It had rained heavily ahead of the Moto2 taking to the track for the Shell Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix, the penultimate round of the season at the Sepang International Circuit meaning that a full wet set up was required for the 600cc class ahead of the 17th round of the season.
The Moto2 championship title at stake in Sepang
The Moto2 championship was undecided before the race as three riders had the chance to take the 2016 title, Ajo Motorsport rider Johann Zarco was hoping to retain the title and needed to extend his 22 point gap to 25 to secure the title in Sepang. Garage Plus Interwetten rider Thomas Luthi had caught him up though with two consecutive wins in Motegi and Phillip Island, and Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) was still hanging on.
Zarco on pole for the Shell Malaysian Moto2 Motorcycle Grand Prix
Zarco had qualified on pole for the penultimate round, and was joined on the front row by Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) and Axel Pons (AGR Team). The second row consisted of Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP), Luthi and Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Team).
As it had rained before the race, and in the build up during Free Practice and Qualifying, it meant that there was nothing new for the riders to expect, there were no surprises as all the data that they had collected over the weekend would now be put to good use.
Folger leads into turn one
Folger won the drag race to the first turn ahead of Morbidelli. Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) had run Luthi wide meaning his start was spoiled. To add to his bad luck, at turn two, Luthi and Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Team) came together and Luthi was again pushed out wide. He needed to be closer to Zarco to stop him from winning the championship.
But at the front, Morbidelli had passed Folger after several corners, and Folger soon almost lost another position to Zarco at turn 15, but the French man was unable to make it stick and he stayed in third as they crossed the line to start the second lap.
Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia) attempted to make a move on Pasini to claim sixth from him at turn one, but instead he went wide. Morbidelli was able to extend his lead on the second lap, and behind him Zarco made it past Folger to take second.
Lowes and Pasini crash out on the first lap
The first crash of the race saw two riders go down. British rider Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) and Pasini crashed out at turn nine, the two slid out. Lowes was extremely angry as he screamed at his bike knowing he couldn’t continue any further, but Pasini was able to get up and recover.
Huge crash for Axel Pons
Corners later Axel Pons (AGR Team) crashed at turn 12; the rear slid in the wet and when it gained grip again he was thrown over the bike and flew through the air (like Superman), landing on his front hard at the side of the road. He was able to fortunately walk away from the incident appearing unhurt.
On the third lap, Remy Gardner (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2) made his way past Luca Marini (Forward Team) to take 10th and Xavi Vierge (Tech 3 Racing) made his way past wildcard Ramdan Rosli on the Petronas AHM Malaysia to take 16th, and soon went on to pass British rider Danny Kent (Leopard Racing). Ratthapark Wilairot (Indemitsu Honda Team Asia) made his way up to 21st but on the next lap he crashed out at turn two of the circuit, he was able to get his bike recovered as he re-joined the race.
The front runners battled despite the wet conditions
Back at the front, Morbidelli and Baldassarri both passed Luthi and soon caught Syahrin in fifth and was looking for a way past the Malaysian. While he was distracted, Baldassarri was able to take advantage of this, and while Marquez was held up Baldassarri passed both he and Syharin to take fifth and began to pull away in pursuit of Xavier Simeon (QMMF Racing). Luthi went really wide and fell of the tail of the group that had formed and as they crossed the finish line to start the fifth lap, Marquez passed finally passed Syahrin.
Further down the field Isaac Vinales was on a mission first passing Iker Lecuona (replacing sacked Dominique Aegerter on the CarXpert Interwetten Kalex) to take 20th, and then gaining two more positions when he passed Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), before going on to pass Sandro Cortese (Dynavolt Intact GP). Robin Mulhauser (CarXpert interwetten) was forced to retire with 13 laps remaining.
Rins struggling in Sepang
The battle for fifth was becoming tenser as Baldassarri and Marquez both passed Simeon. In order to prevent Zarco from securing the championship, Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP40) needed to get a good result but has not been in good form of late. However, he was in the move after seven laps when he had passed Vierge first, then Gardner, (who was also soon passed by Marini and Roslo) and was looking for a way past Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) to take ninth. It was not long before he could no longer fend off the Spaniard who then lost another place to Vierge, who was having his best race of the season.
