Motorcycle racing - in case you hadn't noticed - is an outdoor activity. And despite the Herculean efforts of the organizers to attempt to control as many aspects of the sport as possible in the name of safety, cost and spectacle, that still leaves motorcycle racing at the mercy of the elements.
That does not prevent them from trying. At Qatar, a vast forest of lighting masts lit up the night, turning night into something not far from being day, and allowing the race to be held in the cool of the evening, rather than under the blistering heat of the Arabian sun.
That dazzling display of technological hubris did not go unpunished, however. Though MotoGP escaped the heat of the day, the exceptional chill of the desert night made racing a difficult and dangerous task with no sun to warm the track. And since then, there has barely been a date on the calendar in which the elements have not had a major role to play. From cold to rain to the tail of a hurricane, the weather has been a factor at just about every weekend of the season.
Same Ol' Same Ol'
As the MotoGP circus arrived at Sepang, this weekend looked like being no different. Dark clouds pregnant with rain threatened from the Malacca Strait, and every day would dump their contents onto the circuit whenever the fancy took them. The weather would play its part, no matter what we thought of it.
The consequences of that interference were felt most during Qualifying. While a light drizzle had disrupted practice on Friday, a proper downpour threatened on Saturday. It broke just as the morning's sessions ended, justifying the Kawasaki riders' decision to go out on qualifiers in the hope of bagging a decent grid position if the afternoon's official qualifying session should be canceled. As qualifying practice approached, though, the skies lightened and the threat of cancellation receded.
But with overcast skies and high humidity, the track took a long time to dry, compressing the usual frantic last half hour into just 15 minutes. The last few minutes of the session turned even more manic than normal, adding an extra helping of chance into the job of securing a decent grid position.
Some were luckier - and cannier - than others. Valentino Rossi looked to have timed his final run perfectly, crossing the line to start his final flying lap with a minute to go. But he was outfoxed by Dani Pedrosa, who started his pole lap with just seconds in the session remaining. Though Rossi crossed the line just a tenth off Pedrosa's pole time from last year, the Spaniard struck back, snatching pole by nearly half a second.
Where Pedrosa had got it right, Casey Stoner - or rather, his crew - had gambled and lost. A mix-up in pit lane over tires saw Stoner leave the pits with just under two minutes to the flag. Too late to make it round in time for a flying lap, Stoner was forced to settle for 7th, and a place on the 3rd row of the grid.
The Same, But Different
After two days of damp practice, the MotoGP paddock awoke fearing what the vagaries of the elements might bring for them on race day. Their worries were justified: As the teams arrived at the track, it was clear that once again, the weather would play a role, but not quite the one they had been expecting.
It was hot. The kind of sweltering, mind-melting, body-sapping humid heat that clouds your judgment and steals your strength. The kind of heat that thins out oil and boils off coolant, ably assisting engine blow-ups while stealing power from hot air and even hotter engines. The race was not going to be easy, even under the best of conditions.
Coming as the penultimate round of a long and grueling season, these were very far from the best of conditions. Most riders on the grid are carrying some kind of injury, and lacking fitness due to the ensuing inability to train properly. Racing 200 mph motorcycles at 100% intensity for 45 minutes in 105 degree tropical humidity was going to be a real test of endurance. It had already claimed victims in the smaller classes, with Mattia Pasini pulling in during the 250 race suffering from heat exhaustion.
The best chance of survival, then, was to conserve energy. Any energy wasted in battles to pass riders or fighting through the field could fatally weaken a rider, rendering him unable to fend off any late attacks from behind. The only realistic option for saving energy was to get straight to the front and lead for as long as possible. Dictating the pace would be a good deal less tiring than being forced to follow, so getting a good start would be crucial
Now, More Than Ever
As the bikes sat on the grid, revs raised and nerves strung tighter than piano wire, the riders stared at the lights even more intensely than usual. The fading of the lights unleashed a howl of screaming four-strokes, and 19 of the most advanced motorcycles in the world hurled themselves down the vast ocean of tarmac towards the first corner.
