a grid slot, despite rumors that the Spaniard could move up to MotoGP. Catalunya Radio reported that Marquez is keen to go to MotoGP, but that Repsol wants to keep him in Moto2. If Marquez is promoted to MotoGP, then it is possible that Toni Elias could fill the vacant seat at Monlau Competicion.
Press releases from the Moto2 and 125cc teams after the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island: