Movistar Yamaha teammates and rivals Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo have taught us a few things about themselves as this riveting 2015 MotoGP season blazes into The Pacific Rim for Round 17 at Sepang International Circuit. Rossi prefers rain, short, pudgy tracks where he can record lots of qualifying laps, and applying pressure from the rear, as it were, on race day. Lorenzo likes things bone dry, prefers longer tracks to shorter ones, and strongly prefers running from the front, as roughly half of his premier class wins have come in races in which he’s led every lap. Conditions here on race day are a pure lottery; the race could as easily be decided on Saturday as Sunday.

Assuming the weather conditions don’t interfere, Lorenzo would appear to have an advantage over Rossi on Saturday, as Rossi’s qualification maladies continue to hurt him, more so at long circuits like Sepang. The Malaysian track had been dominated by Yamaha and Ducati for most of the ten years leading up to 2011. Since 2012, however, Hondas have captured the checkered flag here every year, and look fully capable of doing so again this year. The Honda RC213-V likes a racing surface that is hot, slick and greasy, kind of a young-John-Travolta racing surface, if you will. The problem for the non-Italians on the grid is the afternoon rainstorms that pop up most days – Rossi, Dovizioso and Petrucci are all mudders.

The pressure is on Jorge Lorenzo to make up ground on Valentino Rossi.

Once again, we believe Lorenzo is under more pressure than Rossi. Lorenzo not only needs to beat Marc Marquez, he needs to beat Rossi and hope Marquez beats Rossi too, in order to have a realistic crack at the title in Spain come November. Rossi needs to podium and not worry too much about anything else. If he’s feeling reverent, he can pray that Marquez and Lorenzo take each other apart, leaving the door open for him to win and clinch. But unlike in years past, God’s Bishop of Rome is now Hispanic, taking away the spiritual home court advantage enjoyed by Italians like Rossi for decades.

Conceivably, God could be pulling for Lorenzo this time around.

Recent History at Sepang

Rain was a major factor in the 2012 race. The risk of inclement weather will again be a wildcard this year.

In 2012 it rained pitchforks and hammer handles on Sunday, with 30% of the 20 bikes that started the race failing to make it to the red flag that fell at the end of the 13th lap. Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, on a futile hot streak, with no real way of catching Lorenzo for the year, managed another win, followed by Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and ol’ Nicky Hayden, who drove his Ducati to a solid fourth place finish. Rossi, enduring the second year of his perdition with Ducati, wrestled his Desmosedici to a “just okay” fifth place, not what The Doctor had been used to for most of the previous decade. (Pedrosa would crash out the following week at Phillip Island, effectively handing the title to his Mallorcan rival.)

Pedrosa won again in 2013, beating Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi to the flag as the factory Hondas handed it to the factory Yamahas. Pedrosa, you will recall, had been clipped by Marquez at Aragon two weeks earlier, crashing out shortly thereafter. This week Pedrosa was not having it, going through on Marquez on Lap 5 and never looking back. Marquez, the 2013 title within easy reach, stayed out of trouble all day, and there was little left for Lorenzo other than beating Rossi. Marquez would earn a DQ the following week in Australia, postponing his coronation as the boy king of MotoGP until Valencia. Lorenzo, sore about being denied his third title by Marquez, went off on him at the Thursday press conference, accusing him of dangerous tactics and Dorna Race Direction of collusion.

Despite his victory in last year’s race, Marc Marquez has just two wins and three podium finishes in seven seasons in Malaysia across all GP classes, good numbers for anyone but him.

Last year Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez. The samurai celebration at Motegi the previous week, when Marquez clinched the title, gave this race a vaguely artificial feeling. Nonetheless, the grid was taking it seriously, enough so that eight riders failed to complete the race. Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year. LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl would finish fourth, coming close once again to a second premier class podium, to go along with his second place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.

Rossi’s Challenge: Qualify on the Front Row

The other S was taking a poorly-timed bathroom break when the photographer spotted his friends.

As one of the longest circuits on the calendar, Sepang brings its own special set of problems to the riders during Saturday’s qualifying sessions. The amount of time it takes to turn a lap means the riders can only manage two qualifying runs, rather than the three they often attempt at shorter tracks. Rossi, for all his gifts and extraordinary skills, has yet to master the 15 minute qualifying format. Which is why we suggest Sunday’s race, even the 2015 title, could be decided on Saturday.

If Lorenzo and Marquez qualify up front and Rossi gives us another of his 8th place starts, we’re pretty much assured of a shootout at Valencia in two weeks. If qualifying produces results like this, AND the rain stays away for the race, it is not beyond comprehension to suggest that Lorenzo could lead the way heading back to Spain.

Much has changed since Valentino Rossi last won in Sepang back in 2010.

Rossi’s history here is deceptively, well, deceptive. Although he’s enjoyed six premier class wins here since 2000, the most recent came back in 2010. Perhaps it’s fair to say he USED to be brilliant here. Recently, not so much. But Lorenzo’s history is even worse – not a single win at Sepang in the premier class since 2008. And although he finds his way to the podium most years, he absolutely needs to win on Sunday, or hope for a mistake by Rossi. A third place finish behind Rossi this week would render Valencia moot, as Rossi, needing only to finish, say, in the top seven, could accomplish that with his eyes closed.