All eyes were on Dani Pedrosa. The combination of the Spaniard's light weight and the fantastic drive off the line of the factory Honda RC212V make Pedrosa the fastest starter on the grid. Starting from pole, the only question seemed how much of an advantage the Repsol Honda man would have going into Turn 1.
The answer, as the pack started to brake for the first corner, was about 5 bike lengths. Pedrosa had plenty of space to his rear as he sat up for Turn 1, while behind him, the rest of the field jostled for position four abreast into the turn. Pedrosa's current team mate Nicky Hayden held the line on one side of the track, while his future team mate Andrea Dovizioso flanked the other.
Caught in the Honda sandwich were Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner, the Ducati rider having catapulted his way up from the 3rd row of the grid. As the chasing four concertinaed together, funneling in to the tight first corner, Stoner was the man who blinked first, letting Valentino Rossi past on the brakes. As for the Hondas, Andrea Dovizioso took advantage of his inside line, while Nicky Hayden hung on around the outside, the pack squeezing through the first turn ready to flick back left for Turn 2.
Though Rossi had entered Turn 1 in 2nd, he was drifting left, ready for Turn 2. Dovizioso, on the other hand, held tight to his inside line through Turn 1, and running wider into the entry of Turn 2, cut across the nose Rossi's Fiat Yamaha to take 2nd from The Doctor as they heeled over in the opposite direction, hard on the gas through the long right hander of Turn 3.
Behind Rossi, Nicky Hayden had held on to keep 4th place, while Casey Stoner had fended off Loris Capirossi, only to find Shinya Nakano challenging him for 5th. Capirossi, meanwhile, had been pushed down to 7th, ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, who'd been swamped off the line and lost 5 places through the first section.
At the front, though, Dani Pedrosa was clear and off running fast. This was just what the field had feared, for this was the way that Pedrosa had won all his previous races. If anyone had any ambitions of winning this race, they could not afford to let Pedrosa get away.
Valentino Rossi looked the most anxious to catch Pedrosa, but Rossi had a problem. Andrea Dovizioso had parked his Team Scot Honda firmly in 2nd and was showing no signs of wanting to relinquish the chase to Rossi. The Doctor drove out of Turn 4 hard, closing on Dovi's Honda, and tried to force his Fiat Yamaha up the inside round the long fast left of Turn 5, but Dovizioso hung tough on the faster outside line.
As they rounded the bottom of the track and turned to head back to the main grandstands, Rossi prepared his next move. Closing out of Turn 8, he was not close enough to Dovi to have a go into the hairpin at Turn 9, but stayed close, chasing the Honda rookie down towards the tight right heading onto the back straight.
If Rossi had been worried about Pedrosa escaping, he was wasting his energy. Instead of striking a gap and pulling away, the Repsol Honda man looked stuck, caught in the gravitational field of the two Italians chasing from behind. The lead Pedrosa had pulled at the start of the lap was gone, and by the time they hit the back straight, Dovizioso was almost on Pedrosa, with Valentino Rossi breathing down his neck.
The Doctor was clearly in a hurry to get past. Pulling out of Dovizioso's draft, Rossi waited until the last possible second, braking deep into Turn 15 ahead of the Team Scot Honda, but asking just a little too much of his tires. Rossi ran fractionally wide, and by the time he got his Fiat Yamaha turned and heading back down the front straight to cross the line, Dovizioso was past again and up into 2nd.
Behind Rossi, Nicky Hayden was doing his utmost to catch the two Italians. Closing down the back straight, Hayden tried to make good the final few yards on the brakes but had the misfortune to be following Rossi. As Rossi ran wide, so did Hayden, allowing Casey Stoner to catch him and dive up the inside of the hairpin at Turn 15.
