Jorge Lorenzo got his weekend off to an ideal start at Sepang, setting the fastest time in the first session of free practice, just a fraction of a second ahead of the Australian Casey Stoner. Valentino Rossi had dominated early on, but as the second half of the session commenced, Casey Stoner took over the running at the front. With 10 minutes to go, Rossi looked like getting back in contention with Stoner, but the Italian was balked in the final corner by Alex de Angelis.
Bradley Smith started the weekend strongly at Sepang by topping the first session of practice for the 125cc class. The Briton finished the session ahead of KTM's Marc Marquez and his Aspar team mate Julian Simon. Nicolas Terol completed the top 5.
Scott Redding had a strong outing, ending the day in 12th, a second and a half down on his fellow countryman Smith, but Danny Webb had a much more difficult start, setting the 22nd time and suffering a big crash in the latter part of practice. American Cameron Beaubier finished the day in 25th.
Both MotoGP and World Superbikes are in action this weekend, and a grand total of four titles could be wrapped up on Sunday. At Sepang, Valentino Rossi could secure his 7th MotoGP title on Sunday, while Hiroshi Aoyama could clinch the last ever 250cc world title. Several hours later, at the last WSBK round at Portimao in Portugal, the World Superbike title is likely to go down to the wire, with little to choose between Noriyuki Haga and Ben Spies. Between the two World Superbike races, Cal Crutchlow looks likely to secure the World Supersport championship.
Of course, it's not quite as simple as all that, and so below is a guide to who needs to finish where in which races to wrap up the championship. The 125cc class already has a champion, with Julian Simon clinching the title after beating Aspar team mate Bradley Smith at Phillip Island last weekend.
Despite his first-corner pile-up at Phillip Island, an incident which he later described as a "junior's mistake", Jorge Lorenzo is still in with a chance of the MotoGP crown. However, 38 points down to Valentino Rossi with two races to go, Lorenzo needs Rossi to make a mistake. Rossi needs just 12 points to secure the title, which a 4th place, which scores 13 points, would provide.
Niccolo Canepa's weekend at Phillip Island got off to a bad start. The Pramac Ducati rider crashed during the first session of free practice on Friday, going down at the - literally - scorching Doohan corner at around 200 km/h. The Italian slid a long way on the tarmac, burning a hole through his leathers and removing a big chunk of skin from his right arm and elbow. His injuries were sufficiently serious to require a skin transplant at a Melbourne hospital, and his participation at this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang was put in doubt.
On Monday, Canepa received the final word. The Italian was advised by doctors in Australia not to race at Sepang, as the injury was not healed sufficiently to attempt to compete. Canepa's place will be taken by Aleix Espargaro once again. The Spaniard, who will be joining the Pramac Ducati team next season, was put on standby last weekend, as soon as the extent of Canepa's injuries became clear. The itinerant Espargaro, who has spent the season racing Moto2 in the Spanish championship, as well as substitute rides on the Balatonring Aprilia RSA 250 and the Pramac Ducati, impressed Pramac bosses and MotoGP fans alike with his strong showing at Indianapolis and Misano. Espargaro needs 1 point to draw level with Yuki Takahashi, who left the series at Laguna Seca, and 4 points to catch Sete Gibernau, whose team withdrew Assen.
In the pursuit of radical cost-cutting measures, testing has been one of the main targets of all parties involved in the MotoGP series. Post-race testing has already been cut back to what many perceive to be the bare minimum, with one-day tests after the Barcelona and Brno MotoGP rounds, but the cuts to winter testing have been nothing short of radical. Instead of six or seven multi-day tests, as was the case in 2007 and 2008, winter tests have been cut back to just three true winter tests, plus testing after the final race of the season at Valencia.
The testing season kicks off on the Tuesday and Wednesday after Valencia - traditionally the time at which riders switching teams get their first shot at their new bikes. There will then be a three-month layoff during which no testing will be done at all, before the teams head out to Malaysia for a couple of two-day sessions, starting on the 4th and 21st of February. Three weeks later, the teams return to Qatar for another two-day test from March 14th, in preparation for the season opener four weeks later.
The new test schedule sees a break with tradition and the end of a pre-season aperitif: Apart from the traditional post-race tests at Valencia, no testing will be done in Europe during the off-season. What this also means is an end to the official IRTA tests in Spain, which had turned into something of a crowd pleaser over the past few years, with upwards of 35,000 fans turning up to watch the single one-hour qualifying session shootout for a BMW M coupe, referred to by the fans as "Grand Prix Zero". As yet, it is unclear whether the shootout for the BMW will take place at the final test at Qatar or not, but all the signs are that this, too, has been consigned to history.
