With the storm that was brewing between Movistar Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez earlier in the week, it was nigh inevitable lightning would strike at the Malaysian GP. The two waged an unforgettable battle early in the race before one rider was down and another’s championship hopes were thrown into peril. But first let’s look at the incidents leading up to what has been dubbed the #SepangClash.
Polesetter Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa grabbed the holeshot on the Malaysian circuit, Marquez in tow, Rossi slotting into third. Movistar Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, known for his rocket launch starts, got pinched out by the factory Ducatis of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso and dropped to sixth off the start. It didn’t take long for the Mallorcan rider to attack though, Lorenzo sweeping by both riders on Turn 4 and proceeding to hunt down the leading pack.
We’ve never seen Jorge Lorenzo so happy finishing second. But the Movistar Yamaha rider stayed out of the Sepang drama, running his race and increasing his championship hopes thanks to Race Direction’s penalty on Rossi.
Lorenzo would track down Rossi first, catching him at the end of the straight on Lap 2 to nab him in Turn 1. He proceeded to close the gap on Marquez, Rossi in the chase position. Before Lap 2 was over, the Ducati of fourth-place rider Iannone, who ran such a splendid race at Phillip Island, suffered a mechanical issue and was done for the day.
On Lap 3, Lorenzo passed Marquez effortlessly on Turn 4 when the Honda rider made a mistake on the brakes. Marquez let Lorenzo by without much fight, setting the stage for the #SepangClash as Rossi was now on the back tire of Marquez. Rossi made the first move up Turn 4 to pass the Repsol rider, and while the young Spaniard showed no moxy when Lorenzo blew by, he fought tooth-and-nail to stay on Rossi’s back tire. The two were side-by-side coming out of Turn 15, hitting the straight full gas. Marquez came up the inside and broke late, the back tire sliding out and making Rossi adjust his line slightly going into Turn 1. Rossi would get him back on the next turn and the dogfight was one, the Malaysian crowd erupting.
Marquez passed Rossi on Turn 4, the two almost clipping tires, the duo exchanging passes through the next couple of turns in a battle that was obviously getting personal. Whenever one rider would make a move, the other would counter, the two racing dangerously close. While the two were so wrapped up in the battle between them, Pedrosa and Lorenzo were opening up a sizable gap up front.
The two continued to play cat-and-mouse, Rossi running up the inside on Turn 10 of the sixth lap, Marquez quick to respond on the outside a couple turns later, literally rubbing Rossi as he went by. Rossi did not take kindly to this, and as Marquez’s momentum ran him out wide, Rossi came up underneath him with a glance back at the young Spaniard as he slowed and pushed Marquez out wider. As Rossi took a second glance back, Marquez clipped him and went down, Rossi’s foot coming off the peg as he almost went down as well. The Repsol Honda rider would remount and roll into the pits but would not return to the race. The rest of the race was run with speculation running rampant on what decision Race Direction would make about the incident.
All the drama between Rossi and Marquez overshadowed the fact that Pedrosa ran a flawless race to take the wire-to-wire win, his second victory in the last three races. Lorenzo pursued the Repsol Honda rider but never threatened, the Movistar Yamaha rider taking second place 3.6-seconds off the pace. Rossi would ride the rest of the race solitarily in third to grab the final spot on the podium.
Three riders clashed for the fourth and fifth spots, as Dovizioso and his Ducati diced with the LCR Honda of Cal Crutchlow and the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha of Bradley Smith. With ten laps to go, Dovizioso crashed in Turn 6 when it looked like a little incidental contact between him and Crutchlow took the Italian rider down. Crutchlow and Smith would then wage a war for English bragging rights, the two swapping positions several times for the fourth and fifth slots. Smith would ultimately get the upper hand, capturing fourth place with his efforts, Crutchlow crossing the line in fifth.
Octo Pramac Racing’s Danilo Petrucci had his best results of the year in a dry race, riding to a sixth-place finish. Team Ecstar Suzuki teammates Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales had a strong outing as well, the two vying for the next two slots in the top ten, Espargaro getting the edge at the line to grab seventh place. Vinales would finish a few seconds ahead of Pol Espargaro, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider placing ninth. Stefan Bradl would grab the final spot in the top ten aboard his Aprilia.
With the outcome of the 2015 MotoGP world championship in the balance, Rossi and Marquez stated their cases post-race. After all was said and done, Race Direction hit Rossi with three penalty points, bringing his total to four, which means he’ll have to start the final race of the year in Valencia from the back of the grid. Rossi still leads the championship by seven points over Lorenzo, but his chances of holding on to that lead were dealt a serious blow thanks to the altercation with Marquez.
MotoGP.com reports Race Direction’s decision below as told by MotoGP Race Director Mike Webb.
What was Race Direction’s decision and view on the incident?
“The decision is that Race Direction has imposed three penalty points on Valentino Rossi for irresponsible riding, that is, deliberately causing contact. Deliberately running wide in a corner in order to try and force another rider off line. The result was a crash and so it’s irresponsible riding causing a crash and for that we have imposed three penalty points on Rossi.
“It looked like we were going to have a great race, but unfortunately it ended in an incident that’s controversial. I have to say that the Movistar Yamaha team have appealed against Race Direction’s decision, so now that appeal will be heard by FIM stewards.”
Movistar Yamaha’s appeal has been denied.
2015 MotoGP Sepang Results
1. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
2. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
3. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
4. Bradley Smith (Yamaha)
5. Cal Crutchlow (Honda)
6. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati)
7. Aleix Espargaro (Suzuki)
8. Maverick Vinales (Suzuki)
9. Pol Espargaro (Yamaha)
10. Stefan Bradl (Aprilia)
11. Scott Redding (Honda)
12. Yonny Hernandez (Ducati)
13. Hector Barbera (Ducati)
14. Toni Elias (Yamaha)
15. Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia)
16. Nicky Hayden (Honda)
17. Jack Miller (Honda)
18. Mike Di Meglio (Ducati)
19. Eugene Laverty (Honda)
20. Anthony West (Honda)