Fortunately for both Rossi and Hayden, Turn 15 is a big wide corner. Despite being a hairpin, you can ride the outside of the turn like a motocross berm if you find yourself running wide, keeping your speed up and firing out of the corner with extra drive and onto the long front straight. Though Dovi had passed Rossi and Stoner had passed Hayden, the two losers of that battle won the next fight along the home straight. Hayden was back up into 4th by the time the bikes roared across the line for the end of the first lap, while Rossi was up into 2nd just a few yards later.
Rossi was now free to go after Pedrosa, but Dovizioso was not about to just roll over and let him go. The Team Scot Honda rider pushed back at Rossi through the fast right of Turn 3, attempting to close at the sharp right of Turn 4, still close as they headed to the bottom of the track.
Through the double apex of Turns 7 and 8, Rossi started to turn the tide, pulling out a fractional gap as they approached the tight left at Turn 9, then putting the hammer down round the flowing section heading towards the long back straight. By the time they crossed the line to finish lap 2, Rossi was free of Dovizioso and well on the way to catching Dani Pedrosa.
It didn't take him long. By the double apex of 7 and 8 which marks the halfway mark round the track, Rossi was firmly on Pedrosa's tail, hunched over his back wheel and looking for a way past. The most obvious point would be going into Turn 15, the final corner, at the end of the back straight.
But rounding Turn 14, Dani Pedrosa showed just how good the combination of his own slight build and the Honda's fantastic drive out of slow corners could be. Launching out of 14, he pulled out 5 bike lengths along the back straight, repeating the trick out of the final corner to cross the line with 3/10ths of a second to spare. There were to be no giveaways at Sepang.
Repeat Until Done
Lap 4 saw the pattern repeat itself. Rossi hunted Pedrosa down through the half of the track, pushing the Spaniard hard as they rounded the back double apex, trying to get close enough to Pedrosa to attempt a pass. But once they rounded Turn 14 onto the back straight, Dani Pedrosa powered his Honda to pull out a gap once more, leaving Valentino Rossi right back where he started.
Lap 5 was almost a mirror image of the one before. This time, Rossi got closer at Turn 14, but still not close enough. Pedrosa out-dragged Rossi on both of the straights, leaving the Italian too far back to dive up the inside at either end of them. If the Italian was to get past, he would have to look for another way.
Over the following laps, Rossi stalked Pedrosa round the track, never out of range of the heat of the Spaniard's tailpipes. Each time round, he pricked and probed, looking for a way through, and each time was left standing on the run onto the straights. His attempts at unsettling Pedrosa, at worrying him into making a mistake were unsuccessful. Pedrosa knew he could hold Rossi off round the bottom of the track, and gap him down the straights.
The two men were at a stalemate, and only a radically different approach would break the spell. On lap 10, Rossi showed his hand, entering Turn 7 closer than he had been all race and inching closer to Pedrosa ready to pounce. From the tight left of Turn 9, Rossi drove right onto Pedrosa's rear tire, swinging out from behind Pedrosa to cut inside at the fast left of Turn 12, but it was not quite enough. Pedrosa cut back inside, containing the Italian's attack.
That still left Rossi close enough to try again through the long right that closes up towards Turn 14. The Doctor pushed, carrying more speed into the hairpin that opens up onto the straight and drove out of the hairpin and on to the straight. Still he came up short, outgunned by Pedrosa down the straight.
It looked like Rossi was gambling on the final corner, trying to find a way to get close enough at the end of the straight to dive up the inside into the hairpin, the classic Sepang last-lap gambit. But it turned out to be sleight of hand. Round the first part of the track Rossi gained once more, closing on Pedrosa through the double right hander at the bottom of the track. Pedrosa braced himself, preparing to hold off yet another charge through the last two corners leading onto the back straight.
