The Fiat Yamaha
team will be on a quest this weekend in Malaysia during the penultimate round of MotoGP. Valentino Rossi
will look to secure his seventh world championship title, while teammate/rival Jorge Lorenzo seeks redemption after his crash in Phillip Island. But the plans of both riders may be threatened by the return of a faster and fitter Casey Stoner
aboard his Ducati Marlboro Desmosedici.
Valentino Rossi (46) has a 38-point lead over teammate and rival Jorge Lorenzo and he can win the title by keeping a buffer of 25 points over the Mallorcan after Sepang.
Rossi is quite familiar with the Sepang circuit having ridden its 3.45 miles since 1996 in the 125cc class. In the premier MotoGP
class, The Doctor has topped the podium at Sepang five times and finished off the steps only twice. If Rossi captures the title this weekend, he will be one step closer to his goal of tying Giacomo Agostini for the record of eight premier class titles.
After a difficult weekend at Phillip Island, Lorenzo will be looking to get back on target. The Mallorcan's goal was to secure second-place in the championship but the dream was lost amidst a gravel trap during Lap 1 after he collided with Nicky Hayden. Gorgeous George will redouble his efforts at Malaysia, "We don't think about the championship now; my target is to confirm the second place in the championship and, in just my second season in MotoGP, I think that this is a great achievement and I will be happy if I can do it."
With high heat and heavy humidity, Casey Stoner may face the ultimate test of his physical condition.
During his previous visits to Sepang, Stoner grabbed the top-spot and set the circuit record in 2007. However, with temperatures and humidty expected to be high on Sunday, the Australian fears some physical setbacks in the sweltering conditions. “In the past I used to like racing in the heat but last year in Malaysia I was racing with a wrist injury and I’ve had the physical problems everybody knows about so I suppose it’s a combination of factors that I have suffered with in recent hot races. It will definitely be a tough race as being fast and consistent in those conditions is always difficult regardless," said Stoner.
Dani Pedrosa is determined to regain third-place in the championship points' race and will be chasing a podium finish for his Repsol Honda team. The Spaniard has graced the rostrum every year at the Sepang circuit since his rookie MotoGP season in 2006. Pedrosa teammate Andrea Dovizioso's clash for title status is in the form of Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Colin Edwards - the Italian holding a seven-point lead over the American heading into Malaysia.
Sitting at 101 points apiece are San Carlo Gresini Honda
's Alex De Angelis, fellow Honda rider Randy De Puniet and Rizla Suzuki
's Loris Capirossi, all three vying for seventh in the points with Hayate Kawasaki's Marco Melandri just a single point adrift of the triad. With two races remaining, the valuable positions at Sepang will go a long way in determining the top-10 pecking order at season's end.
Valentino Rossi - Fiat Yamaha:
Jorge Lorenzo will have to remain focused on his second-place championship goal if he is to retain his lead over Casey Stoner until the end of the season.
"Phillip Island was like gold dust for us in terms of points and now we go to Malaysia, another of my favourite tracks, with our first ‘match point'. Of course anything can happen but it's a great track for me and generally the Yamaha works well there so we have a good chance. We worked brilliantly in Australia and we know that if we can do the same at Sepang then we can have another good weekend. There is no chance to relax - everyone is focused, motivated and excited now that we are at this stage and our number one target for the weekend is to try to close out the championship. We will do our best and see where we are on Sunday night."
Jorge Lorenzo - Fiat Yamaha:
"After the disappointment in Australia I am glad to have the chance to be back on the bike so soon. I am not hurt and I will be in good shape to race. I like Sepang a lot, I know it well from testing and I have some great memories, especially in 2007 when I took the 250 title there. This time my team and I will just be focused on having a good weekend and getting as many points as we can in order to achieve our target."
Casey Stoner - Ducati Marlboro:
"At Phillip Island things went so well from a physical point of view that I feel reasonably confident. It is not easy to find the perfect set-up here but that’s always been the case and with every day that passes I feel stronger and more confident that I can be competitive in both of the two races that remain. The track has become a little… boring for me I suppose you could say – just because we have done so many laps here in testing – but the races are usually fun and I like the place. It has a kind of holiday feel to it and it puts you in a good mood.”
Loris Capirossi - Rizla Suzuki:
Looking for a strong finish at Sepang and a return to the third-place spot in the championship is Dani Pedrosa aboard his Repsol Honda RC212V.
"Sepang is a good track for the bike and for me because we did a very good winter test there and we are very optimistic about going there. The bike is very different now to the one we tested back then, but we want to try to go well - like we did in the winter - and I really believe we can push hard for a good result."
Nicky Hayden - Ducati Marlboro:
“I wouldn’t say that Malaysia is one of my favourite circuits and it’s almost as if I’ve got ownership on fourth place there because I finished in that position five times out of six! Having said that if I were to manage fourth place this year I’d probably be more than happy. We’ve arrived here on the back of a disappointing weekend in terms of what might have been but that’s over now and we have to look forward. I’m expecting the usual heat – having suffered from the cold in Australia it will be the opposite here – but it will be interesting to get back on track at a place we have tested at. Sepang is one of the circuits where I have ridden the bike the most, back in January, and we have made a lot of progress since then. Fortunately I’m faster now so it will be interesting to see where we’re at.”
Chris Vermeulen - Rizla Suzuki:
"I'm looking forward to getting to Sepang and putting last weekend behind us. It's a circuit we all know very well because we do a lot of testing there. It's going to be very hot and humid - a lot different to Phillip Island - and the GSV-R has performed well there in the past so that's what we'll be looking to aim for. We have a good base setting so hopefully it will work out for us and we can be competitive from the start."