Dani Pedrosa and his teammate Marc Marquez both started strongly at the Shell Advance Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on Friday, finishing in the top two positions in both free practices.
The winner of last year’s race at Sepang, Pedrosa, came out keen to maintain the level shown 12 months ago – on day one of practice. The Spaniard dominated proceedings, claiming the fastest times in both the morning and afternoon sessions. Second to him on both occasions was his Repsol Honda teammate Marquez.
In the morning, Pedrosa had already made clear his command of the Malaysian track and, after completing 17 laps, stopped the clock at a best time of 2:01.229. On his return to Sepang for the first time since pre-season testing, Marquez was just 0.367 secs. off his teammate.
The gap extended to half a second in the second session, in which Pedrosa raised the bar to record a quickest lap of 2:00.554 and become the only rider to breach the 2:01 mark.
“Today went well, we had two good practice sessions and were able to ride in dry conditions in both the morning and afternoon,” said Pedrosa who has recovered sufficiently from a badly bruised hip after his Aragon race crash caused inadvertently by Marquez, but is still riding in pain. “In the second session it looked like the track was going to be wet after a brief rain shower in-between FP1 and FP2, but it dried out quickly and we were able to continue working on our setups.
“When sitting on the bike I have quite a lot of pain, as the seat is very hard, so we shall see if a few more anti-inflammatories can help to alleviate the issue. We might also add a small cushion underneath my leathers, in order to absorb the bumps that we get when riding.”
For his part, Marquez commented, “We came here before in pre-season, when I had barely ridden a MotoGP bike so it was interesting to compare things again so many laps and miles later. I felt comfortable and this is important when trying to be more consistent every lap.
“On the single lap we are half a second off Dani who was very fast, as he always is at Sepang, but our pace in general isn’t too far off. We have to push hard because if he can do it, that means that the Honda is capable of those times. I was hoping to be more consistent but I had some problems with braking, which we were able to solve in the opening practice session. We still need to improve a few things, but I have realized that we are already fast, straight out of the box.”
Sixth fastest in typically hot and humid conditions in Friday morning’s opening 45-minute session, Monster Yamaha Tech3’s Cal Crutchlow was almost a second faster in FP2 to surge up the rankings into the top three behind Spanish duo Pedrosa and World Championship leader Marquez.
Crutchlow had struggled with pain in FP1 in the swollen right arm he first damaged at Silverstone, but he was able to ride in much less discomfort in FP2 and the improvement in his physical condition was reflected in his pace.
The 27-year-old posted a personal best time of 2:01.423 that secured him a top three slot by 0.115 secs. ahead of factory Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi.
“It was very difficult this morning to ride at my maximum level because I had some problems with the right arm I first injured during the recent British Grand Prix,” explained the English rider. “I already know I need surgery at the end of the season but until now the big impact my arm took at Silverstone has only given me bad swelling but no pain. This morning instead it hurt me a lot and couldn’t use the arm that well.
“Fortunately the afternoon session was much better and on my final run of the day we made a positive step and I am pleased to finish inside the top three. I was immediately faster the first time I put in a new tire because for most of FP2 we worked on the set-up of the bike with worn tires I’d also used this morning.”
Rossi made some improvement over the two practice sessions to wrap up the day in fourth in the combined times. The Italian made a 0.5 second improvement over the two sessions and finished 0.115 secs. behind Crutchlow, but still trailed pace man Pedrosa by nearly a second at the end of the day.
Defending World Champion Jorge Lorenzo had a tougher first day in Sepang. The Mallorcan struggled to find an optimum set up for the Malaysian circuit with mid-corner grip issues affecting his final times. He completed the first day in fifth overall, 0.085 seconds behind his Yamaha Factory Racing teammate Rossi.
Tito Rabat was comfortably quickest as Moto2™ practice began on Friday ahead of the Shell Advance Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix. The Tuenti HP 40 rider led Interwetten Paddock Moto2 Racing’s Tom Luthi, as Scott Redding moved ahead of championship rival Pol Espargaro after beginning the day in 12th place.
Already quickest in the morning when rain had affected the opening session, Rabat proceeded to register a 2:07.321 lap time during the dry afternoon. There was a significant gap of seven tenths of a second back to Luthi, as Marc VDS Racing Team’s Redding made huge strides to crack the top three. This left the Englishman almost two tenths up on Rabat’s teammate and closest title rival Espargaro, as Italtrans Racing Team’s Takaaki Nakagami finished fifth despite a crash.
Conditions were mixed across second Moto3™ practice at Sepang on Friday, with Jack Miler eventually going fastest for Caretta Technology – RTG. The Australian completed a reshuffled top three from Mahindra Racing’s Efren Vazquez and Ongetta-Rivacold’s Alexis Masbou, but it was Team Calvo’s Maverick Viñales whose morning time was quickest of the day.
After title contender Viñales posted a best effort of 2:14.961 in the morning, rain before the second session left riders with no option but to fit wet weather tires. As the circuit eventually dried and slicks were used towards the end of the afternoon period, there were changes aplenty atop the leaderboard but it was Miller’s FTR Honda going top with a leading afternoon lap time of 2:15.598.
Alex Rins (Estrella Galicia 0,0 and also a championship contender) was fourth overall from Mahindra Racing’s Efren Vazquez and championship leader Luis Salom (Red Bull KTM Ajo),