But Rossi was a step ahead. Instead of attacking at the same place that saw his attempts to pass strand down the straights, he switched tracks. As the pair headed into the hairpin of Turn 9, Rossi pulled out of Pedrosa's draft, his left leg flailing as if ready to enter the corner supermoto style, and jammed his Yamaha M1 up the inside of the Repsol Honda, forcing Pedrosa just off line and with no option but to concede the lead to the Italian. Pedrosa tried to get back at Turn 10, but Rossi held his line and held on to the lead.
Now free of encumbrances, it was Rossi's turn to try to pull away. He had enough of a gap going into Turn 14 to counter Pedrosa's drive on to the straight, and the Italian was still safely ahead into the final corner. Onto the front straight, Rossi was still ahead, and with a clear lead.
It was up to Pedrosa to chase now. The Repsol Honda man closed on the Yamaha through the first half of the track, much as Rossi had closed on him. But as they raced into the hairpin and round the rear of the track, Rossi pulled away, crossing the line with an increased lead.
On the next lap, Rossi put the hammer down again, and this time, Pedrosa could not follow. Rossi's lead grew to over a second, and The Doctor was starting to get away. If Pedrosa still had any notion of winning this race, he would have to regroup, and try to get back on to the Yamaha's tail.
See You Later
The intense pace of Rossi and Pedrosa had been too much for the rest to follow. Once Rossi had gotten past Dovizioso, the leaders had quickly left the Team Scot Honda man behind, the gap to 3rd growing lap by lap.
If Dovizioso was losing company ahead of him, he had plenty coming from behind. Nicky Hayden was soon on his tail, dragging Casey Stoner along with him, while Shinya Nakano tagged along shortly after. At first, Stoner contested 4th with Hayden, having a look inside the Repsol Honda man into Turn 1 on lap 3, but the Kentucky Kid held him off on the brakes. Firmly rebuffed, Stoner latched onto Hayden once again, but the American upped his pace and drew out a gap, enough to keep the World Champion at bay.
Stoner had problems of his own. Since being given a factory spec bike at Brno, Shinya Nakano had been flying, and Sepang was no different. The Japanese veteran was closing on Stoner and getting ready to strike. He passed the Australian coming over the line to start lap 7, but Stoner was back again by the time they tipped in to Turn 1. He tried again 3 laps later, but Stoner held him off again. The 2007 Champ may have been struggling with his injured wrist, but he was not about to let people past if he could help it.
The battle for 3rd was starting to get crowded. With Dovizioso at the head of the pack, Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Shinya Nakano were all giving chase, all close enough to rope each other in, but not close enough to pass. Any attempt to pass usually met with failure, as Hayden demonstrated by trying to jam his factory RC212V up the inside of Dovizioso's satellite bike, only to find himself with too much to do, and running wide.
But with all 4 men squabbling over 3rd riding as defensively as the wide track would allow, others were closing in from behind. The first to join was Jorge Lorenzo, who had taken the first 5 laps to recover from his poor start, and was now back up to 7th. Behind Lorenzo, Colin Edwards was approaching as well, gaining on the group lap by lap.
Once the 4 had become 6, Lorenzo demonstrated the folly of impetuosity. Annoyed that he had had so much work to do after a terrible start, once he latched onto the tail of Nakano he was determined to get past. As the pack fired out of Turn 15 to start lap 12, he made his move. But like Nicky Hayden several laps earlier, he was just too far away to make it stick.
Unlike Hayden, he had got past Nakano, but as he braked late for Turn 1 to hold off any counter attack, he trailed the front brake just a fraction too long, folding the front wheel and sliding off into the gravel. The Spanish rookie rejoined the race briefly, but his bike was too badly damaged to continue. After a forlorn attempt at a lap, Lorenzo pulled into the pits and out of the race.
His team mate was faring considerably better. Clear of Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi was pulling away, his pace never wavering, while Pedrosa dropped out of the 2'02s and into the 2'03s. The Doctor was flying, lapping at a speed almost as scorching as the Malaysian weather. By the end of lap 14, Rossi had a lead of nearly 2 seconds, and only Fate seemed capable of preventing him from winning.
