By the time things got underway for the MotoGP class at the Sepang International Circuit ahead of the Shell Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix, the track was damp as it had rained before the meeting.
The riders took to a track that was drying but there were damp patches that could catch them out as it did with some Moto3 riders, who set out first.
Iannone makes his return, Pedrosa still out
Ducati Team rider Andrea Iannone made his return to Sepang after he missed several rounds following an incident during Free Practice in Misano when he fractured vertebrae.
His return to racing meant that Avintia Ducati rider Hector Barbera made his return to his team and that Mike Jones or Michele Pirro were not needed as replacement riders.
Dani Pedrosa is also out of action after he broke his collarbone, fractured his fibula and a metatarsal when he experienced a huge high-side in Motegi.
Japanese rider Hiroshi Aoyama, who replaced him at his home track in Motegi, returned to Sepang; the Honda test rider will take the reigns of the Repsol Honda.
Damp conditions in Sepang
Riders were straight out when the session started keen to get a good start to the meeting when it was almost dry because again the weather forecast is mixed for the weekend.
Having not been on his Desmosedici GP16 for several weeks now Iannone made his way straight out on track in the humid conditions.
Repsol Honda rider, Marc Marquez, the newly crowned 2016 MotoGP champion following his win in Motegi, was straight to the top of the time sheets as they began to lay rubber on the damp track.
The riders were in groups as they circulated, which would have made it much harder them for them to see and react to the damp patches that would appear ahead of them.
Withing the opening ten minutes, Phillip Island winner Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) and Maverick Vinales (Team Suzuki Ecstar), who joined him on the podium in Australia, all made their way to the top of the time sheets.
Track resurfaced since Michelin test
French tyre manufacturer Michelin, who became suppliers to the MotoGP season, have tested in Sepang in February of this year, however, since then the whole track has been resurfaced to eliminate the bumps but in doing so they have also restructured the corners which now include corners that the riders have had to learn their way to navigate around.
Turn 15 catches out Laverty
Irishman Eugene Laverty was the first to get caught out at turn 15 on his Pull & Bear Aspar Ducati when he had to bail on the entry to the corner as he misjudged the camber, and he continued starlight on into the deep gravel trap that is there to catch them. He kept it upright though and was able to return to the pits.
After 15 minutes some riders made their return to the pits, on an empty track Vinales was able to claim the top sort on the timesheet. With 24 minutes to go Rossi lapped quickest again (he is sporting a Eneos livery in Malaysia), before being knocked off the spot by Crutchlow who was then beaten by Marquez. Dark clouds were looming over the Sepang International Circuit as with less than 15 minutes to go Vinales again went to the top.
Next to be caught out at turn 15 was Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS rider Jack Miller. He too had to bail like Laverty a day rode his Honda into the gravel before too returning to the pits.
Marquez quickest at the end of FP1
In the final stages there several riders who completed some impressive lap times, including Aleix Espargaro aboard the team Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR , Alvaro Bautista with Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, and Iannone also made a good challenge. It was Marquez who was quickest at the end of the first Free Practice Session with his time of 2:01.210 which was still three seconds off the record pace in Malaysia.
Vinales was second fastest ahead of Rossi who moved up to third with a last minute lap pushing Iannone down to fifth. Barbera was sixth fastest, as the highest placed independent team rider, ahead of Aleix Espargaro, Yonny Hernandez (Pull &Bear Aspar), Bautista and Movistar YAMAHA rider Jorge Lorenzo completed the top 10. As the flag went out, Miller again was caught out at turn 15 however this time he did crash. Fortunately he was unhurt although he did look really annoyed which is understandable.
Marquez and Iannone missed Free Practice 2
Marquez was missing from action when the elite class returned to the track for Friday Practice 2. The Spaniard was suffering from Gastroenteritis and decided to take the rest of the day off to recover. Also, Iannone chose not to venture out for the second Free Practice session as he continental to recover from his injuries.
Rain meant wet conditions for Free Practice 2
What would have helped them to make the decision not to take the track, was the fact that it had rained heavily during the first Free Practice session for the Moto2 class right after their first session had ended. So by the time they took to the track to get the second session underway there was still a lot of standing water and the track hadn’t dried out enough to learn anything new, even though the rain had held off.
The rain always throws things wide open and it was Hernandez who took the lead on the time sheets. Crutchlow was also able to challenge him for the top spot as was Loris Baz (Avintia Ducati), Barbera, Aoyama and Rossi.
Turn seven also proving difficult
Another corner catching riders out in Sepang was turn seven. The likes of Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati), Tito Rabat (Estrella Galicia 0,0), and Pol Espargaro (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) all found themselves having to use the tarmac run-off areas. Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) also appeared to be struggling with the second half of the lap which was preventing them from putting in the quicker times; at one stage Lorenzo was seen going very wide at turn 15.
Riders remained on Michelin Power Wets
While some riders opted to return to the pits to make the switch to slicks that does take some time even when some of the best mechanics are working on it. A good majority of rider however remained on the full wet set up and will have benefited from the experience gained during the time spent on them.
Miller quickest after wet Free Practice 2
The tyres were just beginning to get to optimum performance with 15 minutes of the session remaining.
Pol Espargaro completely messed up turn 15 but still was able to go quickest, Hernandez continued and improved by a second, and then Baz took to the top again with less than 10 minutes to go.
The times continued to tumble with Rossi and Bautista again coming close. After the flag came out, Miller set his fastest lap on the final attempt and was the fastest rider during FP2 with a time of 2:08.872.
One factory rider in the top 10
Proof that the rain does completely turn things upside down, the top 10 from FP2 consisted of Miller Being fastest ahead of Crutchlow and Barbera in third. Bradley Smith (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) who is still recovering from injury was fourth quickest ahead of Baz, Redding, Dovizioso as the highest placed factory rider in seventh, Stefan Bradl (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), Rabat and Aoyama completed the top 10.
The times were way off the pace from the morning session and so when combined it was the results from that session that remained quickest which meant that Marquez, despite not making it on out track for the second session, remained the fastest rider in Sepang at the end of day one of the Shell Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix.