MotoGP: 2009 Sepang Preview

Rossi in charge as the end comes into sight

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Sepang round of the 2009 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

It’s Round 16 of the 2009 MotoGP championship season this weekend, and everything’s coming up roses for Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi. The arithmetic is working for him, the circuit is one of his favorites, and Casey Stoner, his most fearsome rival at this point, is battling Dani Pedrosa for third place.

A battered and bruised Jorge Lorenzo has basically thrown in the towel, talking to the media about “consolidation”, whatever that is. (Perhaps he meant consolation?) The rain in the weekend’s forecast looks to be the only variable outside Rossi’s control. And the number crunchers have spoken – a top four finish this week and he’s clinched the 2009 title.

Here are the standings in what I’ll call Division I of the MotoGP premier class:

MotoGP Standings (after 15 rounds)
Pos. Rider Team Points
1st Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha 270
2nd Jorge Lorenzo Fiat Yamaha 232
3rd Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro 195
4th Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 189
5th Andrea Dovizioso Repsol Honda 152
6th Colin Edwards Monster Yamaha Tech 3 145

Sure, the main event has been decided – Rossi wins, and Lorenzo finishes second in his sophomore season on the tour. Nothing to be ashamed of. Hidden in the standings are several other cute little match-ups that kind of remind me of the dwarfburgers being jocked by Burger King – you need a lot of them to feel like you’ve had a real meal.

Valentino Rossi can capture his ninth World Championship with a top four finish at Sepang.

Behind Rossi and Lorenzo sit Stoner and Pedrosa, separated by a mere six points. Stoner, on the strength of his win last week in Australia, vaulted past Pedrosa into third place, a move that has to grind the hypercompetitive Spaniard. Lately Pedrosa has been running two or three very hot laps each week, and fading from then on.We wouldn't mind "consoli-dating" her, Jorge. If he wants the third spot for the 2009 season he’s going to have to get more from his RC212V than three fast laps on Sunday.

Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso and Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards square off again this week in the battle for fifth place. With seven points between them, Edwards is going to have to blow Dovizioso away at least once in the next two rounds to pass him in the standings. With Stoner back and looking strong, it seems unlikely that Edwards will earn another podium to go along with his second place finish earlier in the season at Donington. It should also be noted that, while Edwards had his best finish of the year in the UK, the race that day was won by Dovizioso who, it seems, has Edwards’ number.

Recent History at Sepang

Last year Rossi won easily after having clinched the championship several rounds earlier. Pedrosa and Dovizioso joined him on the podium, with Dovizioso having just nosed out Nicky Hayden, the man he late replaced on Repsol Honda. Meanwhile, Stoner finished down in sixth. In 2007, the top five finishers were separated by less than five seconds, with Stoner winning ahead of Marco Melandri (on a Gresini Honda) and Pedrosa. Randy de Puniet finished fourth that year, a second in front of Rossi. In 2006 it was Rossi’s turn again on the Camel Yamaha, just edging out Loris Capirossi on the Ducati and the ever-present Pedrosa, with Hayden again finishing fourth.

Another fourth place finish in Sepang dosn't sound too bad to Nicky Hayden right now.

Earlier this week Hayden remarked on how he seems to OWN fourth place at this venue. The Ducati Marlboro rider was candid enough to point out how, in years past, finishing fourth was always a disappointment, whereas a fourth place finish this year would be nothing short of miraculous. The descent of Nicky Hayden from contender to pretender in one short year is one of the major stories of MotoGP 2009. Many of us are hoping he can revive his fortunes next year on the Desmosedici.

Paging Niccolo Canepa

Have we seen the last of Pokey Canepa this season? He took a big ol’ chunk out of his arm in his crash in Australia last Friday and was a scratch for the race. For Sepang he is being replaced by Chief Reserve Stud Aleix Espargaro, who will be taking over Canepa’s seat full time next season with Pramac Dcuati. There have been several articles posted to the effect that Canepa will be back for his premier class swan song at Valencia, but such an idea seems to make very little sense. With the onboard time allotted to these riders measured in hours, it seems Pramac would want to give Espargaro as many of those hours as possible this season in preparation for 2010. I’m betting it will be Kallio and Espargaro riding in Spain in two weeks. Arrivederci, Niccolo!

Sepang International Circuit
Sepang International Circuit

At 3.45 miles, the Sepang Internationl Circuit is the longest track in MotoGP. It’s also one of the widest tracks, spanning over 52 yards across in some areas.

Located in a dense tropical forest south of Kuala Lumpur, the high temperatures and humidity at Sepang present riders with a tough physical challenge. And then there’s the threat of torrential rain.

Weekend Predictions

Chris Vermeulen may have lost his mojo but at least he still has his fans.Standing on the podium at the end of Sunday’s race: Stoner, Pedrosa and Rossi … If the forecasted rain materializes, look for Marco Melandri to finish in the top six … Aleix Espargaro will finish ahead of both Gabor Talmacsi and Chris Vermeulen, who has clearly lost his mojo … Now that Lorenzo has conceded the 2009 title to teammate and rival Rossi, expect Jorge to actually finish the race, but not among the top four. And why is he so busy denying that his four DNFs this season have had a major impact on his title hopes? Had he kept his bike upright in even two of those tilts he would be more or less tied with Rossi at this point, rather than sucking his exhaust fumes … The forecast for Sunday – 90 and rainy. How nice for the fans. And the umbrella girls.

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