On lap 15, Fate showed signs of intervening. The sunny skies which had welcomed the MotoGP paddock in the morning had been slowly disappearing, hidden behind an ominous and growing mass of clouds. Though the clouds did not have the dark black menace which usually prefigured the arrival of a tropical storm, they still had plenty of water to contribute, and on lap 15, it started sprinkling with rain. Keenly aware of how quickly a downpour might develop, Race Direction decided to wave the white flags, signaling that the riders were now free to enter the pits to jump onto a bike with rain tires. The question was, with just over 6 laps remaining, would it be worth the risk, if the drizzle did not turn into a deluge?
The problem with leading a race when it starts raining is that you are the first to find out that the grip has disappeared in a particular corner, as Sete Gibernau demonstrated at the very first race the white flag was displayed in Estoril. At Sepang, it was Valentino Rossi's turn to play point man, but that role didn't slow him down at all. His lap times remained constant, and he pulled another second gap over Dani Pedrosa, further extending his lead.
After instilling the appropriate sense of fear in the riders by spotting their visors with rain, and sending the teams in the pits into a frenzy of activity, as they rushed to fit the spare bikes with rain tires, Fate decided it had made its point. The light rain petered out and the track remained dry, the race never seriously threatened. The elements had done enough for one day.
With the threat of rain gone, Valentino Rossi kept up his punishing pace. The fastest man on the track by a generous margin, The Doctor kept building his lead all the way to the final lap, only sacrificing time to perform a monster wheelie as he headed towards the finish line.
Valentino Rossi passed the checkered flag to take his 9th win of the season, equaling his tally for his astonishing first championship aboard a Yamaha in 2004. The win also marked his 150th Grand Prix podium, only the 2nd man in history to reach that mark behind - who else - Giacomo Agostini. Now just 9 short of the legendary Italian, Rossi is a safe bet to take that record from Ago at some point during the next two years of his contract with Yamaha.
Some 4 seconds after Rossi, Dani Pedrosa crossed the line to take 2nd, his best result since his switch to Bridgestone tires, and a remarkable achievement in just his 4th race on the Japanese rubber. From being 17th fastest in Friday morning's session, Pedrosa had gone on to take pole and lead the race. His performance was even more impressive considering the fact that he is carrying a knee injury from his ignominious exit from the Phillip Island race.
Critics might say that Pedrosa displayed his weakness once again on Sunday, incapable of following and attacking Rossi once the Italian passed. But that would be unnecessarily harsh: Conditions at Sepang were so extreme that to even compete with Rossi, let alone keep him firmly behind you for 9 long laps, all while not up to full fitness due to injury, is really quite astounding. If Pedrosa is this good when he's not fit, then next year he should be fearsome.
If the battle for 1st was quickly settled, the scrap over 3rd went down to the wire. After Jorge Lorenzo crashed out, Andrea Dovizioso continued to lead the group, with Nicky Hayden breathing down his neck, while Casey Stoner alternated between attacking Hayden and holding off Shinya Nakano.
But if Pedrosa's fitness was questionable, Stoner's was not good at all. The harsh braking for the three hairpins combined with a number of fast, hard left turns placed a lot of strain on the Australian's broken scaphoid, and Stoner was forced to compensate for the weakness of his left wrist by taking up the strain on the right. In searing heat and with no feeling in his left hand, the reigning World Champion could not cope with the pace, and the constant battling.
He first let Hayden inch away, giving up tenths of a second a lap, and then was forced to let Shinya Nakano past on lap 16, able to hold the Gresini Honda rider off no longer. Stoner tried to tag on to the back of Nakano, but was forced to let the Japanese rider go. His chance of a podium was gone.
Once past Stoner, Shinya Nakano was quickly upon Dovizioso and Hayden, and settled in to wait. With Dovi and Hayden knocking spots off each other, the sensible tactic was to wait for the inevitable mistake and then to pounce.
