Sepang : Repsol Honda - Preview
With three races on consecutive weekends, the fantastic 2006 MotoGP World Championship now enters a critical phase, starting with Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix. Repsol Honda riders Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa arrive at the dramatic Sepang
circuit in first and second positions in the riders' standings and really looking forward to the final five races.
Hayden holds a 25-point lead in the world championship thanks to a stunning 2006 campaign which has seen him take two victories and nine podium finishes. The talented American star has shown speed, consistency and maturity this year and now has the luxury of being able to choose when to attack and when to consolidate. But having finished in fourth place in his three previous MotoGP races at Sepang, the 25-year-old, who set the lap record here last year, will be determined to put in another strong race result on his RC211V.
Rookie Pedrosa has also been a revelation this season and sits just 25-points behind his team-mate in second place in the world championship. The 20-year-old Spaniard has already amassed four pole positions and two victories in 2006 and comes to Sepang following an impressive third place at the last race in Brno. The reigning 250cc World Champion has a winning pedigree at Sepang too, having taken victory in the 125cc class in 2003 and won the 250cc Grand Prix in 2004.
The splendid circuit, located 50km south of Kuala Lumpur, now boats the longest lap on the MotoGP calendar at 5.548km (3.447 miles), after Assen's lap was shortened for 2006.The magnificent grandstands sheltered by vast overhanging canopies make Sepang instantly recognisable on TV, but it's the humidity, temperatures that often exceed 40 degrees Celcius (104 F) and challenging nature of the track that the riders remember.
It's a venue the Repsol Honda Team knows well from the extensive test sessions carried out here over the winter.
Even before the season started, Nicky Hayden had completed 443 laps of Sepang in 2006 the equivalent of well over 20 full race distances. In his debut season, Dani Pedrosa will also benefit from plenty of experience of Sepang on his RC211V, having clocked 362 laps here during the winter.
Sunday's 21-lap race begins at 15.00hrs local time (09.00 CET).
Nicky Hayden (World Championship Position: 1st 201 points)
"I'm looking forward to these three back-to-back races because it's a fun period of the season. There's a lot of travelling and a lot of work to do but once you get to that side of the world there's a completely different atmosphere. Normally the flyaway races are pretty good to me and we've got to bounce back after the bad luck at Brno. We could have had another good finish there so we need to fight back and get a good result in Malaysia. Sepang is a track we know well from testing and I like it ok - in fact there a few tracks coming up that I like. I'll pretty well approach these races like I have all year. I'll try to be smart and consistent and fight for the best result each weekend. I believe in myself and I've got good guys around me in this team. So I'm looking forward to it and I'm going to try to enjoy it."
Dani Pedrosa (World Championship Position: 2nd 176 points)
"We've already tested at Sepang and I've done many laps and this will give us a better starting point for the weekend. It means I will have the feeling for the bike and set-up much quicker than when I go to a new race track. I think Capirossi will be very strong here it was a good track for him last year and also Hayden, Rossi and Melandri will be up there. I like the track well enough and the layout combines all types of sections, although I wouldn't say it was one of my favourites. The heat and humidity at Sepang are really high and this is something you have to take into account. It's not really a problem though, because you expect it and can prepare for it. I had a good race at Brno and the championship position is not so bad so I hope I can keep the momentum going here."