MotoGP 2010 Sepang Preview

For both Lorenzo and Elias, the end is in sight

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Sepang round of the 2010 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

As the 2010 MotoGP season approaches its anticlimax, the primary plot lines are all but settled. Repsol Honda’s wounded warrior Dani Pedrosa will not take part in the Sepang race and barring an unlikely collapse by Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, Lorenzo will be crowned king of the premier class this weekend. The same goes for Toni Elias, perched on the cusp of his first ever world championship in the Moto2 class. He leads fellow countryman Julian Simon by an even greater 81 point margin, and should lock up his title easily on Sunday. The jury, however, is still out, and hopelessly deadlocked, in the 125 class, where only one thing is certain: the 2010 champion will be from Spain.

People are still talking about the sensational grudge match between Fiat Yamaha teammates Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi on Sunday in Japan. Rossi has been criticized in a number of corners for having been too aggressive toward Lorenzo. Others, including myself, wonder why Lorenzo, with everything to lose and nothing to gain, allowed himself to be sucked into such a struggle. Rossi, whose competitive juices flow in torrents, was clearly looking for a fight. But Lorenzo, who has shown such maturity and patience all season long, allowed it to become personal. With a 20-some second lead over the fifth place Colin Edwards, he would have been far better off settling for a leisurely fourth.

With Dani Pedrosa ou with an injury, Jorge Lorenzo only needs to finish in the top ten to clinch the 2010 MotoGP World Championship.

Surely, given the history between these two, Rossi can hardly be expected to be heavily invested in Lorenzo’s title quest. Watching them go at it over the last few laps at Motegi, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps Rossi was hoping for a suspension from Lin Jarvis, one that would clear the way to his upcoming nuptials with Team Ducati. Starting with the wall in the garage, and continuing through the epic battles they’ve waged since becoming teammates in 2008, this rivalry has never been friendly. And at this stage of the game, it’s silly to expect it to become so now.

Toni Elias Rules Moto2 – for Now

Meanwhile, at the junior division, Toni Elias has emerged as the best, and only, bet to get promoted to the premier class next year. (Karel Abraham, loitering in 15th place, doesn’t have to worry about a thing, as his Pops bought him a premier class ride for next season. Rich or poor, it’s good to have money.) Last year, four of the 250cc class riders got their tickets punched, with Marco Simoncelli having emerged as the most successful member of that class. Granted, each of the other three rookies had their issues this season. Hiro Aoyama fractured a vertebra and missed several months. Hector Barbera took on the Desmosedici GP10, with predictable results. And poor Alvaro Bautista signed on with Rizla Suzuki and an apprenticeship under Loris Capirossi. With Bautista continuing with Suzuki for one more year, it remains to be seen if his fortunes will improve with a different manufacturer after 2011. My guess is that they will.

Alvaro Bautista knows how tough it is to move up to the premier class.

Of course, in 2012 all bets are off, as a number of new teams will be looking for experienced help in the 1000cc saddle. Thus, next year, assuming Elias’ promotion and Kallio’s demotion, a number of Moto2 riders will be trying to earn premier class credentials, including Spaniard Julian Simon, sitting in second place with 168 points, and Italy’s Andrea Iannone with 147. Thomas Luthi and Simone Corsi also look like contenders. I would have named British teen phenom Scott Redding a dark horse for 2012 had he not just signed a new two year deal with his Marc VDS team.

The 125cc Title is Up for Grabs

I admit to not paying enough attention to the goings on in the 125 class, but even the casual observer can see that the title chase will likely go down to the last week of the season. The three heavyweights in the division are all Spanish – Nicolas Terol, Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro, kid brother of the premier class’ Aleix. With a mere 13 points separating first and third places, this is the kind of competition the other two divisions can only dream of. Two of these guys are on the podium every week, and all three look capable of moving up to Moto2 in a year or two. Given the fact that Aprilia is the dominant manufacturer in the class, along with the observation that success in MotoGP is 80% rider and 20% bike, I’m pulling for Marquez and Espargaro, both on Derbi machines, to come out on top. But what do I know?

Recent Big Bike History in Sepang

I’m sure there’s a very good reason why the Malaysian Grand Prix is always held late in the season; I just don’t know what it is. Although it probably has something to do with the weather; it’s hot and humid in this part of the world in October. In April, it’s hot and humid. Could July or August be worse? Or perhaps outright competition offends their cultural sensibilities, such that they prefer to wait until the championship is already decided to host the round. Whatever.

Last year's Sepang winner Casey Stoner arrives in Malaysia with a two-race winning streak.

Last year Casey Stoner, resurgent after his mid-season malaise, ran away from the field on a wet track, finishing 14 seconds ahead of Dani Pedrosa and 19 ahead of Rossi, who only needed a handful of points to clinch the title. A de-motivated Lorenzo came in fourth. In 2008, it was Rossi’s turn, followed by Pedrosa on the factory Honda and Andrea Dovizioso on a satellite Honda. Stoner fell to sixth that year, while Lorenzo fell off his bike completely, for a DNF.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Colin Edwards hopes to continue the improvement he found in Motegi with another top five finish in Sepang. However, given that his best finish ever in Malaysia was an eighth place result in 2008, the odds are against him. Meanwhile, teammate Ben Spies will be learning a new track again this week; finishing in the top six would be a win for him.

Colin Edwards is coming off his season-best result while Ben Spies makes his first Malaysian Grand Prix.

LCR Honda étoile Randy de Puniet tells he’s rounding into optimum shape following his own broken leg, suffered at the Sachsenring. I suspect this means he will again qualify higher than he finishes. Interwetten Racing’s Hiro Aoyama says he found lots of positives in a 10th place finish at his home crib. This is the definition of “unfettered optimism.” Regardless of how Hiro does, the Interwetten brolly babes reside somewhere between exquisite and breathtaking. Funny how my editor turned down my request to have one stand next to me while I type even before I got around to asking.

The Weekend Forecast for Greater Sepang

The Sepang Circuit is one of the longest tracks on the MotoGP schedule at 3.44 miles.

Look for temps in the upper 80’s, with a 40% chance of rain on both Friday and Sunday. A great forecast, if you happen to be a triple-canopy rain forest. Not so great if you’re trying to do 200 mph on a motorcycle. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking asymmetrical rears, going with the hard option, and hoping the track goes from wet to dry during the race. Watching the riders pit, jump off one bike and on to a second reminds me of the old Pony Express in the wild, wild west.

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