The Malaysian Grand Prix weekend fired into life this afternoon with an hour of MotoGP free practice in typically tropical conditions at the Sepang International Circuit near Kuala Lumpur.
The Repsol Honda Team made a positive start to the penultimate round of the 2009 season,
with Dani Pedrosa clocking the third fastest lap and Andrea Dovizioso finishing fifth in the rankings.
With air temperatures climbing into the thirties and humidity at over 50 per cent, it was a hot afternoon's work for the factory Honda squad.
Pedrosa was fast out of the blocks today and spent the entire session at the business end of the timesheets. Working with his team on the ideal machine set-up and on narrowing the options for tyre selection, the 24-year-old Spaniard was able to set a lap time of 2m 02.758s, just over half a second behind today's fastest rider, Jorge Lorenzo.
Pedrosa has taken pole position for the last two years at Sepang and will be keen to make it three poles in a row during tomorrow's qualifying session, which follows another hour of practice in the morning. Pedrosa's RC212V was fastest through the speed traps today with top speed of 309.5km/h (192.3mph).
“I'm happy with how this first practice session has gone and we've established a good base for the weekend”, he said. “As expected, it was really hot out there and the first session for this Grand Prix is always the toughest because it takes a little time to acclimatize. By Sunday, the heat will be no problem. The track was a little dirty which affected the grip, but that's also normal for Sepang and it will improve through the weekend. The lap times are already quite competitive because we test at this circuit and all the teams have plenty of set-up data even before we arrive. I'm not worried about being half a second back from the fastest time at this stage - it's not so important and we have some areas to work on to improve things. To achieve good stability under braking is the key area for us and we'll be working to make some improvements to the set-up for tomorrow.”
Dovizioso's best lap of 2m 03.142 was just 0.384s behind Pedrosa and clearly indicated the Italian's intentions to fight at the front of the pack this weekend.
Riding with impressive commitment and aggression at the longest circuit on the MotoGP calendar, Dovi was evidently enjoying himself, and he remains confident of moving further forward tomorrow. Dovizioso secured his first MotoGP podium at this circuit last year and will be looking to battle at the sharp end again come Sunday's race, which begins at 15.00hrs local time (GMT + 8 hours).
“I'm satisfied with this first practice session. I like this circuit very much, I feel comfortable and also the feeling with the machine has been good today. We started with a good direction and worked on some set-up options and particularly on the traction control settings”, he said. “This is a very important factor for Sepang so that we can be consistent during the race because there is not so much grip here and the performance of the tyres can fade as the race goes on. We will continue working on a few adjustments tomorrow and I'm very confident that we can improve. Today the conditions out there were very demanding. It was so hot and humid and, in addition to the outside temperatures, we have to cope also with the heat that comes from the bike. Anyway, I'm feeling good and I'm positive and confident that we can qualify well and fight with the top group - that's t he target.”