Lorenzo needs to make it happen on Saturday and again on Sunday. This is a track he should own, and a race in which he needs to assert his will on the field as he’s done many times before. If it rains, it will simply be that much more difficult. This is not the time of the season when double world champions go around making excuses. They either get done what needs to be done, or they don’t. These are defining moments in one’s career; it will be fascinating to see how both Lorenzo and Rossi approach their work on Sunday. The subplot, of course, will involve the likes of Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone, who have what it takes to make life even more difficult for the two Yamaha studs.

Hopefully the wildlife won’t be a factor in this week’s race.

We have secured a copy of the American release of Hitting the Apex, and I’ll be reviewing the film here before Round 18. If the trailer is any indication, Hitting the Apex, which follows MotoGP from 2007 to 2013, will be another classic racing film from director Mark Neale, who also brought us the Faster and Fastest Grand Prix documentaries.

  • Old MOron

    Nice preview, Brucey.

    “This is not the time of the season when double world champions go around making excuses.”

    Very well stated. Looking forward to another great race this weekend.

  • Y.A.

    Good analysis with the track length. Something to analyze. I think PI is one of, if not the shortest track in the championship, and Rossi qualified badly there too. He may just not have had the pace.

  • Bruce Allen

    Kinda weird to think that the championship race could actually end this weekend. We’re all standing around waiting for an epic Valencia finale, and Lorenzo rides over a monkey or something and the season’s over. Lest we forget, life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.

    • Vrooom

      Could be a seagull, those things have pretty well populated the entire earth.

  • JMDonald

    I can’t say anything about this race that hasn’t been said. The time is now gentlemen.

  • spiff

    Go Rossi!!! End transmission.

    • spiff

      I’m f#@king serious Rossi! You hear me!?

      • Bruce Allen

        His head is too full of Marquez to make out what you’re saying. I think you need to use all caps–that might help. Surprising, too, that even with Marquez on the mind he would actually come out in a presser and talk about it. No stiff upper lip amongst those hotblooded Latin types.

        • Gruf Rude

          Have to suspect that Rossi is trying to ‘game’ Marquez into a mistake. Marquez has grown up managing tires and seems to do it better than anyone else. I believe him when he says his earlier attempt to ‘push’ was over-heating his front tire and he simply was not going to get away from Rossi and Iannone at that point in the race. He waited and threw everything he had into one last lap and at that point, no one else had enough tire to match him.

        • DKing

          I thought that seemed a little out of character for Rossi. I’d expect that sort of thing from Lorenzo. I don’t know..maybe they have more going on behind the scenes than we can tell. I’d have to say it definitely looks like Rossi is feeling a little pressure now.

        • spiff

          Noted, what does a capital # and @ look like?

          • Ozzy Mick

            #
            @

          • Ozzy Mick

            Sorry, I blew it! I had enlarged the # and @ but they shrank to normal size when I jit Post.

          • spiff

            Thought you were just giving me the obvious. :)

          • Ozzy Mick

            To use the Aussie vernacular: No worries mate, she’s right!

        • spiff

          GO ROSSI!!! I’M F#@KING SERIOUS ROSSI! YOU HEAR ME!?…End transmission.

          • Bruce Allen

            Much better. He should win by 15 seconds on Sunday.

          • spiff

            Lol

  • Vrooom

    Looking forward to Hitting the Apex! Faster and it’s successors are fantastic films. If it rains Lorenzo is toast. He’s not going to suddenly figure out how to be fast in the rain, but he might crash trying. If it’s dry, Rossi better qualify well. I’m praying for some rain! I’m thinking Iannone could be a spoiler either way, he’s just been outstanding emerging from Dovi’s shadow.

  • Old MOron

    So at the end of the first day, Jorge is in 1st and Valentino is in 8th. But perhaps it’s not that bad. Have a look at the lap times. http://resources.motogp.com/files/results/2015/MAL/MotoGP/FP2/Analysis.pdf

    Based on Jorge’s first two outings and on Vale’s second run, it looks like they have a very similar race pace. Everyone ahead of Valentino had a fast run in the final outing. Seems like they put on a fresh tire and went for a fast time, but Valentino did not.

    I’m so hoping for another barnstormer.

    • Old MOron

      Well, I was wrong about Valentino’s last run. He did put on the softer tire, like everyone else, but it didn’t work for him.

      Valentino Rossi: “This morning we had a good pace and in the afternoon we worked well until the last time we exited the box. We used a hard tyre to get an understanding of our capabilities, but unfortunately we didn‘t finish our work, because when we put on the softer tyre I had some problems with chatter and was not able to understand my potential. We will have to wait for tomorrow morning to also see what our level is with the medium tyres. It‘s too early to say if this will affect qualifying. The most important thing tomorrow will be to understand if it was the bike or the tyre that created too much vibration, but we still have another set of tyres, so we can manage.”