Ready To Rumble
And mistakes were plentiful. Hayden jabbed at Dovizioso, but ran wide, while Dovi held the American off on the brakes, running hot into corners completely out of shape. It looked certain to end in tears.
On lap 18, after being frustrated by the brilliant defense of Dovizioso, Hayden finally made a pass stick. Swinging out of the Italian's draft as the two Hondas headed down the front straight, Hayden at last managed to stuff his factory machine ahead of Dovi's satellite bike into Turn 1 and get back on the podium.
But Dovi would not relinquish the prospect of his first podium in MotoGP so easily. Holding the inside line once again, he tried to flick his bike left ahead of Hayden on the way into Turn 2, but he was not quite far enough in front. The American grabbed the line, then slammed his Repsol Honda across the nose of the Team Scot bike as they railed round the fast right of Turn 3.
Dovi wasn't finished yet. He sat behind Hayden on the short straight towards Turn 4, then flung his Honda inside Hayden on the brakes. It was just enough: Dovizioso exited the turn ahead, and far enough in front to keep the American behind him once more.
But Hayden would not be denied. He crept back onto Dovi's back wheel through the double right of Turns 7 and 8, and tried to pass the Italian on the brakes again going into Turn 9. But as good as Hayden was under braking, Dovizioso was better. As they started to tip the bikes into the corner, Hayden could see he wasn't going to get past and was forced to hold the brakes on to avoid slamming into the back of Dovizioso. Running wide, he immediately gave up a gap to the Italian, valuable time he would have to try and get back.
It took him 2 laps. By the time they crossed the line for the penultimate time, Hayden was back on Dovizioso, and had a full lap of the track to try and make his move. He threw everything he had at the Italian. Pushing through the first section of turns, then stalking Dovi on the way up to the hairpin of Turn 9. He tried once more on the brakes, but again, Dovizioso held strong, leaving Hayden nowhere to go.
This time, though, Hayden lost no ground. He arrowed in on Dovizioso's tail through the final sweep of corners, hoping to get close enough for a pass along one of the straights. But whatever Hayden tried, Dovi parried, and entered the back straight far enough to keep Hayden away. On the way into the final corner, Hayden wasn't close enough to make a final desperate lunge. Today, he would have to concede defeat.
And so Andrea Dovizioso crossed the line to take his first podium in the premier class. It had been a long time coming, and was one of the most hard-fought and well-deserved 3rd places we have seen in a very long while.
What was particularly impressive was just how long he had kept two superior spec machines behind him. The years of racing an underpowered 250 Honda against the might of Jorge Lorenzo's Aprilia were paying dividends, and Dovizioso treated the crowd to an exhibition of defensive riding to rival Valentino Rossi's duel with Casey Stoner at Laguna Seca. With this display, Dovizioso proved he deserved a chance on better machinery.
Nicky Hayden was magnanimous in defeat. Despite his frustration at missing out on a podium - especially one which featured his hated team mate - he cheerfully admitted that Dovizioso fully deserved to take 3rd after his performance. Hayden was clearly faster than Dovizioso, but that meant nothing if he couldn't get past.
It is ironic that Hayden is starting to get the pneumatic valve Honda RC212V to fly just as he is about to leave the team. The Hayden on display for the past few races has been the Hayden of old, sliding the rear through turns, running wider to square off the corners, and using the throttle to steer the bike round the track. With his confidence returned, and his spectacular and gratifying style back on display, the Kentucky Kid is looking forward to the Ducati. And frankly, he's not the only one.
Shinya Nakano finished up 5th, unable to capitalize on the mistakes made in the battle ahead of him. But the Japanese rider did all that could be asked of him and more, and after the Kawasaki deal with Aspar fell through, leaving Nakano without a ride for 2009, you have to wonder why he won't be in MotoGP. Given the right equipment, Nakano is clearly in with a chance of a podium, if things will run his way.
