Yamaha Racing just can’t seem to get a break these last few rounds of the 2011 MotoGP season. With Jorge Lorenzo already sidelined from the Malaysian GP because of the finger injury he sustained at Philip Island, factory Yamaha rider Ben Spies has also withdrawn from the Malaysian round. Sitting out the Australian GP last weekend, Spies had been struggling with the injuries he received while crashing at 167 mph at Phillip Island. Sore and in pain, Spies’s injuries have caused the American rider to visit the gravel traps this weekend, which have concussed the Yamaha rider, and torn further the soft tissue around his ribs.
With just two rounds left in the season, MotoGP comes to Sepang this weekend for the Malaysian GP. Dominating the Free Practice sessions, Honda clearly has the Asian track’s number, while the rest of the field shows signs of a long season. Hector Barbera leads the walking-wounded, as the Spanish rider has fought through the race weekend, nursing his stapled shoulder through each session. Barely able to complete a few laps at a time, there are serious doubts about the Mapfire Ducati rider’s ability to ride the full-race distance, though no one is questioning his determination.
While Barbera will likely give the race his best effort, Rizla Suzuki wild card John Hopkins has already thrown in the towel, as the extreme physical demands have aggrivated Hopper’s hand injury beyond his tolerance. In the Yamaha tent, Jorge Lorenzo is of course absent, after his traumatic finger injury in Phillip Island. Replaced by Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Lorenzo’s absence and an ailing Ben Spies have made Sepang another forgettable race weekend for Yamaha Racing. Still sore from his high-speed crash in Australia, the American Spies has noticeably not been himself, with his chest and ribs still bothering him considerably. The one glimmer of hope for Yamaha in Malaysia has been Colin Edwards, who has been one of the few riders able to mix things up with the four factory Hondas.
Though grip issues from the intense heat have plagued the field throughout the weekend, Sepang has otherwise provided MotoGP with perfect weather for the Malaysian GP. The heat has been a mixed bag for Ducati Corse, as Valentino Rossi and his crew have noticeably been off the pace, and not able to capitalize on the team’s off-season testing at Sepang. Meanwhile, Nicky Hayden has been shining on the Ducati Desmosedici GP11.1, as the American and former-World Champion has been the Italian bike to beat, and have been showing strong second row potential. How would everyone sort out in qualifying though? You can find out after the jump.
It’s starting to become a bad joke for the Anglo-American rider, but John Hopkins has had to withdraw another wild card opportunity. Citing complications with the finger he broke back the Czech GP, Hopper has unfortunately had to call it quits in Sepang before Sunday’s race. Re-breaking the knuckle on his third finger on his right hand, Hopkins awoke yesterday to a swollen and immovable joint, which made riding the Suzuki GSV-R an impossibility.
Surely a disappointment for the talented rider, who has made no secret about his desire to get back into MotoGP, the move is also a blow to Rizla Suzuki, which as hoping to get some buzz this weekend, as the team negotiates plans for the 2012 MotoGP season with the Japanese factory. Hopper will stay in Malaysia to support the team throughout the race and cheer on teammate Alvaro Bautista, before he heads back to America for surgery.
With its two main racing sponsors being Malaysian oil Company Petronas and Yamaha Motor Kenkana Indonesia, Sepang is an important market for Yamaha Racing, and Jorge Lorenzo is a popular rider with Malaysian fans. This puts Yamaha in a quandary this weekend at the Malaysian GP, as the Spanish rider will be unable to compete in the penultimate GP round as he is still recovering from the finger injury he sustained at Phillip Island.
Needing a rider to fill-in for Lorenzo, Yamaha Racing has tapped factory test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga to ride the factory Yamaha YZR-M1 at Sepang. The 30-year-old Nakasuga comes with a resume that includes not only testing the M1 with its Bridgestone tires (familiarity with the Japanese tire being paramount, just ask Toni Elias), but also competing in the 2011 All Japan Road Racing Championship, where he currently sits third in the JSB1000 class.
Rizla Suzuki has announced that John Hopkins will return to MotoGP action for another race, riding again as wild card entry, this time at Sepang. The Malaysian GP will be Hopper’s third stint in MotoGP this season, as the Anglo-American filled-in for the injured Álvaro Bautista at the Spanish GP in Jerez and was entered as a wild card for the Czech GP, where he unfortunately injured his wrist in a crash during Free Practice.
Currently leading the British Superbike Championship with the Samsung Crescent Racing team, Hopper will be looking to button-up the BSB Championship next weekend at Brands Hatch. Making a remarkable showing during his rookie year in BSB, this wild card ride with Rizla Suzuki is surely a reward for Hopkins’ determination this season, which has seen him make an appearance in World Superbike, on-top of his extracurricular MotoGP activities.
One of the great things about Twitter is that it often gives you unfiltered access to people who generally have several layers of public relations officers between them and the fans. No stranger to the interwebs, Jorge Lorenzo is probably one of the most avid Twitter users in the MotoGP paddock, blasting out a steady stream of tweets during a race weekend. So what does the Spanish rider send out to his followers after clinching the MotoGP Championship? Stay classy Jorge.
Although Jorge Lorenzo may be on the pole position at Sepang where many expect that Spaniard to clinch the World Championship, the talk at the Malaysian GP right now is about Nicky Hayden. The American lead most of qualifying, and will start tomorrow second on the grid, after missing the pole spot by only a tenth of a second.
Hayden had an abysmal time last week at Motegi for the Japanese GP, and looked to be on a similar path this weekend, but the Ducati Corse team went back to a setting from testing last year, and Hayden was able to make up the rest of the distance himself.
Announced this week, Sepang International Circuit will host MotoGP for three more years, bringing GP racing to Malaysia through 2013. Sepang has hosted MotoGP since 1999, and has become a favorite track for many of the GP riders. The Malaysian GP is an important stop for MotoGP, as it not only services GP fans from Southeast Asia, but also Australian and New Zealand as well. MotoGP has made developing nations and regions an important aspect of its racing calendar, hoping to turn these countries into motorcycle racing havens full of MotoGP fans.