Casey Stoner celebrated his 26th birthday by winning the 2011 MotoGP World Championship in front of a home crowd at Phillip Island. Stoner and Honda have been dominant this year, winning the Rider’s and Constructors titles with two races yet to go.
won championships with two different manufacturers (Giacomo Agostini, Valentino Rossi, Eddie Lawson and Geoff Duke are the other four). With little at stake this weekend, the MotoGP paddock heads to Malaysia as the 2011 season draws to a close. Sepang, the widest track on the MotoGP circuit, awaits with its brutal humidity and high asphalt temps due to Malaysia’s tropical climate and maintaining grip will be more important than ever this weekend.
“After clinching the title in the last race at Phillip Island we go to Malaysia with a lot less pressure and we can just look forward to the race. It’s disappointing to hear that Jorge (Lorenzo) is unlikely to be there. We had hoped that his recovery from the operation would mean he could race there, but we’ll miss him there again,” Stoner said.
Speaking of the recently dethroned 2010 MotoGP champion, Yamaha YZR-M1 test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga will ride for Lorenzo this weekend. The Mallorcan rider busted up the ring finger on his left hand during Sunday’s morning warm-up session in Australia and ended up missing that race, too. Lorenzo is still recovering from surgery at his home in Barcelona.
Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa missed last year’s race because of injury, but has been the bridesmaid at Sepang a couple of times, finishing second in 2008 and 2009. Pedrosa is in a heated battle with Repsol Honda teammate Andrea Dovizioso for third place in the Championship standings with Dovi holding a four-point advantage. Dovizioso doesn’t have to be complacent with third place either as he still has an outside chance of overtaking Lorenzo for second in the point standings.
Yamaha’s other factory rider, Ben Spies, should be back in the saddle after missing the race in Australia due to a nasty knock to the head suffered during a crash in qualifying. With two races remaining, Spies is pretty much guaranteed fifth place in the final standings as long as he can hold off one of the hottest riders in GP right now, Marco Simoncelli.
‘Super Sic’ had his best MotoGP outing in the last race when he finished second at Phillip Island. Simoncelli now heads to Malaysia hungry to win his first MotoGP race.
“Super Sic” is coming off a MotoGP career-best second place finish in Australia and is finally racing without the same mental mistakes which cost him earlier in the year. Simoncelli used a pass on the last lap to secure second at Phillip Island and is hungry to get that elusive first-ever MotoGP victory under his belt. Simoncelli looked strong at Sepang during winter testing, so the potential is there. If Simoncelli runs a smart race there’s no reason why we shouldn’t see him on the podium again this weekend.
“I am sure I can do a good job this weekend. There is no reason why we can’t be fighting for the podium, the top step would be even better of course, and that’s what we will be striving for in the Malaysian Grand Prix,” Simoncelli said.
As far as the Ducati factory team goes, they’re ready for a disappointing 2011 campaign to be in the books. The “Dream Team” of seven-time GP winner Valentino Rossi and the Italian marque failed to materialize. Instead, it’s been a season of attrition as the team gambled on just about every setting in the books, including running a bike dubbed GP11.1 which featured a new gearbox, suspension system, swingarm and a modified 1000cc engine. Rossi has uncharacteristically crashed and has failed to finish races this season. Nicky Hayden hasn’t fared much better, an observation supported by the fact that he and Rossi are separated by seven points in the Championship point standings. Hayden has never podiumed at Sepang, a fact that does not bode well for Ducati’s fortunes this weekend.
The Yamaha Tech 3 squad of Colin Edwards and Cal Crutchlow are well-versed on the demands of the Malaysian course after two winter tests there. Now that money’s on the table, maybe their past experiences will come into play this weekend. Edwards is still pumped up after finishing fifth in the last round at Phillip Island while Crutchlow is eager to make amends after crashing out in Australia.
The Hopper gets another crack at MotoGP this weekend as a wild card entry for Rizla Suzuki. John Hopkins has set his goals on a permanent return to the premier motorcycle road racing series, and if he could put in a strong showing this weekend, teamed with his second place finish in British Superbike, he may well be headed back.
John Hopkins, fresh off a second place finish in British Superbike, will be a wild card rider for Rizla Suzuki this weekend. This will be Hopkins third time competing in MotoGP this season. He subbed for Alvaro Bautista earlier in the year at the Spanish GP and ran as a wild card for Rizla at Brno.
“I am really pumped to get this chance to ride in a MotoGP race with the Rizla Suzuki team,” Hopkins said. “I thought after Brno that I wouldn’t get the opportunity again and was really disappointed that I missed out there due to a silly mistake, so to be heading to Sepang is fantastic.”
The fate of Suzuki’s MotoGP efforts remains to speculation. MCN is reporting a decision as to whether Suzuki will remain in MotoGP is expected this weekend.
Pramac Racing’s Randy De Puniet and Loris Capirossi head to Malaysia after a positive showing in Australia. Capirossi, who finished ninth at Phillip Island, says Sepang is one of his favorite tracks while De Puniet admitted he doesn’t care much for the circuit but is eager to race again after finishing sixth at PI.