Malaysian MotoGP: The PUMA Perspective

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With the 2011 MotoGP World Championship having last week been decided in favour of Honda rider Casey Stoner - adding to the title he won with Ducati in 2007 - the series can look forward to the final two rounds with relish, for now the riders can get down to doing what they do best: racing.

Stoner claimed the championship with two rounds to go after arch-rival Jorge Lorenzo crashed out on Sunday morning during warm-up ahead of the Australian Grand Prix on Phillip Island. The reigning champion injured his left hand in the accident, forcing him to withdraw and pave the way for the Australian to clinch the title at home.

Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix is the penultimate round of the 18-leg series and the last long-haul event of the season, with the equatorial country’s Sepang International Circuit, situated approximately 60 kilometres south of Kuala Lumpur, hosting the race.

The 5,548-kiloemtre circuit is the second-longest on the calendar (after Silverstone), and effectively consists of two long, fast straights connected in a V-formation each followed by tight bends to encourage overtaking, with the rest of the circuit looping around the outside. Given the region’s tropical weather, wet races are a regular feature as oppressive 40°C heat regularly gives way to monsoon showers, with this climatic mix playing havoc with tyre wear.

Sepang was built in 1999 in the shadow of Malaysia’s international airport with the specific intention of bringing world class motorsport to the bustling country, and was one of the first superstadiums. Palatial grandstands, enormous garage areas, +50°C asphalt temperatures and a 16m-wide track with extended run-off areas characterise this circuit, which hosts both MotoGP and Formula 1.

PUMA’s partner team Ducati Corse has a strong record at Sepang, having won here three times, while nine-time champion Valentino Rossi has taken six Malaysian wins in his illustrious career, and counts the circuit amongst his favourites.

“I like the Sepang circuit a lot, although weather conditions are always extreme. We didn’t have much good luck in Australia, and we also had to work harder than expected on the bike’s setup, and we hope to do better here in Malaysia, starting on Friday,” said the legendary Italian, currently sixth in the championship, ahead of the weekend.

While the 31-year-old’s team-mate, 2006 world champion Nicky Hayden, has yet to win here, the American rider has previously posted strong results, and is also looking forward to this race.

“The conditions in Malaysia are typically hot and steamy, very different from what we had at Phillip Island on Sunday. Sepang has a good mix of everything, so you need the bike to do everything well. There are some long straight-aways where you need a fast bike that brakes well, along with some fast corners, like Turns 5 and 6 and a section in the back. On the other hand, there are also some slow little hairpins, so it’s a good mix of everything that really challenges a rider and bike,” is Nicky’s view of Sepang.

Sunday’s 20-lap race starts at 16:00 local time (10:00 CET), with Saturday’s qualifying hour scheduled to commence at 13:55 (07:55 CET).