Tom Luthi has been ruled unfit to race after his massive highside during qualifying for the Sepang round of Moto2. The Swiss rider fell very heavily during qualifying, and fractured his ankle in the fall.
Luthi's participation had been in doubt after the crash on Saturday, but doctors ruled that he would have to pass an examination on Sunday morning before being allowed to race. Luthi failed that exam on Sunday morning, and has been ruled out of the Moto2 race on Sunday.
Will we have a 2017 MotoGP champion by Sunday night? The odds are on the side of Marc Márquez. Second place would be good enough to wrap it up for the Repsol Honda rider wherever Andrea Dovizioso finishes. If Dovizioso doesn't win, then Márquez has to finish within eight points of the Italian. If Dovizioso is second, then fourth is good enough. If he's third, then eighth is good enough. So far this season, Marc Márquez has always finished sixth place or better. Except when he doesn't finish, of course...
Márquez has two obstacles to overcome. The first is the weather. The forecast for Sunday at Sepang is heavy rain, from around the time warm up for MotoGP tends until early evening. On Friday, it was Andrea Dovizioso who was strongest in the rain, while Márquez was a little slower, and had a fleet of Ducatis to contend with.
The second obstacle is the big group of very fast riders at Sepang. Going by the timesheets in FP3 and FP4, there are a bunch of people who are capable of a podium, and maybe even a win. "I think there are five, six, seven riders who have similar pace, there is not a clear favorite," was Jorge Lorenzo's assessment. "It's very, very open the fight for the victory, the fight for the podium," Valentino Rossi concurred, "because have a lot, a lot of different riders that for sure have the pace for the podium but also for the victory."
Finding both tires and a setup he liked more than in FP3, championship leader Marc Marquez set the fastest time of the fourth practice as riders began working on race settings before the afternoon's qualifying session. Marquez's 2'00.438 put him two-tenths ahead of leading rival Andrea Dovizioso (2nd). Suzuki's Alex Rins, who had one of his best races of the season at the recent Philip Island contest, finished the fourth practice in a surprising third place. Johann Zarco took the top Yamaha spot in fourth, just barely in front of Dani Pedrosa (5th).
Franco Morbidelli, Moto2 championship points leader, dominated the final practice before Saturday afternoon's qualifying session with a 2'06.605 at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia. While Morbidelli's time was a mere seven-hundredths of a second clear of Francesco Bagnaia (2nd), it was his consistency that should worry rivals. Morbidelli, who sits 29 points ahead of Thomas Luthi with one race remaining, spent much of the session in the 2'06s -- an indication of a relentless race pace.
Valentino Rossi seized the top spot in FP3 when he became the only rider to drop into a sub, two-minute laptime at the Sepang circuit Saturday. Rossi's set his 1'59.947 -- the weekend's fastest time by any rider -- with no time left in the third practice. Johann Zarco, who led much of the session, was bumped into second by the Italian's final lap. Dani Pedrosa jumped from 11th into third near the end of practice as riders began switching to the soft-option rear tire in an attempt to ensure a top-10 finish.
Jorge Martin took advantage of a rapidly drying track to take the top time in FP3 Saturday at the Sepang circuit Sunday as riders began to set their fastest times of the weekend. Martin's 2'15.606 put him four-tenths of a second ahead of the number two finisher Juanfran Guevara. Newly crowned World Champion Joan Mir seized third as the day began heating up.
If there is one thing clear from Friday at Sepang, it is that neither Andrea Dovizioso nor Marc Márquez believe the 2017 championship is done. The two men left in the title fight came out punching, chasing fast times just that little bit harder than the rest. Dovizioso topped both morning and afternoon sessions, blatant about his intentions to make a final bid for the championship. Márquez was a little slower in the mixed-but-drying conditions of FP1, but only half a second behind Dovizioso in a wet FP2. Márquez will give as hard as he gets.
The headline times are deceptive, though, as were the conditions. The morning session started with a track that would not dry fast enough – a persistent problem since the track was resurfaced, and an issue with drainage in certain sections of the track – and riders choosing to sit out the first third or so of FP1. Even once the riders took to the track in earnest, times were variable. It was only towards the end where track was dry enough to start to post quick times.
In the dry, Márquez focused on pace, putting in a single long run, while Andrea Dovizioso got on with setup work, ending FP1 at the top of the timesheets, just ahead of Alvaro Bautista. "I’m really happy about the lap time I did this morning," Dovizioso said. "It was quite fast but the conditions were strange. There was not a lot of rubber on the ground so it wasn’t normal. Anyway, this was the condition for the other riders. We did a good lap time. I was first."
News reached us that Kiefer Racing team boss Stefan Kiefer died in his sleep on Thursday night in Malaysia. As a result of his death, the Kiefer Racing team have decided to withdraw from the Sepang round of Moto2 this weekend. Neither Dominique Aegerter nor Tarran Mackenzie will race in Malaysia.
Our thoughts are with Stefan's friends and family, and with the Kiefer Racing team.
The press release issued by the team is below:
KIEFER RACING MOURNS FOR THE LOSS OF STEFAN KIEFER
Alex Marquez appears ready to prove that his recent win in the wet at Motegi was no fluke. On a wet Sepang track with intermittent rainfall, the Spaniard topped the timesheet and ran consistently fast times throughout the second Friday session. Lorenzo Baldasarri (2nd) finished his day just two-hundredths behind the leader with FP1 leader Miguel Oliveira taking third.
Andrea Dovizioso again led practice at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia Friday with a dominant showing on the wet, 5.5 km track. Dovizioso's 2'11.640 left him a half a second clear of championship rival and points leader Marc Marquez (2nd). Jorge Lorenzo seized the third-fastest time -- a mark that still left him a full second off his Ducati teammate's pace. Dovizioso must finish the race a minimum of nine points clear of Marquez to keep the championship fight alive for the season's final round in three weeks.
Aron Canet dominated a wet Moto3 FP2 Friday at the Sepang circuit with a 2'28.807 lap that put him more than half a second up on the field. More worriesome for the rest of the paddock should the rain continue through the weekend was Canet's consistent top pace in the wet track through the entire session.
Very little separated Bo Bendsneyder (2nd) and Nicolo Bulega (3rd) for the next two spots as rain fell for much of the session. Niccolo Antonelli completed FP2 seven-tenths off the top pace, closely chased by Enea Bastianini (5th). Adam Norrodin at sixth was one of two Malaysians in the top 10 at their home track. John McPhee, who crashed late, still managed seventh.