The anticipation for this weekend’s Shell Advance Malaysian Grand Prix continued to build on Thursday, with championship leader Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Aleix Espargaró and 125cc World Champion Julián Simón all in attendance at the official pre-event press conference.
Rossi arrives in Malaysia this week with a 38-point advantage over his Fiat Yamaha team-mate and closest title rival Jorge Lorenzo, following the Spaniard’s crash at Phillip Island last weekend. Knowing that he needs a top-four finish regardless of Lorenzo’s result at Sepang to secure the 2009 MotoGP World Championship crown this weekend, Rossi is refusing to become complacent despite the relative assuredness of his current position.
"We have the first match point for the championship," admitted the defending champion. "After Jorge’s mistake at Phillip Island we have a good advantage. But we have to treat this like a normal race, especially in practice, because I like this track a lot and have had great results and races here in the past."
Stoner was in fine form on his home track last time out, securing a race victory and wrestling third position in the championship standings from Dani Pedrosa. The Australian also came first on the Malaysian track in his title-winning year of 2007, and is feeling in fantastic shape ahead of this weekend’s race.
"The last two races were fantastic for us, it was the right way to come back," said the 24 year-old. "In Portugal we had a great race and then at Phillip Island we topped it off. Things are so much better now; everything is working well, including my body, so we are really looking forward to this weekend now. It has been a long time since I looked forward to racing so much, because it was really hard when I wasn’t competitive before the break."
Aside from the pre-event press conference in the build up to the weekend, there was also a trip to the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary for Loris Capirossi, Hiroshi Aoyama, Héctor Barberá and Nico Terol.
The riders fed, interacted with and even rode the elephants, with Terol – the only rider brave enough to help bathe the native Malaysian animals – comparing the experience of being atop an elephant to that of riding a Grand Prix prototype.
"Well obviously you are so much higher up and things are a lot calmer, but you know if there is a crash there is a much bigger distance to fall!" joked the Jack & Jones Team man.
There was further fun back at the Sepang circuit, where 125cc rider Bradley Smith beat off competition from several fellow riders, including Pedrosa, Mika Kallio and Marco Melandri from the premier class, and former 500cc World Champion Àlex Crivillé to win a karting race.