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Given the severity of the storms that have washed across the Malaysian peninsula, you might expect practice for MotoGP to be a wet one minute, dry the next.

So far, however, only the Moto3 class has had a problem with wet conditions, the day starting out on a drying track, then rain disrupting FP2 for the smallest class in Grand Prix racing. MotoGP was a good deal more fortunate, left with a dry track in surprisingly good condition.

That might explain why the times were so good: there were a handful of riders knocking out 1’59s in both the morning and afternoon sessions, times which normally only appear once qualifying starts. In 2017, only Valentino Rossi got into the 1’59s in free practice. In 2016, only Maverick Viñales managed it.

“Lap times were fast today,” said an impressed Bradley Smith of KTM. “1’59s were like a miracle in the past. Guys were on 1’59s from the first session and there in the second session as well, it wasn’t just when the track was cool. We’re still a little way away from a 1’58, which I think Jorge did in the test, but not that far away that I think it’s the track conditions.”

There is no obvious explanation for why the track would be so fast, Smith said. “Here we know, from February 1st to February 20-something, the track can be half a second slower, or faster, whichever way the conditions are going. I really can’t put my finger on one thing or another.”

Whatever the reason, there is no denying the track is fast. Seven riders got inside the two-minute bracket on Friday, Danilo Petrucci, seventh fastest man, just two tenths slower than the fastest man of the day, Alex Rins.

MotoGP heads 6400km north for the final leg of the Pacific flyaways, and the penultimate race of the season. The contrasts between Phillip Island, where the paddock has just departed, and Sepang, where they have just arrived, could hardly be greater.

Phillip Island famously has four seasons in one day, though all too often, those seasons are winter, spring, winter, and winter. Sepang has two seasons in one day: hot and humid, and hot and pouring with rain.

The rain can come as a blessed relief, though, in what is undoubtedly the toughest race of the year. “I think this will be the toughest race of the year,” Danilo Petrucci said. “Yesterday I went out for a run, and I was lucky that in the middle of the second lap when I was running that a thunderstorm has arrived, and I asked to the rain if it can come on the second lap of the race!”

“Joking apart, it helped me a lot yesterday. The last two years it has been wet, and it’s tough anyway, because in the wet, the problem is not the temperature, but the humidity, and it’s very difficult to breathe. You don’t breathe oxygen, you breathe oxygen and water. Last time we rode here in the dry was 2015, and the race was very, very tough.”

So there’s your choice: breathe oxygen and water, or struggle to breathe at all.

Stefan Bradl is to replace Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda at the next round of MotoGP at Sepang, this next race weekend. As HRC’s official test rider, Bradl was the easy choice to take the place of the injured Crutchlow.

Crutchlow was ruled out of Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix after a huge crash at Turn 1 during FP2 on Friday. His right leg took a beating in the fall, fracturing his ankle in three places.

Crutchlow was flown to Melbourne, where an external cage was placed on his ankle to fix the bones in place while the swelling subsides. Crutchlow is due for further surgery on Thursday to have the bones plated.

That rules Crutchlow out of the race at Sepang, and makes him doubtful for the Valencia race in three weeks’ time.

Episode 62 of the Paddock Pass Podcast sees David Emmett and Neil Morrison on the mics, as they cover the three flyaway races for the MotoGP Championship: Motegi, Phillip Island, and Sepang.

MotoGP’s stops in Asia and Australia have proven to be pivotal to the championship standings, as Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez have been battling during the latter half of the season.

Now going into the final round of the season, Marquez leads Dovizioso by 21 points, creating a do-or-die scenario for the Ducati rider at Valencia. There are only a few ways that Dovizioso can win the Championship, but during this episode, we focus on how that came to be.

Examining the results of the top riders in MotoGP, and the highlight of the flyaway races, Neil gives his insights from being at the races, while David provides is usual analysis.

The focus then turns to the Moto3 and Moto2 classes, with the show wrapping up with our winners and losers from the flyaway rounds. It’s another great show from the Paddock Pass crew, and you won’t want to miss it.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on FacebookTwitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Sometimes, winning a championship requires a little bit of help from your team. Especially when championships are tight.

A little help from your teammate, perhaps persuaded by a quiet word in their ear from the team boss. Who knows, maybe even a little financial sweetener to help swallow a bitter pill, a cut of a win bonus. It helps if you and your teammate don’t actively despise each other, of course.

Team orders are something of a taboo subject in motorcycle racing. Journalists, riders, teams all pussyfoot around the issue, while fans speculate like mad about which results were down to riders doing what they were told by team bosses, rather than putting it all out on the track.

With no ship-to-shore radio communication, the only methods of communication are via the pit board, and since last year, via a list of permitted messages on the dashboard.

In a way, not having radio communication has led to more speculation about team orders, rather than less. Because pit boards are visible to other teams, and space is necessarily limited, the messages tend to be both terse and obscure.

Valentino Rossi is forever being asked to explain what the letters BRK on his pit board mean. Dani Pedrosa is in a league of his own in this regard: at one point during a race, the word DOGMA appeared on his pit board. At another, the letters ZZTT were shown at the start of the last lap.

