MotoGP is set for a frantic final flourish to the 2008 championship as the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia plays host to the penultimate race of this year's campaign before the whirlwind tour moves to Valencia next week for the season ...
MotoGP is set for a frantic final flourish to the 2008 championship as the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia plays host to the penultimate race of this year's campaign before the whirlwind tour moves to Valencia next week for the season finale.
This weekend's event will be the tenth consecutive MotoGP race to be held at the Sepang International Circuit since the Malaysian GP event was moved there back in 1999. Alongside Shanghai and Catalunya, it is one of three circuits on this year's calendar that also holds Formula One races, so Bridgestone can boast a wide-ranging pedigree at the track.
On two wheels, Bridgestone has two Sepang victories, both with Ducati, with Loris Capirossi in 2005 and Casey Stoner in 2007. Valentino Rossi may already have wrapped up this year's riders' title, but there is plenty left up for grabs in these final two races.
Casey Stoner took a popular home win at Phillip Island two weeks ago to extend his grasp of second place in the table and will be hoping to capture his second consecutive Malaysian GP victory this weekend. Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa will be hoping to end his season with some strong results to consolidate his top three status in this year's championship.
Hiroshi Yamada - Bridgestone Motorsport - Manager, Motorcycle Sport Unit
"This long and competitive season is building to a resounding end with two quite contrasting race venues in Malaysia and Valencia. Malaysia is traditionally one of the hottest of the season, while Valencia can be quite cool at this time of the year. We have a good history in Malaysia. It was the scene of one of the two victories we shared with Ducati in our debut season of collaboration in 2005 after a great ride from Loris. He followed that win up with second place in 2006 after a very exciting battle with Valentino. It was also a tightly-fought race last year and we emerged with a 1-2, Casey taking his tenth win of the season in style ahead of Marco in second on the Honda Gresini bike. The last few races have proven to be very close, and I expect something similar in Sepang this weekend."
Tohru Ubukata - Bridgestone Motorsport - Manager, Race Tyre Development
"Sepang is one of the longest circuits on the calendar with two very distinct straights, both of which are around 1km in length, interlinked by a tight hairpin. The track layout requires a lot of outright engine power and good braking stability from the machines as riders brake from speeds in excess of 300km/h. It is also one of the hottest tracks that we race at with track temperatures often in excess of 50 degrees Celsius. For this reason, we have to look carefully at the central part of the tyre because of the pressure that it is placed under and the length of time that riders are upright over the lap. The circuit was resurfaced for last year's event which gave us a new challenge, but the race performance showed good pace and consistency across the entire field, and it was a highly competitive race. Sepang is also a much-used place for pre-season testing, so most teams will arrive at the track for Friday practice with a good idea of bike set-up, which in turn allows us to get to work quickly on tyre evaluation for the weekend. We usually opt for medium-hard specification rear tyres at Sepang, with harder spec front tyres to cope with the heavy braking at the end of the long straights, and to deal with the hot temperatures, of course. We will also bring some updated specification race and qualifying tyres based on the results obtained from Motegi and Phillip Island rounds."
Friday practice was held in mixed weather conditions with a lunchtime downpour affecting the afternoon session. Once the track had dried out, it was Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet who led the way ahead of Casey Stoner (Ducati) and Marco Melandri (Honda Gresini). Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) took pole on Saturday afternoon, ahead of a quartet of Bridgestone riders with Stoner and Melandri on the front row, and Kawasaki duo of De Puniet and Anthony West on row two in fourth and fifth. Sunday's race, held in hot, dry conditions, was very competitive and it was Stoner who took victory honours heading Melandri for a Bridgestone 1-2.