It is a source of constant wonder with many MotoGP fans why DORNA choose to hold the Malaysian round of MotoGP in the rainy season. It's a fabulous circuit with some of the fastest, and hardest braking, sections on the calendar and the layout is truly inspired. But the last few years have seen more GPs resembling powerboat races than anywhere else. Even Donington, and that's saying something.
Anyway. The MotoGP circus rolled into town for the first of Valentino Rossi's match point races. With a thirty eight point lead over Lorenzo, there wasn't a huge amount that The Doctor needed to do to take his ninth championship. Fourth place would do it if Lorenzo won, ninth if he came second and twelfth if he just got onto the podium. But of course Rossi has proven to be fallible this year. Not as fallible a some, but fallible nonetheless. So there was a feeling of cautious optimism, I should imagine, on Lorenzo's side of the garage as proceedings got underway.
Practice, as I am so often at pains to point out, actually means nothing. But for the record, Lorenzo came out fighting and set the fastest time in the first session with Stoner, Pedrosa and Rossi in pursuit on a dry and warm track. Dani Pedrosa took the honours in session two, with Rossi, Stoner and Lorenzo behind. Told you these sessions don't mean anything. It was still dry but with humidity at over sixty percent it was not exactly pleasant.
Qualifying, of course, is where things start to get important. Because although it's not the race, it does determine, at least partly, how hard you have to work on Sunday. And Lorenzo didn't want to have to work so hard, setting a string of fastest laps from the beginning of the session and looking very much like the man to beat. Loris Capirossi raised a few eyebrows by putting the Suzuki at the top of the timesheets for a short time, deposed within minutes by Pedrosa, Rossi and Stoner before Nicky Hayden got into the mix as well. From there on it was a constant swap before Rossi took control and, as Lorenzo had earlier, set a string of fastest laps to take an emphatic pole, considerably inside his own outright lap record, set on a 990cc bike in 2007. Lorenzo came in just over half a second behind his team-mate, with Pedrosa a further quarter second back and completing the front row. Casey Stoner headed row two from a rejeuvenated Capirossi and Toni Elias, while row three had Nicky Hayden leading Randy de Puniet and a disappointed Colin Edwards.
So it was all shaping up to be a humdinger of a race. Warmup was led by Casey Stoner, maximising any psychological advantage, on a notably cooler track. And with higher humidity, too. I did mention the rainy season earlier, and a combination of lower temperature and higher humidity can usually only mean one thing. And so it was. The heavens opened and there was such a deluge on the track that the race had to be delayed for thirty five minutes to allow it to slow down. Even then the rain continued to fall, though at a reduced rate. It was fair to say that, although everyone had a dry weather bike ready just in case, they weren't going to be needed.
Lights out and Rossi made a stupendous start, outdragged only by featherweight Pedrosa and pursued by Stoner and Capirossi, who also got a cracker off the line. Inexplicably, though, Rossi completely mucked up the first corner and went from second place to eighth in one fell swoop, dropping a further two places in the next couple of corners. Now at this point it's worth mentioning that Jorge Lorenzo had to start from the pitlane after technical problems stopped him lining up on the grid in time. Which made the fact that he was all over his team-mate after half a lap or so even more amazing. It's also worth mentioning that James Toseland got a truly dreadful start and went backwards with a bike that was clearly not happy in the wet. The young Englishman was cruelly robbed of what could have been a season best finish at Phillip Island after mistakenly being penalised with a ride-through for jumping the start. He received an apology, which was nice, but that didn't give him the points he needs to get a decent championship finish.
Someone else who was going very well, though, was Casey Stoner. The young Australian fought his way up to the front and immediately set about making himself a gap. And what a gap he made, extending a gap of over a second in the first lap. And that included having to overtake people as well. Now at this point, and indeed at any other point afterwards, if one just looks at the front then it gets pretty dull. Because Stoner rode an absolute textbook race without putting a wheel wrong once. The difference in pace between Stoner and the rest of the pack was almost embarrassing as he took as much as two seconds out of Pedrosa each lap. Stoner eventually backed off and allowed his pace to come down below the rest, but at that point he was some eighteen seconds clear. Further back, though, things were rather more interesting. Loris Capirossi was scrapping well, as was Nicky Hayden. Toni Elias was in the thick of it while Lorenzo had passed Rossi and was working his way up the field with varying degrees of success and aggression. Hayden proved extremely hard to pass, resisting and counterattacking before Lorenzo finally managed to get away. But there was Rossi, making a rather firm but perfectly fair move to stay in touch with Lorenzo. Hayden spent the rest of the race embroiled in a scrap with Toni Elias before the Spaniard faded, only to be replaced by Chris Vermeulen. But no doubt about it, this was a brilliant ride by the Kentucky Kid, and it's great to see him back approaching the form we know he's capable of.
Up at the front, Pedrosa was gamely chasing Stoner, though the gap was ever increasing. But at least he was staying ahead of his team-mate Dovizioso, who seems to go well in the rain. At least until he falls off, which he did with just half a dozen laps to go. Actually, considering the dreadful conditions, it's surprising that the only two casualties were Dovizioso, who lost both the front and rear wheels pretty well simultaneously and slid off onto the grass, and Randy de Puniet who exited via a rather nasty highside much earlier on. Happily the popular frenchman was uninjured. But back up at the front, the real surprise was that Rossi had passed Lorenzo and was now showing him the way home. Indeed, until his departure, Rossi was rapidly hunting down Dovizioso and setting the fastest lap of the race in the process. Not bad for someone who didn't really need to do much.
So as the chequered flag fell, Casey Stoner was the winner by the whole length of the main straight - something over a kilometre, which is an astonishing achievement. Dani Pedrosa was second with Rossi third and Lorenzo fourth. Which, of course, was more than enough to give Rossi his seventh MotoGP title and ninth World Championship. In his normal shy, retiring style, Valentino celebrated with a chicken, an egg and lots of fans. That's a real chicken, complete with tiny helmet and visor. And for the benefit of the Australian reader who e-mailed to ask, Rossi says that when a chicken gets too old it can't lay eggs and is just good for eating. But he can still lay eggs. Or something along those lines, anyway.
Next season could be very interesting indeed. Or it could be very boring indeed. If Stoner and the Ducati are as good as they were in 2007, and indeed as they were at the end of this season, then there won't be much actual racing going on. But at the moment it looks as though it'll be a straight fight between pedrosa, Stoner, Lorenzo and the 2009 World Champion, Valentino Rossi. Bring it on...
Sepang MotoGP Results
1. Casey Stoner (Ducati)
2. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
3. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
4. Jorge Lorenzo(Yamaha)
5. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
6. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki)
7. Toni Elias (Honda)
8. Marco Melandri (Kawasaki)
9. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki)
10. Mika Kallio (Ducati)
MotoGP standings (after sixteen rounds)
1. Valentino Rossi 286 (2009 MotoGP Champion)
2. Jorge Lorenzo 245
3. Casey Stoner 220
4. Dani Pedrosa 209
5. Andrea Dovizioso 152
6. Colin Edwards 148
7. Marco Melandri 108
8. Loris Capirossi 108
9. Alex de Angelis 105
10. Randy de Puniet 105