Casey Stoner hung on to finish in 6th place and secure 2nd in the championship. The Australian looked close to collapse once he got off the bike, and to struggle round the track with effectively one arm is an achievement in itself. The experience took so much out of Stoner that he is considering whether to race at the final round in Valencia, or sit out the race to concentrate on testing the Desmosedici GP9 on the day after. He told reporters he would decide after the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday.
Loris Capirossi had challenged Casey Stoner for 6th in the middle stages of the race, but had been forced to settle for 7th after making a mistake when trying to get past. Though Sepang is a track that Capirossi is strong at, the Suzuki was short of too much power to be able to run at the front. In that light, 7th is a pretty good result.
The same can not quite be said for Colin Edwards. Though he qualified on the 2nd row, Edwards really lost out on the first lap, dropping 4 places it would prove too difficult to get back. After dropping off the back of the leading group, he was eventually forced to let Capirossi pass and settle for 8th. He may be sure of his contract now, but he won't be happy with his results.
Chris Vermeulen came home in 9th, but had had his hands full with Randy de Puniet for much of the race. The two exchanged positions a number of times, but eventually, the Suzuki man came out on top. Like his team mate, Vermeulen was handicapped by a lack of speed, and 9th was all he could manage.
That left Randy de Puniet in 10th. The Frenchman had been quick in practice, but was unable to capitalize, losing out in the scramble for qualifying. Poor grid position left de Puniet out of the running for a better result.
The Kawasakis finished behind de Puniet, John Hopkins a couple of seconds behind in 11th, Ant West much further back in 12th. Their biggest problem is still the bike, lacking grip at both the front and the rear, the rear tire spinning up in most corners. The problem for Kawasaki is that they won't have a new bike to test until February. Which means they will once again be starting their new test program late, and behind the curve.
Sylvain Guintoli was the first of the satellite Ducati riders home in 13th, pleased to score points in his penultimate appearance before going off to join BSB. It's been a hard year for the Frenchman, and he has proven before that he is better than his results would indicate.
In 14th, Alex de Angelis came home a disappointed man. The weekend had been disastrous all round, and the man from San Marino had struggled from the start. A man with two 4th places to his name must surely be able to do much better than this.
Toni Elias took the final point in 15th after everything had gone wrong for him. The Spaniard had started from the back of the grid after getting caught out by the conditions during qualifying, and he then compounded his error by getting a jump start trying to make good his poor grid position.
But Elias' weekend was not as bad as that of Marco Melandri. Melandri was, as ever, completely invisible this weekend, and finishing outside the points in 16th is typical of his dire form aboard the Ducati. What made it worse was the fact that he was passed by Elias, despite the Spaniard having been penalized with a ride-through for a jump start.
Fortunately for Melandri, Suzuki had entered a wild card for him to finish ahead of. Suzuki's veteran test rider Nobuatsu Aoki brought a development version of the Suzuki GSVR home in 17th place. The new bike, which featured much quieter exhausts, seemed to have more mid-range and more drive out of corners. Now all Suzuki need is a bit more top end, and they could be competitive.
The Long Grind
The weather has been a factor at nearly every race this year, but conditions at Sepang made the Malaysian Grand Prix almost as difficult a race as the hurricane-affected round at Indianapolis. The broiling heat and sweltering humidity drained an injury-stricken field of energy, and robbed the bikes of speed.
It is a miracle that anyone finished at all, and a testament to the fitness of these extraordinary sportsmen that they could compete in the steam room conditions of Malaysia. Though the racetrack has been known to produce racing spectacle, the weather simply would not permit it. The intense heat and humidity were too harsh to allow hard and physical racing, brutally punishing any extended displays of exuberance.
In the end, the race ended up reflecting the weather: A long, grueling war of attrition, where just to remain standing could itself be considered a kind of victory. Despite the racing authorities continued attempts to keep everything under control, Nature is a force unto herself, and when she speaks, we are forced to listen.