Lap times improved as the rtack dried out in Sepang
The track began to dry out and this meant that while some struggled with the wet Dunlops on the drying track, others were able to thrive. Luthi gained some positions passing Simeon at first and then both he and Syahrin went on to pass Marquez. Initially Syahrin passed the Spaniard but went wide and he retaliated, they diced for several corners before Syahrin made it stick.
Lap times improved a lot as they Baldassarri, Folger and Vinales moving the marker each time in the final few laps. Folger’s pace meant he was able to catch and pass Morbidelli at turn 13 with four laps remain. Not one to accept that easily, morbidelli fought back and did what he could to fight him off, This continued as Zarco, a man on his mission to claim his consecutive title, continued to ride faster and extend his lead at the front. He just not stayed on to complete the final bit of the puzzle.
Behind him, Morbidelli and Folger continued to battle until Folger ran on at turn seven. Fortunately he recovered and was able to re-join the race without further incident, but it meant that Morbidelli was able to escape and Folger had to settle for the bottom step of the podium.
Zarco wins in Sepang and becomes the 2016 Moto2 champion
Zarco did it, the 2015 Moto2 champion retained his title for the second year, becoming the first rider in the 600cc class to win back-to-back championships and became the 2016 Moto2 championship winner with his sixth win of the season in Sepang; he crossed the line to his pit board that confirmed he was the champion in gold lettering.
An emotional rider pulled up at the side of the track where many of the riders pulled up alongside him to congratulate him on his achievement, whether it ruined their chances of a title or not, there was a huge amount of sportsmanship witnessed as they celebrated with their fellow competitor.
Emotional celebrations for Zarco in in Malaysia
This was only the start of the celebrations to come as Zarco put on a t-shirt at the track side, changed his helmet for a golden one, and then appeared another ‘Zarco’ wearing a replica of his helmet and leathers, that joined him as they did his usual backwards somersault off the tyre wall to celebrate his success.
The emotion continued when he was greeted by his crew on the Ajo Motorsport in parc ferme who were extremely proud of their rider. And Zarco still could not fight back the tears when he stepped onto the top step of the podium knowing what he had achieved for himself, his family, his team and his country.
The results from the Shell Malaysian Moto2 Motorcycle Grand Prix
Zarco finished the Shell Malaysian Moto2 Motorcycle Grand Prix with a 3.256 lead over Morbidelli who crossed the line in second, and Folger had to settle for third. Over 21 seconds behind the leader, Baldassarri claimed fourth finishing ahead of Syahrin, Luthi and Marquez who ended up in seventh. Vierge was eighth claiming his best result so far and finishing as the highest placed Tech 3 rider, ahead of Marini who passed Vinales in the closing stages to take ninth as Vinales completed the top ten.
Corsi was 11th as the highest placed Speed Up rider ahead of wildcard rider Rosli who impressed with his 12th position and finishing in the points on his debut. Gardner was 13th after getting past Rins in 14th and Simeon claimed the last championship point available in 15th.
Just outside the points, Jesko Raffin (Sports Millions-EMEW-SAG) was 16th ahead of Cortese, Kent, Edgar Pons (Paginas Amarillas HP 40), and Marcel Schrotter (AGR Team) who completed the top 20. Nakagami finished in an unusual 21st, ahead of young Lecuona, Pasini in 23rd after his crash, and Wilairot completed the field in 24th after also continuing on in the race after his incident.
The championship battle focus turns to second as Zarco takes the 2016 title
Zarco’s win took him to 251 points in the championship which left him 37 points of Luthi after the penultimate round, meaning that even if he didn’t turn up, he would still take the 2016 championship. Luthi is now second on 214 points, just 11 ahead of Rins in third on 203. Morbidelli’s form has meant he has closed the gap to just six points between him and Rins, and he still has the chance to jump to second should he be able to secure a great result, and maybe even that win he so much deserves at the final round in Valencia.
Lowes’ crash means he has no chance to contend for second place but he is now in fifth in a battle with Folger for that position as he has closed the gap after claiming 16 points in Sepang. Folger is joint sixth with Nakagami as they are both on 159 points. Baldassarri (125 points) is eighth, ahead of Syahrin (117 points) in ninth, and Corsi completes the top 10 with 98 points.