      I know you guys can find this stuff as well as I can, but I like putting it here to emphasize my own errors 😛

  • Bruce Allen

    Getting a little chippy in Malaysia these days. A very subtle war of words. First Rossi, then Marquez, now Lorenzo cluck clucking. I’d love to hear this in the original Italian and Spanish, if I only spoke either. They’re all feeling the pressure, the Bruise Brothers not wanting to make an expensive mistake, Marquez not wanting to be hooted for taking down either rider. Iannone, it seems, is The Honey Badger. Honey Badger don’t give a $hit.

    • Old MOron

      Oh boy, I’ll check out the vids on motogp.com when I get home.
      Go, Honey Badger!

      What an awesome weekend this is going to be. Moto GP at Sepang by night, Rugby World Cup semi finals by day. Fooking awesome!

      • Ozzy Mick

        Who’s your winning pick? 1. Head says Pedrosa, heart says Vale. 2. All Blacks and Wannabes – I’m not biased.

        • Old MOron

          It’s kind of funny. France fell apart against the All Blacks, so the All Blacks looked like World Conquerors. Ireland didn’t have its best match against the Argies, so the Pumas looked fantastic. The poor Wallabies sure had more trouble from the Scots than I was expecting. But now that they’ve had their bad game, they should bounce back.

          I hope you’re right about All Blacks and Wallabies in the final. How cool that the land down under should dominate the rest of the world.

          As for Moto GP, the heart says Vale. The head doesn’t make a decision until it sees the results of FP4 and Q2 in a couple of hours :-)

          • Bruce Allen

            “How cool that the land down under should dominate the rest of the world.” Yeah. In rugby. But they’re just also-rans in the equally popular caber toss. 😀

          • Ozzy Mick

            Well, here’s hoping…BTW, Australia is Down Under, NZ is the Land of the Long White Cloud (and home to several great racers both on 2 and 4 wheels, I might add). But that’s OK, we refer to NZ as our Eastern State. They just talk funny – a bit like you lot :)

          • Ozzy Mick

            We’d be world champs in caber tossing if we wanted to, except the men wear skirts – you wouldn’t find a fair dinkum Aussie macho male wearing a skirt! That’s why we could not bear the thought of losing to Scotland in the RWC!

          • Ozzy Mick

            Well, here’s hoping…BTW, Australia is Down Under, NZ is the Land of the Long White Cloud (and home to several great racers both on 2 and 4 wheels, I might add). But that’s OK, we refer to NZ as our Eastern State. They just talk funny – a bit like you lot :)

          • Old MOron

            Long White Cloud? Thanks, good to know. Just one thing: only we yanks get the affectionate name “sepo,” right? :-)

          • Ozzy Mick

            Cultural lesson coming up. Name is from Maori “Aotearoa” – pronounced A-o-te-a-ro-a, I think. “Sepo”, not sure. May be a shortening of “septic”, as in septic tanks, “tanks” rhyming with “yanks”, from the cockney trait of using rhyming words to mean something else. Another example: After a rest break during a long ride, we often say,”Let’s hit the frog and toad.” Meaning? You have a guess.
            Re the RWC – one down, one to go, then the BIG ONE!
            I haven’t caught up on the motogp – who are the top 5 qualifiers?

          • Old MOron

            Just watched the kick off, and the first try. Heh, good start for the Wallabies.

    • Ozzy Mick

      On the cluck clucking note, are Rossi and Lorenzo on ‘good’ terms a la breaking down the pit wall?

      • Bruce Allen

        Better than Rossi and Marquez, anyway.

  • Bruce Allen

    Let’s presume for a moment that Rossi, being closer to the action than we are, is actually pissed at Marquez for what he perceives as MM helping 99 and making things difficult for 46. What if it were true, the reason being Marquez envisions himself and Lorenzo as potential teammates on the M1 starting in 2017?

    • spiff

      I’d say you’re either holding a crystal ball, or a couple of hits of acid. Would MM leave Honda? On the topic of MM pacing the race. Others are looking at the math and agreeing with Rossi. What does this say about MM? What a great rider.

      • Bruce Allen

        The walls in my kitchen appear to be melting, if that’s any clue. I read somewhere recently that Yamaha and Marquez may approach one another after next season, presuming Rossi calls it a career this year or next. The Yamaha seems much easier to ride, in which case Marquez could actually be more formidable in blue.

    • Old MOron

      I have no idea whether MM is trying to help J-Lo. But if he is, trying to ingratiate himself with a teammate two years ahead of time seems like an unlikely reason.

      On the other hand, Vale’s logic is more plausible. If MM is looking ahead and hoping to take over as the GOAT, denying Vale a 10th title is efficacios.

      • Gruf Rude

        Not plausible at all. Looking ahead 9 or 10 years to some mythical standing as GOAT and deciding now that MM needs to deny VR a 10th title could only make sense in VR’s fevered focus on his own reputation.

        • Old MOron

          I don’t pretend to know what anyone is thinking. I’m just saying that “if” MM has been trying to foil VR, then VR’s explanation has some plausibility.

          If you want to succeed Valentino as the GOAT, you have to win more championships than he did. It’s easier to surpass nine championships than ten. So if MM wants to be the GOAT, he has to deny VR now.