MotoGP: 2009 Sepang Results

Stoner wins the battle, but Rossi wins the war

The 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix had a little something for everyone. Jorge Lorenzo, qualifying second, starting 18th and finishing fourth. Casey Stoner, looking like he did in 2007 and running away from the field. Dani Pedrosa, finishing on the podium yet again, looking disgusted and hydrophobic at his inability to win a race. Randy de Puniet, resembling a gymnastic rag doll, flying through the air after his dramatic early high side. And, of course, Valentino Rossi, whose poor start dispelled any thoughts of winning the race, settling into a nice, safe, comfortable, world championship-clinching third place finish.

As amazing as MotoGP is on dry pavement, it is even MORE amazing in the wet. Today’s track was very wet, with standing water in some of the turns, after a pre-race downpour delayed things for a half hour. The bikes seem to defy the laws of physics in the turns; I find myself holding my breath watching these races. At Sepang the riders flying down the straights were throwing up rooster tails reminiscent of Miss Budweiser and the unlimited hydroplanes.

Wet track conditions at Sepang made things interesting.

Lorenzo, having conceded the 2009 title to Fiat Yamaha teammate and archrival Rossi, apparently left the keys to his bike at his hotel, which made him late arriving at the grid. Such disrespect infuriates Europeans, and accordingly the Powers that Be ruled that Lorenzo would have to suffer the ultimate indignity, starting behind Gabor Talmacsi in the 18 hole. Fueled by anger and machismo, Lorenzo tore through the field and by Lap 2 was sitting in eighth place. He actually led Rossi until Lap 8, but it was not going to be Jorge’s day.

Stoner had been quick all weekend, but qualified in fouth place. As he did last week at Phillip Island, he got off to a good start, found his comfort zone early, took the lead on Lap 1 and never looked back. Granted, Sepang, like Qatar, is a Ducati-friendly layout, long, straight and wide. Regardless, Stoner is clearly back from his illness, looking strong, fast and relaxed. He will look back upon 2009 as a lost year, but must be licking his chops in anticipation of 2010.

With his third-place finish, Valentino Rossi captured his ninth World Championship. And yes, that is a chicken on his helmet.

The Repsol Honda guys, Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, spent a good part of the day locked up in a battle for second place. Dovizioso, who had started 11th, made it as high as third place and was breathing down Pedrosa’s neck when he lost the rear end in a fast lefthander and went lowside on Lap 15. His loss was Rossi’s gain, as Valentino moved up from fourth to third upon his exit and secured a place on the podium. The announcers on the video feed expressed some surprise that Rossi would not try to win the race that gave him the title. Personally, I was glad to see Rossi show some semblance of an instinct for self-preservation today. He apparently decided that his lone goal for the day was to finish ahead of Lorenzo, guaranteeing himself the 2009 title. One day, however, I’d like someone to explain his whole post-race “chicken” thing to me.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Nicky Hayden started seventh, finished fifth and showed a few glimpses of the Hayden we had looked forward to seeing all year … The mudders had fine days today. Chris Vermeulen started 14th and finished sixth while Marco Melandri started 15th and ended up in eighth … Toni Elias continued his lobbying effort for a 2010 ride, starting sixth and finishing seventh. Meanwhile, his Gresini Honda teammate Alex de Angelis mailed it in this weekend, qualifying 10th and finishing 12th.

James Toseland’s nose must be out of joint over the whole Ben Spies thing, especially when the man he’ll swap bikes with next year just won the World Superbike Championship. Round 16 found Toseland qualifying 16th and finishing 15th. He might have finished worse than 15th had there been any other bikes still on the track at the end … Toseland’s teammate Colin Edwards was MIA all weekend, qualifying ninth and finishing 13th. Not a memorable round for the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team

James Toseland did a good job keeping Ben Spies' seat warm.

Designated Reserve Stud Aleix Espargaro had another good outing, qualifying 13th and finishing 11th. In a blatant overstatement, the announcers said young Aleix was going to be a factor in next year’s championship battle. That would be a factor comparable to the factor Nicky Hayden was this year, or not a factor at all, actually … Gabe Talmacsi scored points again in what is likely to be his next-to-last race in the premier class of MotoGP. If de Angelis or Elias can come up with some sponsorship bucks, there’s no reason the Scot team would want Talmacsi pedaling around in last place again all next year, especially since Alex and Toni are both Honda guys.

Snatching a Glance at 2010

With the anticlimactic Valencia round two weeks away, Dorna and MotoGP have a little time to dream up some story lines that will capture people’s attention (they’re already printing the “Champion vs. Champion” banner for Rossi and Spies.) We’ll leave that noise unattended for now, and instead sneak a quick look at how 2010 looks to be shaping up; the first race of the year is only six months away.

A healthy Casey Stoner may be the biggest obstacle in Valentino Rossi's quest for title number 10.

Three of the four factory teams appear good to go. Fiat Yamaha will again be favored, with Rossi late in his prime, Lorenzo early in his, and the YZR-M1 the most ride-able bike on the tour. The Ducati Marlboro team looks ready to challenge again next year, as Stoner has been in a class by himself since returning from his sabbatical a month ago. Expect Nicky Hayden to improve his performance from this past season; whether he improves enough to keep his ride in 2011 is problematic. Repsol Honda has two strong young studs in Pedrosa and Dovizioso and a bike that performs well when the settings are perfect.

Rizla Suzuki, on the other hand, is a troubled enterprise. Rumor has Suzuki questioning their corporate commitment to MotoGP. The bike itself is underpowered, despite at least one new engine this year. The lead rider, Loris Capirossi, is well past his prime, and will turn 37 before Qatar. Alvaro Bautista, despite being hellified on the 250, is likely to experience a difficult rookie season. 2010 may end up being Suzuki’s last season in MotoGP.

Loris Capirossi may have found the solution to Suzuki's engine woes.

The satellite teams will be a mixed bag. The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team featuring Americans Colin Edwards and Ben Spies is likely to increase interest in the sport in the U.S., which would be a good thing. Expect Spies to be the lead rider on that team by year’s end.

Pramac Ducati looks to improve with Mika Kallio and Aleix Espargaro aboard. San Carlo Gresini Honda will feature Marco Melandri and Marco Simoncelli, the Dueling Marcos, but may not fare any better than they did this year with de Angelis and Elias.

The single bike teams probably won’t be much of a factor in 2010, the same way they weren’t much of a factor this year. Of these, the second most interesting is Daniel Epps’ new Honda team with current 250cc GP points leader Hiroshi Aoyama aboard. I must admit to a certain fascination with the FB Corse Engineering effort too (the latest rumors have John Hopkins linked to the team. If the California native lands with FB Corse let’s hope he’ll leave his horrible luck behind.)

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