Sepang GP Preview

Calvin Kim
by Calvin Kim
Thanks to Grand Prix Moto Presse and HMC for this release:

The second phase of a whistle-stop Far East MotoGP tour, held over three consecutive weekends in Japan, Malaysia and Australia, takes place this Sunday, 13 October, at Sepang, one of the most modern circuits in the world.

Located a short drive from the busy Kuala Lumpur International Airport the 5.448km circuit, back on the MotoGP calendar for the fourth consecutive year, hosts the steamiest, most stamina-sapping MotoGP event imaginable. The year-round high temperatures and punishing humidity are the biggest obstacles the riders have to overcome, before thoughts of winning are even considered.

Round 14 of this year's 16-race campaign may have no significance in terms of deciding the overall champion, with Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) having been crowned Lord of the new four-stoke MotoGP world at Brazil last month, but the ever-increasing numbers of dominant V-5 Hondas make the outcome of individual races more unpredictable than ever.

Rossi's championship-securing win at Rio was his 10th victory of a remarkable season, having only been beaten on two prior occasions up to that point and then latterly at the most recent round at Motegi.

Rossi himself has publicly acknowledged that the championship will only get harder with an increasing number of 990cc four-strokes filling the grid from now until the last race of the season in early November.

"Other manufacturers are also increasing their four-stroke interest in the series and this has made the job of winning races much more difficult," said the four-times World Champion.

Rossi's premier class record at Sepang is made up of two extreme experiences, a no-score in his rookie season of 2000, and a win (during which he set the current lap record pace of 2m 06.618s) last year. Another win at Sepang on Sunday would give him 50 career victories in all classes.

"We had some problems at Motegi but I hope we can have a clear run at Sepang. I know what it's like to win there and I want to repeat the performance on the four-stroke."

Honda's policy of steadily increasing the number of four-stoke riders as the season progresses has seen Daijiro Kato (Fortuna Honda Gresini RC211V) and most recently Alex Barros (West Honda Pons RC211V) take control of their own awesome RC211Vs, replacing their existing two-stroke machinery. Reigning 250cc champion Kato was immediately competitive but Barros outdid even his excellence with a debut ride win at the most recent round in Motegi.

Barros' fifth career victory perfectly illustrates the prowess of the latest Honda four-stroke racing ideal made metal - all despite never having ridden it before the start of the first training session in Japan.

Said Barros after his victorious entry into the four-stroke MotoGP club; "I was surprised how fast the RC211V was right from the start at Motegi, and it proved enough to let me take a win at the first attempt. That makes me feel very confident for the rest of the season and I would love to repeat my victory in one of the next races."

Finishing fourth last weekend, Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) gave of his all on home ground as usual, reaffirming his long-term status of second in the championship. The highest-placed Japanese rider is looking to continue his resurgence in the overall points classification at Sepang.

"Motegi was good for me because I regained the second place I had enjoyed through most of the year," said Ukawa. "I hope to make it more secure at Sepang - and to challenge for the win itself."

With a quartet of four-stroke powered MotoGP races under his belt, and despite some impressive race and practice performances on the RCV, the diminutive Daijiro Kato has yet to win a race; a fact that made him particularly regretful about scoring a DNF at Motegi.

"I was very disappointed about that, especially as I had taken pole position. I hope to do better than that in Malaysia because I really want to win there on this bike, like I did on the 250 in 2001."

A truly awe-inspiring demonstration of sustained riding skill and boundless determination from Barros' team-mate Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500) gave him not only top two-stroke rider status at Motegi, but a somewhat unexpected podium finish, in a season during which the four-strokes have won every race.

"I think third position was the most I could have hoped for from a bike with these characteristics," said Capirossi, "and we will have to see how the two-strokes perform in relation to the four-strokes at Sepang. I think it will be very difficult there as well."

Tetsuya Harada (Pramac Honda NSR500) has worked hard for little tangible reward on his return to the premier class of racing, with the diminutive Japanese struggling against the rising tsunami of powerful four-strokes flooding the grids.

Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Kanemoto Racing Honda NSR500) takes heart from turning a dismal Motegi qualifying into a battling 13th place. "We made some radical set-up changes before the very start of the Motegi race and it allowed me to compete in the race itself," quoted the experienced Dutchman. "I hope we can improve on this finish at Sepang but with such long straights and lots of hard acceleration out of the slower corners I think it will be hard for the two-strokes."

Robby Rolfo (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) lies third in his championship standings in the run up to Sepang, having scored sixth at Motegi. "The long straights may be a problem for us, but we will be going all out to score our first win of the season before the end at Valencia."

Rolfo's team-mate Emilio Alzamora (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) was in strong contention for a win at Motegi in the early stages of the race, and despite falling back to finish fifth hopes Sepang will reward him with at least his second podium of the year. "With a good bike set-up, and two strong qualifying sessions at Sepang, we should be in a good position for the race."

Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R) enjoyed a brilliant and unchallenged win at Motegi, putting him closer to the championship lead and in determined mood before Malaysia. "I think I must win at Sepang and all the rest of the races if I am to stay in contention for the title, but I will be taking it one race at a time."

The MotoGP season continues with the last of the consecutive flyaway rounds outside Europe taking place at Phillip Island, Australia, on 18/19/20 October. The championship year ends back in Europe at Valencia on November 3.

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