If Saturday at Sepang taught us anything, it is that if the new qualifying system for MotoGP is exciting, the new qualifying system with a little rain mixed in is utterly breathtaking. A brief shower at the end of Q1 left the area through turns 6 and 7 very wet, while the rest of the track was still mostly dry.
Add in the searing tropical heat which dries the surface quickly, and the color of the Sepang tarmac which tends to disguise wet patches, and qualifying becomes even more tricky. And then there’s the fact that Sepang is a long track, the two-minute lap time leaving the riders precious little time to turn laps while waiting for the surface to dry out.
Strategies went out the window, and already stressed mechanics were forced to work themselves into even more of a sweat as they rushed to set up two bikes, one dry and one wet, just in case the rain returned. Some riders went out early and despite being warned, found themselves thrown out of their seats and given a proper scare.
With qualifying being just fifteen minutes, the most likely scenario was that the last rider to cross the line would be the fastest, unless it started raining again.
Stefan Bradl has been forced to miss the Sepang round of MotoGP, after fracturing his ankle in a crash during FP4. The LCR Honda rider fell at Turn 1, sliding unhurt towards the gravel, but clipped his foot on the carpet on the outside of the kerb, which had been picked up by the handlebar of his Honda RC213V.
The impact was enough to fracture the right medial malleolus (the spur on the inside of the tibia visible as part of the ankle), ruling him out of action for Sunday’s race.
Is Sepang a Honda track or a Yamaha track? On the evidence of the first day of practice, you would have to say it is definitely a Honda track. Or more specifically, a factory Honda track, according to Valentino Rossi. The Italian veteran told reporters that the factory Hondas seemed to have something extra at Sepang, even compared to the satellite RC213V bikes.
Having lighter riders meant they did better on the long straights, consumed less fuel and could therefore use more power, Rossi said, but there was more to it than that.
They were also better on corner entry, especially in the tight corners, where HRC appears to have found something extra. The only place the Yamahas had any kind of advantage was in the longer faster corners, Rossi said. Through turns five and six, Rossi could catch Dani Pedrosa. Once they left that section, Pedrosa was gone.
If the bike is good, then Dani Pedrosa is outstanding. His lap in the afternoon was exceptional, the 2’00.554 just a couple of tenths slower than Jorge Lorenzo’s pole lap record from last year. Nobody else could get anywhere near him. His only rival was teammate Marc Marquez, forced to give half a second away to Pedrosa.
Just a few hours before the bikes hit the track, all the talk should be about the prospects for the riders in the coming weekend. At Sepang, though, it was all different.
Nobody was talking about who might end where, whether the Sepang is a Honda or a Yamaha track, whether Ducati will benefit from Sepang’s long straights or suffer around the fast corners, about whether Scott Redding or Pol Espargaro will have the upper hand in Moto2. It was not the prospect of on-track action, but off-track drama which captured the attention.
Marc Marquez has been handed a penalty point for his role in the incident with Dani Pedrosa at Aragon. On Lap 6 of the Aragon race, Marquez braked a little too late for Turn 12, found himself running into the back of his teammate Dani Pedrosa, the picked the bike up to run it wide.
In doing so, he just touched the back of Pedrosa’s bike, severing the rear wheel speed sensor, and sending the Honda’s traction control system into full power mode, which caused Pedrosa to be thrown from the bike when he opened the throttle.
Despite initially dimissing the crash as a normal racing incident, Race Direction had held the incident under investigation after the Aragon race, while they waited for further technical data from Honda on the crash. That data was delivered to them at Sepang, and after examining it, Race Direction found both Marc Marquez and HRC culpable for the crash.
Marquez was found culpable for riding in an irresponsible manner (violating section 1.21.2 of the Disciplinary code, the catch-all for dangerous riding), and HRC was found culpable for endangering their riders by using a vulnerable design for a vital part of a system that is important to the safety and performance of the motorcycle.
Crashing hard in the Malaysian GP, it initially seemed that Ben Spies had escaped serious injury, as the Clinica Mobile staff gave the American rider a clean bill of health at the circuit. Getting examined further in Kuala Lumpur however, it became apparent that Spies had suffered quite a number of injuries — an AC shoulder separation, a cracked rib in the upper-chest area, and bruising to his lung, to be precise.
Undergoing surgery today at the National Surgery Center near San Jose, California, Spies reported on Twitter that the operation had gone well, though the extent of his injuries will mean an increase in the duration of his recovery time, with 10 to 12 weeks being the number banded about. This news means that Spies will miss not only the Australian GP, but also the Valencian GP and the post-season MotoGP testing — a serious blow to the soon-to-be Ducati rider.
As if crashing out of the Malaysian GP wasn’t bizarro enough, Ben Spies has announced today that he will be missing the Australian GP, as it has become evident that he injured his shoulder in his wet-weather tumble at Sepang. Although found to have no injuries by the Clinica Mobile staff at the circuit, after undergoing tests in Kuala Lumpur post-race, Spies found that he had sustained an AC shoulder separation, a cracked rib in the upper-chest area, and bruising to his lung.
Returning to the US for treatment on Tuesday, Spies will accordingly miss the MotoGP’s next stop, which is at Phillip Island. His participation in the last round of the season, the Valencian GP, is now in question as well, though it could be possible for the American to be healed enough to race within that time frame.
Though this season has been a string of highly suspicious instances of bad luck for the factory Yamaha rider, Valencia will be important round for Spies, as the post-race test will be the first opportunity for him to ride the Ducati Desmosedici race bike.