It’s time for the final flyaway of the season as Sepang International Circuit hosts the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix, and the pre-event Press Conference saw reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) joined by Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) - now confirmed as second overall this season - as well as Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), Jack Miller (Pramac Racing), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) and home hero Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) to talk shop before go-time.
Marquez spoke first, and he sounds pretty upbeat about the weekend ahead. He also has chance to beat the record of points scored in a single season this weekend - teammate Jorge Lorenzo's 383 from 2010. “We are in a good moment obviously and we’re enjoying being on the bike, everything we try is working and now it’s time to keep going, I already said in Aragon that the target was to try and finish all races on the podium and here it’s the same target. We’ll try to work hard all weekend, fight for another victory again and put some pressure on our opponents, that’s the best way to finish the season.
“On paper, if we look at this year’s bike, and the fact that last year we won, we can say it should be better with more speed because we have a better engine for these two straights. But then last year on the podium was a Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha, and the fastest on the straights, Ducati, weren’t on the podium. It will be difficult with the weather, trying to understand track conditions which change a lot from morning to afternoon, but I’ll try to be in top positions in all conditions and see if we can fight for the victory.”
Next up it was time to hear from Dovizioso, who says they’re still looking for more - although he is a winner at Sepang. He started by debriefing Australia. "I think we have to look at the gap, not the real position. I was able to fight with Jack and Bagnaia until the last corner if I hadn’t made a mistake on the last lap, so my position was there. But I don’t think that’s the point, the point is the gap because it’s much bigger than last year. We can’t be happy. We finished the tire in the last ten laps but that’s always a consequence of the way you have to ride. I didn’t feel good all weekend, but it is what it is.
"This season I think in the end we’ve had a lot of ups and downs. We’ve struggled in a lot of situations compared to the last two years, but we’ve finished second, so we have to be happy about that. When we look at Marc, for sure the gap is too big, but the gap is too big for everybody. Everybody has to complain about that and it’s difficult to think how we can stop Marc because this season he’s done something even better than in the past. I think in Malaysia it isn’t the best situation for us in the afternoon when it’s hot. We’ve never had a good race in the dry. We have to be better in that situation, so let’s see the condition because every year you can find different conditions. I think they resurfaced three corners so let’s see what they’re like, but we must be better in the afternoon here.
"For sure, we don’t have the same speed as last year. We speak about the real speed in the practice and at the beginning of the race when the tyre is new. That’s created a tough situation for us because we can’t make a strategy. When you push at the beginning and you don’t have the speed everything is a problem. I was able to manage myself I think in the right way in a lot of races. I was able to stay calm when I didn’t have the pace at the start, I managed the tyre and kept the same lap times so I could gain a second and more positions in the end. But it’s not enough, it’s not what we need. We need to be better."
Quartararo took the mic next, and the Frenchman can clinch top Independent Team rider here, as well as the team being able to take the same title - on Petronas' home turf. First, however, he spoke about his injury from the crash in Australia. "I’m feeling better. For sure I still have pain but when you are on the bike you have other things to think about. It will be a very important weekend for us, there’s a lot expectation for the team at their home GP, so we will give our best and try to make them proud.
"When you have a bad crash, you are not worried but you want to get back on the bike as soon as possible to not lose the feeling. On the Saturday, unfortunately, with the wind and conditions, we only did a few laps, so the Sunday was quite fun; we had the Warm Up, I was into Q1 for the first time and it was good because I needed more time on the track. We didn’t expect a front row finish in the Q2. Apart from the race and the crash, the qualifying was good and we need to take the positives from this weekend and it’s that we found the speed at a tough track."
Miller also found that speed, and the Australian goes from being the first Aussie rider on the podium on home turf in seven years to now fighting Quartararo for top Independent once again. "I was actually pretty worried leading into this because – Cal will verify – I had no voice Monday or Tuesday, it came back yesterday a little bit. And you can hear it’s still not ideal but I’m here, I’m alive, that’s the positive thing!
"I think Marc and Cal will say, the podium was ridiculous, I’ve never experienced anything like that. It was an amazing day. Here we are now, quick turnaround back in Malaysia. Looking forward to hopefully a solid weekend. We had a good test here but you can never really compare the test with the race weekend because you always get good conditions throughout the test, so I look forward to going back to our base settings and working through the practice as usual.
And the key? "Tyre management, it’s such a long race, I think that’s going to be one of the key things. Just on paper and what the boys ran last year it looks like the softs are the ones to go for for the race. Just try to get enough laps under out belts in practice and qualifying, especially in the afternoon. It usually rains around 2:30/3 o'clock every day. Just try to make a good strategy throughout the practice, maximize the track time to get as comfortable as possible for the race in order to as ready as we can for Sunday. I think the last three times we’ve been here, twice it’s been wet so we need to be ready for both conditions."
Crutchlow, meanwhile, was also on the podium last time out - and at a track that saw him suffer a huge crash last year. He was positive about that, and about his current run of form in general. Can he pounce for a late surprise as top Independent? "It’s definitely good to have a fifth place in Motegi as well. Hopefully, we can finish these flyaways in good shape. I didn’t race here last year but I made the test. It’s a circuit I enjoy but not one I’ve always been fantastic at but that can always change. I look forward to seeing what we can do here. The team are working very hard along with Honda and we need another good result to make these three weekends worthwhile.
"You need to ride to the conditions, ride to the bike and the tyres you have underneath you to try make the best job of it that you can. It’s not an easy circuit to ride with the long braking zones, the fast corners and the changes of direction, then you have the heat on top of it. It’s always a difficult race for everyone but we’re all in the same boat and need to try make a good job of it here in Malaysia."
Finally, the room fell silent to hear from the home hero. For Syahrin it's been a good hunting ground in the past, and he spoke about that and the future. "Back to the home GP, it’s always great and of course there’s always a bit of pressure in front of the home fans and you hope you do well. Last night we had a some small football friendly match with the SRT team and I think at the moment it’s the only way I can beat them, on the circuit they are a bit too fast! We train sometimes together with the SRT riders, with Fabio in Spain, sometimes with Jack, so sometimes we beat their time on the small bike, we fight each other. Athletes always like to win in whatever they do! This small game gave me a bit of motivation, I enjoyed it, it’s a nice place to play here."
And his favourite memory at Sepang and in the premier class? "I always enjoy it with my team because my team is like my family. Last year gave me a big smile when I finished the race in Sepang. I started from last and finished tenth, it was a nice memory. I would to thank Tech 3 for giving me this opportunity, it was amazing and made my dream come true. Next year will be my new era, the same as two years ago, but it’s a new bike with a triumph engine, and a bit more power than two years ago, of Moto2. I hope I can enjoy and keep smiling. Smiling is a good therapy for me."
With that, it's time to buckle up and get ready to hit the track as practice starts on Friday - before the race on Sunday at 15:00 (GMT +8). Tune in for another weekend that could break records!