After a long restless wait, MotoGP will be back in action next week as the world best riders converge at Sepang Circuit for the first official test of the year from February 1 to 3.
“MotoGP will be back and the actions start here in Sepang. And, the new season looks set to be the most exciting ever,” declared Datuk Ahmad Razlan Ahmad Razali, the Chief Executive Officer of Sepang International Circuit (SIC).
“There’s Valentino Rossi with the Ducati team for the first time; Casey Stoner with Repsol Honda and joining forces with Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso; Ben Spies taking over from Rossi at Factory Yamaha Racing. And, there’s also the Moto2 champion, Toni Elias.
“All are potential world champion this year and very capable of challenging the current world champion, Jorge Lorenzo,” said Razlan, adding that the MotoGP riders last tested their bikes in November in Valencia after the final race of 2010.
“The test ban ends on January 31; and on February 1 at Sepang Circuit, fans can get to see their idols back on their mean machines. And, key riders like Rossi, Stoner and Elias will be on their new bikes, which I presumed will be in full livery at the test,” added Razlan.
In conjunction with the MotoGP pre-season test session, SIC, which would host the penultimate round from October 21 to 23, would be having a special early bird ticket promotion for the 2011 Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
Razlan said: “These early bird tickets start from RM40. For more details, fans can log on to our official website at http://www.sepangcircuit.com <http://www.sepangcircuit.com/> or call our ticket hotline at 03-87782200.
“For the test, we will be opening the Main Grandstand for fans to come and see their idols in action. There will no charge and on top of that, fans could take advantage of their trip to buy the discounted tickets. Fans can also get hold of the exclusive Rossi’s ‘Bye Bye Baby’ T-shirts at our merchandise shop.
“But, above all that that, fans could also indulge in that unique experience of catching these new bikes in action for the first time. It’s going to be a fantastic event,” said Razlan, a die-hard MotoGP fan and a former racer himself at the local circuit.
While MotoGP riders would have two three-day sessions in Sepang – the other from February 22 to 24, riders in Moto2 and 125cc would be testing in Spain; with the first of a three-test session to be held in Valencia from February 10 to 12.
MotoGP riders will have their third and final pre-season test session on March 13 and 14 at Losail in Qatar before entering an 18-round the world championship battle that would commence on March 20 at the Qatar Grand Prix.
There had been plenty of hype for the MotoGP world championship new season especially on nine-time world champion Rossi, who underwent surgery last November on his troubled right shoulder, which the rider cited as a key reason that affected his performance in 2010.
Riding for the Ducati Team for the first time but continuing with his legendary #46 competition number, Rossi would be partnering 2006 champion Nicky Hayden, who would be racing with #69.
As he recuperates from the surgery, Rossi had recently announced in an interview that he will definitely not be 100 per cent fit for the start of the season in Qatar on March 20 and he also played down his chances of an eighth MotoGP title in his first season with his new Ducati team.
“I count on being in decent form for the first race of the season in Qatar on March 20 and then I’ll be 100 per cent in April. I hoped to feel a bit better, there is a lot of work to do but it’s a great challenge to get in shape for the February tests. I hope I’ll be okay on the bike. It will be a race against time. The situation with the shoulder is more serious than we expected,” Rossi said in a recent interview.
Riding along side Rossi for a second stint after their first partnership with Repsol Honda in 2003, Hayden, who would be starting his third year with Ducati, said that he was looking forward to work with Rossi and the team.
“We know we have a good bike. We’ve made a couple of little tweaks for next year by adding some staff and a few engineers to help me. I have a strong team around me. I know being team-mates with Rossi won’t be easy, but I really don’t get too caught up in that. I focus on my job, and that’s why I think it’ll work with us.
“I’m looking forward to having Valentino’s information and feedback. He’s been around a long time and has a lot of experience. I think it’ll be fun. I know our team; the motivation is really high, and the excitement with the fans in Italy is high as well,” Hayden said in an interview.
Repsol Honda returned to their old days a three-pronged attack for glory during the days of Mick Doohan, Alex Criville and Tadayuki Okada. This time featuring a trio of world champions – the 2007 world champion Stoner, two-time 250cc champion and 2003 world 125cc champion Pedrosa and Dovizioso, who won the 125cc world title in 2004.
At the last test in Valencia, Stoner was exceptionally fast despite riding the Repsol Honda machine for the first time; and Lorenzo was quick to point out that the Australian would be one of his close challengers for the 2011 title.
In an interview during his recent visit to Jakarta, Lorenzo said that he believed the instant pace of the new factory Honda rider during November’s Valencia test had to be taken very seriously and that he placed Stoner above the likes of Rossi and last year’s runner-up Dani Pedrosa.
“I keep saying Casey is my closest competitor because we are the fastest now … Seeing from the Valencia test result and how our best times were so close,” said Lorenzo, who was separated with Stoner by just 0.113 seconds.
Dominant in title-winning 2010 season and fastest at the Valencia tests, Lorenzo noted that it was going to be a tough year in 2011; but stressed that he was in pressure to match Rossi’s record of multiple world championships for Yamaha.
”I’m happy for what I get now. If I don’t win more titles, I’m still happy. If I win more, I will be happier. This year we will have a different bike. I have new team-mate [Ben Spies] who is young and energetic. The competition will be more interesting,” added Lorenzo, who will be ditching his #99 to race on #1.