The penultimate round of 2017 MotoGP officially got underway Thursday with the pre-race press conference at Sepang International Raceway in Malaysia.Six riders were present, including the two men fighting for the title, Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez and Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso. Also previewing their thoughts ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix were Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales; Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Johann Zarco; and Moto2’s Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), who like Marquez can clinch the Moto2 title this weekend.
Marquez, who won last weekend at Phillip Island, enters Sepang – the third of three back-to-back races – with a 33-point advantage over Dovizioso. This is Marquez’s first shot at sealing the 2017 MotoGP title.“One of the main targets is try to finish, and try to be on the same level with the same mentality but obviously you feel a little bit different and it’s a special weekend,” Marc Marquez says.“But on the other hand, I have the same motivation and mentality and I’ll try to push in the practices to the maximum to prepare the race, and we’ll see how we can fight and finish on Sunday. A lot of riders are fast here, and we did a lot of laps here during the preseason test so it will be a tough weekend. Here in the past I’ve had some ups and downs, it’s not one of my best tracks. We will see where we can arrive this weekend. But I have a good advantage, there are two races remaining, and we’ll try to be on a good level and think about the Championship. But if I need to fight, I will fight.”After some dominating performances, Ducati GP17 pilot Dovizioso struggled at Phillip Island. The Italian crashed during FP4, and he wasn’t able to quite regroup in Australia, where he finished 13th and lost additional points to winner Marquez.“After a bad result at Phillip Island, I went to Langkawi for three days, and I enjoyed the weather and the beach to be ready for this weekend,” Andrea Dovizioso says. “We know it’s difficult but the Championship is open and we’ll try everything.“We have to be ready in all conditions. Last year it was an amazing victory and battle with Valentino and Iannone. I have good memories and I really enjoy riding this track. In the past in the dry we’ve never been very competitive, but I expect it will be different this year. We’ll try and get the best result, and then we’ll see what happens with Marc and the other riders. Before we approached the weekend looking to win the race, and we won’t change that.”The battle for the title between Marquez and Dovi pulls the pressure off the rest of the grid, including Vinales and Rossi. But both riders can have a major say in who wins the title if they are battling up front with the title contenders.“I enjoyed Phillip Island a lot. I didn’t expect to be on the podium because I lost some seconds when I had contact with Iannone but I pushed to the limit,” Maverick Vinales says.“But we recovered the feeling, especially with the front tyre, and that’s important for Sepang. Let’s see what we can do this weekend but I’m convinced we can do another great job. This is a track I really like, I’ve always been fast with good results, and also it’s good for Yamaha. And I feel good in the tough conditions. We were struggling all year in the wet and then in 20 minutes we found the key! Here there should be some rain so it will be good to prove we’ve made that step.”As for Rossi, he finished second at Phillip Island, and has high hopes for Sepang, which he considers a very demanding race.“It was a great pleasure to fight in that race at Phillip Island, it was very fun,” Valentino Rossi says. “And it was an important result, especially for me after injury, and for the team. We arrive here in good shape but here it’s completely different. I like this track a lot, I was on a 250 when we rode here for the first time and it’s a great pleasure to ride on a MotoGP bike.“But It’s like the bad weather has followed us everywhere all season! We’ll try to be competitive in all conditions. In the wet this year I’m not as strong as last year, but we hope to be strong. This is the most demanding race of the season because it’s very hot.”Independent team rider Zarco also commented on the challenges at Sepang: “When I watched Phillip Island, seeing all those overtakes…I’m happy I was part of them, fighting at the top level – and I’m happy with the weekend we had, we had a good improvement that I hope we can have here too. If I can find the same feeling, I would like to be part of the fight for the podium or even for victory. I keep some hope of being back here on Sunday! Being fast at Phillip Island was a special emotion, but here is a bit different because we tested here. And I can feel the experience I’ve gained from February to October.”Also speaking was Morbidelli, who has a 29-point advantage over Thomas Luthi in the Moto2 Championship. Like Marquez in MotoGP, Morbidelli can also clinch the title this weekend.“I will try to face this weekend as I usually do. I know it’s going to be hard and it won’t be a usual GP but I’ll try to stay calm, do my job and set up the bike to be as fast as possible,” Franco Morbidelli says.“I really like Sepang, especially with the new surfaces with less bumps. It’s really nice to ride around here. Hopefully it will be dry or completely wet, I prefer clear conditions. In Australia both KTMs were really fast, I tried to get more points and battle with Binder but couldn’t beat him at the end. But third was good for the Championship.”The riders head to Sepang Friday for the opening day of free practice ahead of Saturday qualifying and Sunday’s 20-lap MotoGP.
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at email@example.com and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!