At the circuit where he lost his good friend Marco Simoncelli following a racing incident, Movistar Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi again returned five years later and emerged from the Shell Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit victorious, making it to second on the podium at the penultimate round of the MotoGP season.
There was no denying that Rossi was reflecting on the loss of Simoncelli throughout the weekend as on several occasions he made references and gestures towards the Italian. Among the gestures, both he and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) pulled a synchronised wheelie at the corner where he died as a tribute. A plaque was also left at the corner in a ceremony attended by those involved in the sport to commemorate the no. 58 rider.
Rossi hoping to secure second in the championship
Rossi headed to Sepang, after emerging from the very wet meeting at Phillip Island GP second on the podium behind Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) who claimed his second victory of the season, the Italian set out in the hope of winning what would have been a dry round for the penultimate meeting of the season. It rained though, throughout the weekend, again, and probably most fortunately for the riders it rained on race day so not only was the data they collected put to good use, they did not get any surprises.
Rossi knew he had to finish ahead of his teammate Lorenzo in the hopes of securing second in the championship; his hopes of continuing to challenge for his 10th win ended in Motegi when he and his teammate crashed out handing it to Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda).
Second on the grid for Rossi in Sepang
The newly surfaced track proved to be quite grippy even in the wet, what threw them all off was the camber at turn 15 that the riders used a variety of lines to get around. Rossi was on the pace all weekend and qualified to start the race from second on the grid behind Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team).
He did not get a great start and lost several positions, but not long into the race, he managed to pass three riders including Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team), teammate Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha) and the newly crowned 2016 MotoGP champion Marquez to take second slotting in behind Dovizioso who was leading at the time.
It was not long until Rossi was able to pass Dovizioso and take the lead where he remained for several laps of the race. The rain held off however and the track began to dry out. For some riders they were able to significantly improve their track times as the full Michelin Power Wets came good. Dovizioso was running well and hungry for a well-deserved win.
Mistake for Rossi sees him lose the lead to Dovizioso
The Ducati rider had made his way past the competition and was sat in behind Rossi chasing him down. With five laps remaining Rossi went too hot into turn one of the track and as a result he ran wide. This meant that Dovizioso was able to pass him with ease. The mistake spoiled his momentum and Dovizioso was able to get away and beat him to the line. Dovizioso became the ninth different MotoGP winner this season winning his second MotoGP ever, (since Donnington Park in 2009), and Rossi finished the race just over three seconds behind him.
Rossi secures second in the championship in Sepang finishing second in the race
Rossi collected 20 points with his podium in Sepang, four more than his teammate Lorenzo who finished the race in third collecting 16 points. The results from the penultimate round means he is now on 236 points and has secured second in the championship as he is 28 points ahead of Lorenzo in third and the Spaniard has no way of catching him with just one more race.
Rossi explained how his “main target” in Sepang was “to arrive in front of Jorge for second place in the championship”, however he “also wanted the win” as he explained that he “felt very good with the bike in the beginning”. He described how he “had to fight a lot with Iannone” who he found was “fast”.
Rossi struggled with the tyres
After his battle with his mate when he “went in front” he was “very optimistic”, however he described that when “the water on the track became less” and the “temperature went up” that he ended up “a bit in trouble with the tyres, especially the front”. Rossi spoke of how he “had two moments” where he said he “risked too much” which meant he “made a mistake” and found that “in that moment” that race winner Dovizioso “was too fast” and “he went” by and went on to win the race.
Still, Rossi felt that “securing second place in the championship is important”. He admitted that the “battle with Lorenzo is always very intense” and that they “always arrive at the last race”. He said, “When you beat a rider that’s very strong like Jorge, it’s great,” and said that “in the end it has been a good season”. Having to settle for third, but getting the job that he needed to done he said, “I wanted to win, but it wasn’t possible”.