The Fiat Yamaha Team head straight from Australia to Malaysia this week as they contest the second Grand Prix in just seven days, with the penultimate race of the season set to take place at the Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur. Yamaha have been the most successful manufacturer in MotoGP at the ultra modern circuit, taking three victories from eight visits, and their strong record in Malaysia stretches back to the first ever race in the country back in 1991, when John Kocinski took 500cc honors at Shah Alam.
The most recent Malaysian Grand Prix was also won by Yamaha, with Valentino Rossi taking his fourth premier-class win at Sepang following a stunning battle with Loris Capirossi last season. Rossi is keen to repeat that performance this weekend as he aims to become the first MotoGP rider ever to score 100 career podiums in the class - his third place finish at Phillip Island last Sunday having taken his tally to an unsurpassed 99. Rossi's team-mate Colin Edwards is also targeting a return to the podium after a dry spell of eight races since his last top-three finish at Donington Park.
Sepang is one of the widest tracks on the calendar, measuring 16 metres across in some areas, and high track temperatures are always a factor in the tropical climate. With four major hairpins, and some fast and frequent changes of direction in its 5,542m layout, Sepang provides a stern workout for the entire bike set-up and its largely consistent, if demanding, climate makes it the ideal winter testing venue. However, after being completely resurfaced since pre-season testing back in February, the teams will have to wait until first free practice on Friday morning to see how useful previous data will be for set-up this weekend.
Valentino Rossi - "Our target is unchanged" Valentino Rossi's impressive career podium tally in MotoGP includes six from the past six seasons at Sepang, including those four victories. After extending his advantage over Dani Pedrosa in the battle for the important runner-up spot in the championship at the last round, the Italian is again targetting the top step of the podium as he aims to finish a difficult season on a high note.
I did everything I could in Australia but we couldn't challenge Stoner so our target for the final two races is unchanged - to fight for the win," says Rossi. "Sepang is another of my favourite tracks and I've had some great races there. Last year's battle with Loris was especially memorable, and I would really like to have the chance to fight like that with my rivals again this year.
"We know that our bike generally goes well there and we have a lot of data from so much testing there, even if our bike has changed quite a bit from the start of the year when we were last there and the track has also, but hopefully we will be able to find a good package and be competitive. We have two races left and we are going to be doing everything we can to win them both so we can end the season in a good way."
Colin Edwards - "Still determined" After another disappointing weekend in Australia, Colin Edwards prefers to focus on the positive pre-season tests the team enjoyed at Sepang back in February, when both riders dipped under 990cc lap record pace during an extensive tyre workout. Edwards has not enjoyed the best of luck at Sepang in the past and has yet to finish above tenth place but he is confident of turning that around this weekend.
"Despite only finishing ninth I did leave Phillip Island feeling like we salvaged something from the weekend because at times it was looking like it was going to be a lot worse and I think we learnt something," reflects Edwards. "For Malaysia, Michelin are bringing some stuff that I know from testing works for me on this bike at this track - we just have to hope it works just as well with the new surface. Hopefully if we put it together with what we learnt about the bike in Australia then we'll be in good shape.
"The YZR-M1 went brilliantly at Sepang in preseason testing - now we will have to see how much better our rivals are there after a full season of development. Anyway, I'm glad to be going straight there from Australia because there's no time to sit about feeling disappointed about what happened Phillip Island. I'm still determined to get a good result before the end of the season and Sepang is a good place to do it."
Davide Brivio - "A few question marks" It promises to be a busy weekend for Fiat Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio, who arrived in Malaysia early this week to check out the newly resurfaced Sepang circuit. With weather forecasts predicting rain and the Grand Prix Commission set to announce a decision over tyre regulations for next season, there is plenty for the Italian to think about both off and on the track in Malaysia.
"We had a great test here in February but it looks like the resurfacing has changed the track a lot so we don't know what the grip will be like," says Brivio. "It means we go there in pretty much the same shape as everybody else, with some doubts about what we tested here. The weather forecast we have is predicting rain each afternoon so there are question marks over the track and the conditions.
"Apart from that, this is a circuit we have enjoyed a lot of success at in the past and Valentino has won here many times so we have to be confident. It will also be an important weekend because of the decision over a possible single-tyre rule for next year. Once it is made we can decide our exact development strategy for next season so we are all looking forward to hearing how it will work out. Then we can look ahead to making a stronger challenge next year."