SEPANG: Valentino Rossi and Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo reprise their battle for second place in the MotoGP season championship in Malaysia this weekend, with memories of last year’s acrimonious race still fresh.
Spain’s Marc Marquez of Repsol Honda clinched his third world title in four years in Japan a fortnight ago, shifting the focus to nine-time champion Rossi and his teammate and rival Lorenzo.
They return to Malaysia’s steamy Sepang circuit where Rossi last year was accused of sending Marquez sliding out of the race with a kick, earning the Italian legend a back-of-the-grid start in the season decider at Valencia.
Rossi later suggested that the penalty — and what he called collusion between fellow Spaniards Lorenzo and Marquez to thwart him in Valencia — cost him the championship.
“Of course the relationship (with Rossi) has changed a little bit,” Marquez said Thursday, referring to the fallout from Sepang.
“Now we have a professional relationship, nothing else.”
Asked to respond, Rossi said coolly: “I agree with Marc.”
Rossi, 37, blew his hopes of catching Marquez this year to secure a 10th world title when he fell in Japan.
But he rides into the Malaysia Grand Prix with momentum after a strong podium last weekend at the Australian Grand Prix.
Rossi fought back at Phillip Island from 15th on the grid to take second place behind Cal Crutchlow.
With two races left, that gave him a 24-point lead over Lorenzo, who put in a relatively lacklustre sixth-place showing in Australia.
– ‘Toughest race’ –
No one has been more successful at Sepang than Rossi, who has six wins here, yet he called it the “toughest race of the season.”
The Sepang track is one of the trickiest, especially when Malaysia’s tropical weather comes into play.
Track temperatures can top 50 degrees centigrade (122 Fahrenheit) — putting strain on both man and machine — and the humidity and sudden heavy downpours can pose control issues.
An additional wild card this year is a track resurfacing designed to hasten rain runoff and improve tyre grip.
“Sepang is always a fantastic track and I like it a lot. The big problem is the temperature. It’s a great challenge,” Rossi said.
“It’s the toughest race of the season, and also the track is new. We have new asphalt. That is always a big question mark, especially for the tyres.”
Rossi’s last world title came in 2010, which was also the most recent year in which he won at Sepang.
The track saw the tragic death in 2011 of Italian rider Marco Simoncelli in a crash that also involved Rossi and resulted in the race’s cancellation.
Last year’s victor in Malaysia, Dani Pedrosa, will miss the race after breaking his collarbone in a horrific crash in Japan.
The final race of the season at Valencia is set for November 13.
Malaysian police on Wednesday warned race spectators to behave, hoping to prevent a recurrence of an incident at Sepang during last month’s Malaysia F1 race that saw nine Australian fans arrested.
The Australians were detained on suspicion of public indecency after they stripped down to skimpy swimwear emblazoned with Malaysia’s flag while celebrating countryman Daniel Ricciardo’s win.
Displays of public indecency are frowned upon in Muslim-majority Malaysia, as are insults to the nation’s flag, but they were eventually released without charge.