The 2015 Shell Advance Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix is happening this weekend (23rd- 25th October) at the Sepang International Circuit and as always, it’ll feature some close racing action in all three classes. This year however promises to be extra special as there is the potential to see one and maybe even two world champions being crowned in front of a live audience that’s expected to number up to 100,000 racing fans. So, if you still need a reason to justify why you should be at the track this weekend, here are 10 of them:
The drama of the 2015 MotoGP championship
Despite all the close on-track action, the MotoGP world championship is rarely a closely fought out affair. There’s usually a rider and machine combination that clicks better than the rest leading to multiple early season wins and an unassailable championship lead. The 2014 season was a perfect example as Marc Marquez’s 10-win streak to start the season meant he could afford the luxury of coasting through the latter rounds and still pick up his second MotoGP crown.
This year has proven to be the exception to the rule. Though Valentino Rossi has led the standings since his opening round victory at Qatar, Jorge Lorenzo has eaten into his championship lead at multiple points during the season. Just three races ago, he trailed by 23-points but heading into Sepang he’s only 11 points behind with a maximum of 50 still to play for. The fact that both ride for the same Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team just adds to the drama as there isn’t any machinery advantage to cloud the issue. It’s mano-a-mano where a legend of the sport is taking on the man who has usurped his unquestioned number one status in his own team.
In case you’re wondering, the last time the MotoGP world championship went down to the wire was in 2006 when Nicky Hayden snatched the title from Rossi (yes, he’s been around forever) at the very last race
He may only be 22, but Marc Marquez is already well on his way to attaining legendary status. His championship crown as a rookie in 2013 was already amazing but for an encore, he decimated the field in 2014 by going on an unprecedented winning streak. Odds-on favourite to win in 2015 too, some technical issues with Honda’s 2015 bike (they’re now using a hybrid version of the 2014 chassis), the big leap Yamaha made in the off-season and crashing in five races this year have knocked him out of contention. Still, Marquez and his Repsol Honda are the fastest combination in MotoGP over a single lap and he could very well follow up his victory in Australia last weekend with a win at Sepang and make it a hat trick at the last race in Valencia.
To add some intrigue to the story, Jorge Lorenzo needs another rider to finish ahead of Valentino Rossi in at least one race because even if he wins the final two rounds, Rossi can afford to finish second in both races to claim his 10th world championship. Could Marquez cast aside his own competitive drive and help his fellow Spaniard or will he just go for broke, as he has nothing to lose? Rossi has recently criticised Marquez for trying to play king maker, claiming he’s seeking revenge over two racing incidents earlier in the year, so it’ll be interesting how Marc responds at Sepang.
Threats to Spanish supremacy
Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa are from Spain; meaning one country controls three of the four bikes capable of winning races in MotoGP. MotoGP promoter, DORNA, is a Spanish company who also run the World SBK championship. The Spanish CEV championship (essentially a local series) is now an FIM run European series using the same Moto3 and Moto2 machinery as the Grand Prix boys. Do you see where I’m going with this?
The 2014 Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP world championships were all claimed by Spanish riders and it was the same in 2013. Spain’s domination of motorcycle racing is such that most fans are probably more familiar with the Marcha Real than their own national anthem.
This year however has been very different. In World SBK, God Save The Queen was played during 25 out of 26 podium ceremonies while the World SuperSport champion hails from Turkey. Moto2’s 2015 world champion, Johan Zarco, is French and he rides for a Finnish team. The Moto3 world champion will either come from Portugal or Great Britain and the riders will be riding for either a Finnish or German team.
Only MotoGP has a chance of saving Spanish pride, which is something nobody could have predicted at the beginning of the year. Could there be some collusion going on and if so, will the Italian Ducati MotoGP team with their two Italian riders – Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone – come to the aid of Italian racing legend Valentino Rossi? Blood is thicker than water, is it not?
Seeing the end of a 38-year wait
Despite the long list of motorcycle racers Great Britain has produced, the last Brit to win a major world championship was the late Barry Sheene in 1977. Sure, the likes of Carl Fogarty, Tom Sykes and now Jonathan Rea have all won World SBK championships but at the very top level of the sport, the Union Jack has been a notable absentee.
Well, the wait is almost over as Danny Kent (pictured above) should be crowned the 2015 Moto3 world champion at Sepang. Actually, he should have sealed it earlier but two DNFs in the last three races means Miguel Oliveira arrives at Sepang trailing by 40-points, leaving him a mathematical chance of snatching the crown. It’ll be a near impossible task though as Kent only needs to finish in the Top-5 and even if he crashes again, Oliveira would still need a podium to extend the title chase. So, chances are, we’ll finally see a new British world champion this weekend.
Offering support to Malaysian teams and riders
Future MotoGP stars? No lack of Malaysian talent competing in the Shell Advance Talent Cup.This will be the final time Malaysian fans will see Zulfahmi on the Drive M7 SIC Moto3 bike at Sepang.
For a small player in the international motorcycle racing scene, Malaysia has a huge amount of involvement in the sport. For instance, the Shell Advance Asia Talent Cup, a rider development series to develop the racing skills of Asian riders, is based in Malaysia. Drive M7 is a Malaysian brand and they sponsor the SIC Moto3 team, which of course is Malaysian owned. Moto2 has team Petronas Raceline Malaysia and JPMoto Malaysia, which are also Malaysian owned and backed. Then there are the riders.