Will we have a 2017 MotoGP champion by Sunday night? The odds are on the side of Marc Márquez. Second place would be good enough to wrap it up for the Repsol Honda rider wherever Andrea Dovizioso finishes.

If Dovizioso doesn’t win, then Márquez has to finish within eight points of the Italian. If Dovizioso is second, then fourth is good enough. If he’s third, then eighth is good enough. So far this season, Marc Márquez has always finished sixth place or better. Except when he doesn’t finish, of course…

Márquez has two obstacles to overcome. The first is the weather. The forecast for Sunday at Sepang is heavy rain, from around the time warm up for MotoGP tends until early evening.

On Friday, it was Andrea Dovizioso who was strongest in the rain, while Márquez was a little slower, and had a fleet of Ducatis to contend with.

The second obstacle is the big group of very fast riders at Sepang. Going by the timesheets in FP3 and FP4, there are a bunch of people who are capable of a podium, and maybe even a win.

“I think there are five, six, seven riders who have similar pace, there is not a clear favorite,” was Jorge Lorenzo’s assessment.

“It’s very, very open the fight for the victory, the fight for the podium,” Valentino Rossi concurred, “because have a lot, a lot of different riders that for sure have the pace for the podium but also for the victory.”

If there is one thing clear from Friday at Sepang, it is that neither Andrea Dovizioso nor Marc Márquez believe the 2017 championship is done. The two men left in the title fight came out punching, chasing fast times just that little bit harder than the rest.

Dovizioso topped both morning and afternoon sessions, blatant about his intentions to make a final bid for the championship. Márquez was a little slower in the mixed-but-drying conditions of FP1, but only half a second behind Dovizioso in a wet FP2. Márquez will give as hard as he gets.

The headline times are deceptive, though, as were the conditions. The morning session started with a track that would not dry fast enough – a persistent problem since the track was resurfaced, and an issue with drainage in certain sections of the track – and riders choosing to sit out the first third or so of FP1.

Even once the riders took to the track in earnest, times were variable. It was only towards the end where track was dry enough to start to post quick times.

In the dry, Márquez focused on pace, putting in a single long run, while Andrea Dovizioso got on with setup work, ending FP1 at the top of the timesheets, just ahead of Alvaro Bautista. “I’m really happy about the lap time I did this morning,” Dovizioso said.

“It was quite fast but the conditions were strange. There was not a lot of rubber on the ground so it wasn’t normal. Anyway, this was the condition for the other riders. We did a good lap time. I was first.”

So just like 2015, the MotoGP paddock packed up after a breathtaking race in Phillip Island and headed to the sweltering tropical heat of Sepang. And once again, two riders fly to Malaysia with a clean shot at the title.

Fortunately, though, this time there was no one to drip poison into the ears of the protagonists and sour the atmosphere at the penultimate race of the season. We can look back at an astounding race and savor it, without it leaving a nasty taste in the mouth.

The lack of added stress is welcome. The Sepang round of MotoGP is the toughest of the season, for a lot of reasons. “I think this race is the most demanding of all the season because it is very hot,” Valentino Rossi told the press conference.

It is not uncommon for riders to come close to passing out at the end of a 45-minute race in sweltering temperatures and steam room humidity levels. Conditions are oppressive.

Making things worse is the fact that Sepang is the last of the three Pacific flyaway races. Sepang is the third weekend in a row where riders have faced a 9-hour flight, followed by promotional activities in the MotoGP manufacturers’ most important markets, followed by a full race weekend.

They have gone from a chilly and soaking Japan to a chilly and mixed Phillip Island to the sweltering tropical heat of Malaysia, jumping in and out of air-conditioned vehicles, hotels, and aircraft to face the elements on a racing motorcycle. Coughs, cold sweats, and hot fevers are the order of the day.

If their schedule was already draining, things are about to get very tough indeed. The heat in Malaysia drains energy from the riders, yet they face 20 laps racing flat out on Sunday.

Pressure from the teams is rising too: there are only two races left at which to make a mark and score a result. The opportunity for bonuses – for some riders, a significant part of their income – is slipping away. Now is the time to step up to the place.

Aleix Espargaro will not be racing at Sepang. The Spaniard broke a bone in his left hand when he crashed out of the MotoGP race in Phillip Island, and is to fly back to Barcelona for surgery.

Aprilia will not replace Espargaro, his absence coming at too short notice to find a replacement rider in time.

Espargaro announced he would be missing Sepang with a post on his Instagram feed. The Spaniard expects to be fit in time for Valencia, as he confirmed himself on Twitter

It has been a hectic few weeks with the flyaway races, for the Paddock Pass Podcast crew, but David Emmett and Neil Morrison finally were able to sit down in a room with some microphones and record Episode 41, which covers the Australian GP and Malaysian GP.

David and Neil go through two very busy race weeks for the MotoGP paddock, including a good discussion about Cal Crutchlow’s win at Phillip Island and Andrea Dovizioso’s well-earned victory at Sepang.

The boys also talk about the conclusion to the 2016 Moto2 Championship, won by Johann Zarco. There is also some Moto3 news sprinkled into the mix as well.

It’s a two-hour show, so grab a beverage, find a comfy seat, clear your headphones and give it a listen. We think you’ll enjoy the show, as we head into the final race of the season, at Valencia.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on FacebookTwitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!