This is the final, official version of the 2009 MotoGP calendar. After being in doubt for a long time, the Hungarian Grand Prix was eventually canceled over problems with the track. It will now make its debut on the calendar in the spring of 2010.
Around the time that Kawasaki pulled out of MotoGP, rumors persisted that Suzuki, too, was on the verge of pulling out. A number of sources inside Japan spoke of Suzuki withdrawing, as we reported earlier, but the Suzuki MotoGP team consistently denied the rumors, dismissing them as just talk.
But they were more than that, as an interview which GPOne.com is carrying with Shinichi Sahara, head of Suzuki's MotoGP team, makes clear. Sahara told GPOne.com "At around the same time that Kawasaki officially announced its withdrawal, Suzuki were also considering it as well. Why did we choose to stay? Because Hamamatsu is convinced that competition is in our DNA, and is important for our image. In the end, the final word was for our President, Osamu Suzuki."
Sahara said that contracts with Dorna played no part in the decision: "There were no contractual problems with Dorna," he told GPOne.com.
But costs continue to be an important factor in Suzuki's MotoGP program. And costs mean that Suzuki is unlikely to be fielding extra bikes in the short term. "I can't see more than two Suzukis on the grid in the future. But the long term could be different, of course."
Casey Stoner completed the three day test at Sepang exactly where he hoped to be: On top. Despite the continuing pain from his wrist, which prevented the factory Ducati rider from putting in any long runs, there was no stopping Stoner. His fastest lap, on the new spec tires which are capable of lasting much longer than the old soft qualifying tires, was over a second quicker than the current lap record he holds.
Second fastest was Valentino Rossi, another inmate of MotoGP's sick bay. The reigning World Champion got close - within a tenth of a second - but could not quite match Stoner's blistering pace. The Doctor kept Suzuki veteran Loris Capirossi behind him, Capirex consigned to third place, just over a tenth of a second behind Rossi. Capirossi has been the revelation of the test, the new Suzuki clearly improved, though the Sepang track also suiting the bikes handling very well.
Fourth fastest was Colin Edwards, the Texan showing both that the 2009 Yamaha M1 is an excellent package, and that he is one of the few Michelin riders to have adapted easily to the new Bridgestone tires, demonstrating just why Michelin kept him as their lead test rider for so long. The other former Michelin men are much further down the field, Jorge Lorenzo the first of them in 7th, three quarters of a second behind his team mate, ahead of Repsol Honda new boy Andrea Dovizioso. Dovi was left without a team mate, after Dani Pedrosa went home a day early with a painful knee, which is still not fully recovered from surgery in December.
Pedrosa's absence left Toni Elias the fastest Honda rider, surprising many who had thought that Elias would struggle with the new tires. The Spaniard had previously used a special custom front tire, of a much softer construction, but has adapted very well to the new, much stiffer tires being used.
Matthew Birt at MCN and the corporate MotoGP site are reporting that Dani Pedrosa has left the Sepang test a day early. Owing to surgery on his left knee in December, he has not recovered sufficient strength to complete race-distance simulations scheduled for Day 3. Considering that he rose to 4th on the time charts in Day 2 - within .4 sec of a similarly ailing Casey Stoner - and having completed everything else scheduled for his test regimen, this would seem to be a wise move.
Casey Stoner continued his dominance at Sepang today, on the second day of testing, though his wrist continues to trouble him, leaving the Australian incapable of putting in too many laps. But even a relatively small number of laps is enough to be the fastest man on the grid, which should give the competition pause for thought.
Loris Capirossi continues his strong showing at Sepang, raising hopes that Suzuki might have a good season again in 2009. The Italian veteran is a fraction ahead of his compatriot Valentino Rossi, who was third fastest. Like Stoner, Rossi is also struggling with injury, though the stitches in his fingers and foot are nowhere near as serious as Stoner's healing scaphoid. But there is less than 2/10ths of a second covering the top three, so things are pretty close.
After a difficult first day, Dani Pedrosa is back up to speed, the Repsol Honda rider also cracking the 2'02 barrier. But Pedrosa is a quarter of a second behind Rossi, and nearly 0.4 behind Stoner. Stoner's Ducati team mate Nicky Hayden took a second off his time from yesterday, climbing to 9th. But the American is still over a second and a half behind his team mate.
James Toseland is the rider struggling the most. The Englishman didn't improve his time from yesterday, and is propping up the bottom of the timesheets. Not the start to the year Toseland will be hoping for.
Testing concludes tomorrow.