The MotoGP World Championship may have been decided in favour of Casey Stoner but with two races to go, the stakes couldn't be higher in the 125cc class. In its final season, the junior class of Grand Prix racing has provided its usual array of action, excitement and close racing but with the penultimate round approaching, a 23 year old Spaniard has the chance to go down in history.
Nicolas Terol has been the class of the field in 2011, winning eight of the season's 16 races to justify his pre-season tag as the overwhelming favourite for the title. Victories at Qatar, Portugal and Aragon demonstrated his ability, particularly when he's presented with a clear track but it's his tactical approach in traffic which some critics still question, and his rivals have capitalised on.
Some would argue that Terol lost the 2010 championship to Marc Marquez as a result of some questionable decision making, most notably at Misano when the Bankia Aspar rider let Marquez through in the hope of following his compatriot, only to see him disappear into the distance.
Terol's poor judgement was on display again in France when he slipped up at the final corner, allowing Maverick Vinales through to his first win while Johann Zarco put him under similar pressure in Catalunya, only to be stripped of victory for an overly physical overtake.
Zarco is the only man who can stop Terol from becoming champion but the Frenchman has recovered from the abyss to take the title fight to the wire. After a number of agonising near misses, his long awaited first win looked to have come at Misano but the Derbi rider petulantly waved at Terol on the sprint to the line, allowing his rival to sneak past.
Since then, Zarco has ridden superbly with the first win finally coming at Motegi, and with two races remaining, he trails Terol by 25 points. This makes the mathematical situation simple this weekend, Zarco must outscore Terol this weekend to force a final round showdown while the season-long leader knows he will be crowned the final 125cc champion if he finishes ahead, or if Zarco fails to score.
The Sepang International Circuit should favour Terol's Aprilia which has shown on numerous occasions that it has a straight-line advantage over Zarco's Derbi. Terol's victories in Mugello and Misano proved exactly that as he waited until the home straight before breezing past.
One thing's for certain though, Malaysia will provide the ultimate test for bike and rider, whichever class they're involved in with temperatures touching 30oc and humidity likely to be 90% at the very least, and don't forget the potential for thunderstorms. Viewers at home will be able to sit back and enjoy though as the riders go wheel to wheel on the widest track on the calendar.
As the title battle takes centre stage, there are plenty of other young guns hoping to make an impression this weekend. Sandro Cortese put in arguably the ride of his career in Australia last weekend to take victory in damp conditions and the German will surely play a role towards the front of the pack on Sunday.
A crucial role may be played by the likes of Hector Faubel and Adrian Martin, teammates to Terol in the Aspar squad. Faubel has made no secret of his ill-feeling towards Zarco after a number of on-track bust-ups this year and has been charged with the task of helping Terol earlier in the year. He will surely be asked to do so again here if Terol needs a hand. Martin led a GP for the first time last Sunday and if he can repeat his new-found form in dry conditions, he may give Zarco a headache.
Avant-Air-Asia Ajo will be counting on Efren Vazquez to provide the back-up for Zarco, even if he didn't do him many favours in Australia. The 25 year old came close to knocking his teammate of the podium before slotting in behind in fourth but with every point crucial now, he will surely be asked to make life tough for Terol on Sunday.
Rookie of the year Maverick Vinales can't be discounted either, even if his form has tailed off slightly after a stunning run in the middle of the year. Luis Salom has also proved he has the potential to challenge the leaders after finishing second last time out and both will look to make their presence felt.
Leading the British assault will be Danny Kent as he comes towards the end of his first full season in Grand Prix racing. The 17 year old has slipped back in recent races with teammate Jonas Folger regaining the factory spec bike from him but the Chippenham rider has continued to impress, and will hope to thrive on a circuit he's raced on before.
Danny Webb will carry Mahindra's hopes while Harry Stafford and Taylor Mackenzie will see their fitness tested to the limit when they take to Sepang for the first time.
Meanwhile, Casey Stoner will be aiming to continue his dominance of the premier class with his main challenge likely to come from in-house. Dethroned champion Jorge Lorenzo will sit out this weekend's race after injuring his finger in the warm-up at Phillip Island, while Ben Spies' participation hasn't been confirmed yet either.
Repsol Honda will have a full complement though with Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa resuming their battle for third in the championship. Lorenzo's injury means Dovizioso could snatch the runner-up spot with two victories and the Italian will need no encouragement as he hopes to beat his teammates. Marco Simoncelli will also fancy his chances after a career-best second in Melbourne and the Gresini rider will surely have his eyes on a maiden victory.
Incredibly, Sepang is the last venue to see a Valentino Rossi victory and Ducati's current form doesn't suggest a revival is imminent. Any chance of a win for Rossi or teammate Nicky Hayden looks dependent on the weather with the most important day for the team arguably coming on Monday when they test the 2012 machine again.
Alvaro Bautista has given the Italian squad a run for their money lately but Rizla Suzuki will be hoping to see him make the chequered flag this time. If he doesn't, the team will at least be able to rely on a second rider with John Hopkins returning to the MotoGP paddock, his first competitive ride since narrowly missing out on the British Superbike title.
This weekend will also see the latest instalment in the duel for the Moto2 crown between Stefan Bradl and Marc Marquez. Bradl regained the lead in Australia despite losing the victory to Alex de Angelis on the final lap, but Marquez's storming ride to third from the back of the grid may have handed him a psychological edge heading to Malaysia.
Mathematically, Bradl could clinch the title this weekend but it needs a lot of luck to go his way. The only scenario that can decide the championship needs Bradl to win the race with Marquez lower than 13th.
The 125s will get the Shell Advance Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix weekend underway with Free Practice 1 starting at 2:15am UK time on Friday. The Checkered Flag will have full coverage throughout the weekend.
Sepang Former Winners:
|2010||Marc Marquez||Roberto Rolfo||Valentino Rossi|
|2009||Julian Simon||Hiroshi Aoyama||Casey Stoner|
|2008||Gabor Talmacsi||Alvaro Bautista||Valentino Rossi|
|2007||Gabor Talmacsi||Hiroshi Aoyama||Casey Stoner|
|2006||Alvaro Bautista||Jorge Lorenzo||Valentino Rossi|
|2005||Thomas Luthi||Casey Stoner||Loris Capirossi|
|2004||Casey Stoner||Dani Pedrosa||Valentino Rossi|
|2003||Dani Pedrosa||Toni Elias||Valentino Rossi|
|2002||Arnaud Vincent||Fonsi Nieto||Max Biaggi|
|2001||Youichi Ui||Daijiro Kato||Valentino Rossi|