Zulfahmi Khairuddin may no longer be as competitive as before, but few Malaysians will forget his 2012 Moto3 season where he managed to start on pole at Sepang and finished in second. This will be the last time he rides for the SIC team in front of his home crowd so he should be motivated to perform well.
Azlan Shah is in his second full season of Moto2 racing with IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia and though at 31, he’s one of the older riders in the class, his competitiveness was proven when he scored a remarkable fourth place just two weeks ago at the Japanese Grand Prix. Apparently, he hasn’t yet secured a contract for 2016 so the race at Sepang could be the final time Azlan races at home in the world championship.
At the other end of the spectrum is Hafizh ‘Pescao’ Syahrin who is also in his second full-season Moto2 campaign. The 21-year old has been the darling of Malaysian racing fans since his shocking wildcard ride to third in a wet race at Sepang in 2012 and this year he’s been a consistent top-10 runner if not a finisher. He’s on the cusp of being a front-runner for 2016 so look to him to try and pull something special out of the bag for his adoring fans this weekend.
Numerous off-track activities
Unlike FOM and Formula 1, DORNA gives race promoters control over off-track activities during a race weekend. This means lower rental costs for vendors and explains why you’ll see dozens of booths at Sepang selling everything from motorcycling accessories to local tour packages this weekend. The bike brand owners also turn out in a big way and the last couple of years, the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend has been the venue of numerous new bike unveilings and launches. Prices are cheaper too with many using the event as a channel to sell merchandise before the end of the year, so there are loads of great deals on jackets, boots, gloves and even helmets. Oh, and unlike snooty Formula 1, there is no shortage of umbrella girls to ogle at.
- The crowd support
Sepang expects a full house this weekend and there will undoubtedly be loads of flags and banners to offer support to the crowd favourites. However, there will also be two sections dedicated to Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez.
As the biggest name in MotoGP, Rossi has a huge following of rabid fans, so the first six zones of the K1 grandstand that overlooks the first three corners at Sepang has been turned into the VR46 Tribune. Marquez fans meanwhile will be seated at the Marc Marquez Tribune, located in the Premier grandstand seats over looking the pits and starting grid.
The sight of thousands of fans decked out in yellow and waving ‘46’ flags will be an amazing sight to behold as the riders rush towards turn 1 and you can expect just as many people to don t-shirts with the number 93 screaming their support for Marquez from the grandstand. Football spectators have nothing on the MotoGP crowd.
The MotoGP race is scheduled to kick off at 3.00pm on Sunday, so if it’s a hot day with lots of sunshine then the race will probably be run in dry conditions. However, our infamously fickle weather can throw a spanner in the works and it could be that the whole of Sunday is dreary and wet with a steady drizzle. It happened in 2012 and can certainly happen again and as any MotoGP fan knows, Rossi has beaten Lorenzo in the three wet races we’ve had in 2015, and when there’s moisture on the track, the chance of a Malaysian rider making it on to the podium increases exponentially. So, even if it means you’ll go home with a wet bum and look like a drowned rat, rain could make this an even more exciting weekend.
The potential of a different winner in MotoGP
The Honda and Yamaha factory teams are the dominant forces in MotoGP. The last time a victory was scored by another team or manufacturer was when Casey Stoner won the 2010 Australian Grand Prix riding a factory Ducati. Incidentally, that’s almost exactly five years ago.
The 2015 season has seen a resurgence for the Italian manufacturer and both their riders have been on the podium, most recently when Andrea Iannone (below) broke the hearts of Rossi fans when he dived past their hero on the last lap in Australia. He also finished on the podium at Qatar and Italy and if you look at the layout of the tracks, they all have a long straight where the power of the Ducati motor has allowed it to blast past rival machinery.
The Sepang International Circuit has two long straights book-ending the double-sided grandstand and though the corners leading to them are slower than the flowing final turn at Philip Island, it should still give the Ducatis a slim chance of pulling off an upset. And if it rains, well, anybody could win.
The stars could align for the GOAT
If you believe in superstition and conspiracy theories, then here’s one for you. 2015 is the Year of The Goat in the Chinese calendar. Valentino Rossi, just like Michael Schumacher in Formula 1 and Usain Bolt in sprinting, has been anointed the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) of MotoGP for some time now. His records speak for themselves and winning a 10th world title overall and 8th on MotoGP would cement his status as a legend.
The Sepang International Circuit has been the home of the Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix since 1999. Valentino Rossi has won here six times, making him the most successful MotoGP rider at the track. On top of that, Rossi’s last win at Sepang in 2010 was his first after returning from a broken leg he suffered earlier in the season, and Sepang was also the venue where he clinched his ninth world title in 2009 when he finished third.
In contrast, Jorge Lorenzo has never won a MotoGP race at Sepang though he did win the 250cc race in 2006. He was handily beaten by Rossi at Sepang in 2014 and though each race is different, there could be something about his Malaysian jinx that spooks the Spaniard.
Though the chances of him clinching the title this weekend are slim, imagine Rossi winning the race, Lorenzo finishing sixth or worse and ‘The Doctor’ celebrating his tenth and final championship with his legion of fans before shockingly announcing he’ll be riding off in to the sunset at the end of the year.
Wouldn’t you want to be there if it happens?
(Pictures by Shukor Janis)