2018 Sepang MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Dorna Bows To The Inevitable, And How A Penalty Might Make The Race Better

The MotoGP flyaway races are a headache for Dorna in a lot of different ways. There is the logistics, the calendar, a host of legal and customs issues, ensuring that facilities are up to scratch, in terms of safety, medical facilities, pit garages, and more. They have most of these things pretty much nailed down – something which comes with having run the series for over 25 years – but the one hurdle they face every year is TV schedules. Sport has infinitely more value when it is shown live, because the very fact that the outcome of a contest is unknown is what provides half the thrill. Anyone who has suffered the wrath of the mob after posting spoilers on Social Media will understand that.

So when MotoGP goes east, to Thailand, Japan, Australia, and Malaysia, the series runs into a dilemma. These are key markets for the factories, and growing markets for Dorna in terms of TV audiences. But they are also a problem when it comes to Europe, whose broadcasters contribute a very hefty sum to Dorna's finances. Live audiences drop off a cliff for races which start at 6am, and so Dorna do what they can to shift the race start into a more audience-friendly window. Far more people will be willing to get up on a Sunday morning at 8am for a race than they would be for a 6am, or – heaven forfend – a 5am start.

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Sepang MotoGP Race Schedule Moved 2 Hours Earlier Due To Expected Weather

The schedule for race day at the 2018 Malaysian Grand Prix has been modified, due to expected heavy rain. The entire day has been moved 2 hours earlier, in an attempt to avoid a downpour expected to arrive at around 3pm local time on Sunday afternoon.

The change had been requested by the riders in the Safety Commission on Friday evening. Heavy rain on Saturday helped make their point: a torrential downpour starting in FP4 caused qualifying to be delayed. The rain in FP4 caught several riders out quite badly, with Jordi Torres falling and injuring his wrist, Maverick Viñales crashing and destroying his Yamaha M1.

As the paddock waited for the start of a delayed Q1 session to start, IRTA, who are in charge of the running of each MotoGP round, issued a new schedule, moving the entire program back 2 hours earlier, meaning the MotoGP race will now start on Sunday at 1pm local time, instead of 3pm.

The new schedule is as follows (click the link to convert to your local time):

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2018 Sepang MotoGP FP4 Result: Marquez Tops A Rain-Shortened Session

Marc Marquez set the fastest time of FP4 Saturday just before rain prompted all of the riders to pit for rain tires -- or to wait out the weather. Unfortunately for Maverick Vinales and Karel Abraham rain flag were not visible when both were on on fast laps at the Sepang circuit. The pair both crashed just after the storm began.

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2018 Sepang MotoGP FP3 Result: Vinales Scorches Sepang

For the second weekend in a row, Maverick Vinales looks like the rider Yamaha debuted at Qatar in 2017. A win last week at Philip Island followed by this week's strong showing in practice, Vinales' form seems to have returned. Saturday's FP3 was another example of that.

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2018 Sepang Moto2 FP3 Result: Marquez, Again at the End

Alex Marquez made it three-for three so far at in Maylasia at the Sepang circuit Saturday with another last-moment charge to the top of the timesheet. Marquez, as has become his custom this weekend, hung aroung the top five for most of the session and then struck quickly with as the final seconds ticked away. His 2'07.768 was a second off his FP2 time but left him as only one of three riders to drop into the 2'07s in the third practice.

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2018 Sepang Moto3 FP3 Result: Atiratphuvapat First By Seconds

Taking a risk with slick tires on a damp track, Nakarin Atiratphuvapat topped the field by nearly two seconds to lead FP3 at the Sepang Circuit Saturday in Malaysia. Atiratphuvapat's 2'22.010 dropped Tony Arbolino into second. The Italian rider had led much of FP3 on rain tires with a 2'24.570 he set early on, eventually improving on that by a second at the end of FP3.

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2018 Sepang MotoGP Friday Round Up: Fast Rins, Yamaha Revival, And Marquez Saves

Given the severity of the storms which have washed across the Malaysian peninsula, you might expect practice for MotoGP to be a wet one minute, dry the next. So far, however, only the Moto3 class has had a problem with wet conditions, the day starting out on a drying track, then rain disrupting FP2 for the smallest class in Grand Prix racing. MotoGP were a good deal more fortunate, left with a dry track in surprisingly good condition.

That might explain why the times were so good: there were a handful of riders knocking out 1'59s in both the morning and afternoon sessions, times which normally only appear once qualifying starts. In 2017, only Valentino Rossi got into the 1'59s in free practice. In 2016, only Maverick Viñales managed it. "Lap times were fast today," said an impressed Bradley Smith of KTM. "1'59s were like a miracle in the past. Guys were on 1'59s from the first session and there in the second session as well, it wasn't just when the track was cool. We're still a little way away from a 1'58, which I think Jorge did in the test, but not that far away that I think it's the track conditions."

There is no obvious explanation for why the track would be so fast, Smith said. "Here we know, from February 1st to February 20-something, the track can be half a second slower, or faster, whichever way the conditions are going. I really can't put my finger on one thing or another."

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