Sepang Preview: Titles Up For Grabs On Emotional Weekend

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Three races this weekend could see the crowning of three world champions but for many, the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix will be a time of reflection. The history books will show a cancelled race and as far as records are concerned, it didn’t take place at all, but October 23rd 2011 will always go down as the date of one of motorsport’s most significant and tragic moments.

On the second and what would prove to be final lap, Marco Simoncelli crashed at turn eleven before being struck by Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi in an unavoidable collision. After a season where he’d polarised opinion in the paddock, the world had united as one, praying for his well-being. Sadly, the news everybody had feared became a reality at 16:56 that afternoon that the flamboyant Italian, affectionately known as ‘Super Sic’, was no longer with us.

The outpouring of emotion across the world was simply extraordinary and although the no.58 has been retired in his honour, Marco has remained in the thoughts of motorcycling fans throughout the last twelve months. This weekend presents another opportunity to remember Simoncelli as, one year on, MotoGP returns to Malaysia.

The race will be particularly poignant for Simoncelli’s former team manager Fausto Gresini who led a tribute earlier today. Gresini, joined by riders and team personnel from up and down the paddock, walked the circuit before placing a permanent plaque in Simoncelli’s honour and Fausto admits there will be plenty on his and the San Carlo Honda Gresini team’s mind this weekend.

“Now we go to Sepang, which won’t be easy for us after the events of last year, which left a void that can never be filled. Marco was a special person to all of us and we miss him a lot but I am sure that is the case for everybody connected to the World Championship. We see that with the affection that continues to be shown for him wherever we go. With heavy hearts we will give our best this weekend to honour his memory and we are in good shape to do just that.”

The paddock remembers Simoncelli on Thursday afternoon - Photo Credit:

The paddock remembers Simoncelli on Thursday afternoon – Photo Credit:


Two weeks after the Sepang tragedy, Michele Pirro scored a fairytale first win for the Gresini Moto2 squad, a victory he dedicated to Simoncelli. Now nearing the end of his rookie MotoGP campaign with Gresini, Pirro is aware of the responsibility on his shoulders.

“The memories of Marco will come flooding back. It won’t be easy but the thought of him helped me win the Moto2 race at Valencia last year so this Sunday I will be giving my best again to pay him tribute, which I owe to the guys on my side of the garage who worked with Marco last year.”

The bike originally reserved for Simoncelli in 2012 is in the hands of Alvaro Bautista and the Spaniard enters this race in superb form after a second career podium at Motegi, earned after a thrilling battle with Cal Crutchlow. The two riders ahead of him remain on another planet to the rest of MotoGP at the moment but one of them might be on top of the world come Sunday evening.

Jorge Lorenzo has a mathematical chance of becoming a two-time champion in the premier class this weekend although for it all to be settled, his minimum requirement is a victory. Lorenzo will then be relying on Dani Pedrosa failing to score three points himself and failure to do so would leave Dani to reflect on another year as MotoGP’s nearly man.

Pedrosa’s form since the summer indicates that his title challenge has a long way to run just yet though. The Repsol Honda rider was won four of the last five races with the only blip coming in the form of that horror-show at Misano, while seven of the last nine GPs have gone Honda’s way, making them the team to beat.

Sepang isn’t a circuit that’s been kind to them in the past though. Not since Valentino Rossi’s victory in 2003 has a Honda-powered motorcycle taken the chequered flag first in Kuala Lumpur with Casey Stoner’s two wins coming on Ducati machinery, so Pedrosa will be out to stop that particular losing streak.

Dani’s 2013 teammate at Repsol Honda also has a date with destiny as Marc Marquez goes in search of the victory that would wrap up the Moto2 title. The 19 year old has had a thorn in his side all season in the shape of Pol Espargaro and the Pons rider is the only man capable of delaying the celebrations. Victory for Pol would keep his hopes alive but if Marc’s storming ride from the back of the field to victory last weekend is any indicator, the intermediate class is likely to crown its champion on Sunday.

For Moto3 series leader Sandro Cortese, Sepang represents his second ‘championship point’ in the space of a week after he missed out at Motegi. With half a lap remaining, the title was in Cortese’s grasp before his teammate Danny Kent snatched the lead, and a maiden victory two corners from home.

With Cortese tumbling and dropping to sixth, Maverick Vinales and Luis Salom remain in championship contention although Salom starts the weekend with something of a handicap. As punishment for taking out Jonas Folger on the final lap in Japan, the RW Racing rider will incur a five-place grid penalty, denting his hopes of securing a top five finish, the minimum he needs to keep his hopes alive. With three riders still in the mix, the list of permutations is much longer than MotoGP or Moto2 but suffice to say Cortese will be champion if he finishes in the top two on Sunday while third will also do the trick if Vinales fails to win.

Whatever the outcome, and however many champions are crowned, The Checkered Flag will have extensive coverage from Malaysia throughout the weekend.


Sepang Former Winners:

Year MotoGP Moto2/250cc 125cc*
2011 Race Cancelled  Thomas Luthi  Maverick Vinales
2010  Valentino Rossi  Roberto Rolfo  Marc Marquez
2009  Casey Stoner  Hiroshi Aoyama  Julian Simon
2008  Valentino Rossi  Alvaro Bautista  Gabor Talmacsi
2007  Casey Stoner  Hiroshi Aoyama  Gabor Talmacsi
2006  Valentino Rossi  Jorge Lorenzo  Alvaro Bautista
2005  Loris Capirossi  Casey Stoner  Thomas Luthi
2004  Valentino Rossi  Dani Pedrosa  Casey Stoner
2003  Valentino Rossi  Toni Elias  Dani Pedrosa
2002  Max Biaggi  Fonsi Nieto  Arnaud Vincent
*No Moto3 races have been held at Sepang


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