The penultimate weekend of MotoGP was an inconsistent one with the steamy Sepang asphalt alternating between wet and dry for the Grand Prix of Malaysia but one of the strong ‘constants’ from all classes, Franco Morbidelli, was unruffled to secure a deserved Moto2 world championship.
A capacity crowd of almost 100,000 fans braved rain and damp on Sunday and a day when ‘Morbido’ ran to third position for the second weekend in a row (his eleventh podium appearance of a fantastic season on the E.G 0,0 Marc VDS team and where he captured eight wins). The 22 year old Italian needed to keep calm and reach the finish after main title rival Thomas Luthi was declared unfit to race in the wake of a qualification crash and a fractured ankle. Franco brought home his #21 Kalex machine to turn up the volume on a party and triumphant term that began with four triumphs from the first five fixtures.
“I’m world champion and this is fantastic,” he beamed. “I didn't come through the ‘usual path’ [in Grand Prix] and it was hard in the beginning. I didn't know if the step was too long but finally with this title we showed that we made the right choice. I think Assen was a crucial moment in this championship so this has to be one of my best races this year. We worked a lot on the bike and this helped me to be fast in the last parts of the race and, sincerely, the new Kalex [frame] was straightaway better for me. I remember trying the 2017 version and thinking ‘this is perfect…’”
“Winning this world championship is as important as when I was seven years old and wanting to win the Italian mini moto title; racing has been my life.”
“I was happy for about three or four seconds this morning,” he said of learning the news about future teammate Luthi “but then the pressure of the weekend came to my head and I was focussed again quite quickly. I think it is true: without championship pressure you ride better and with more flow and I was feeling good today.”
“I’m sorry for Tom and it would have been great to fight for the title with him but this is racing; I’m sorry but I am happy for my title. It will be interesting to be his teammate next year and I will try to learn from his skills. He has great experience and many years in this championship.”
Morbidelli, one of the stars of the VR46 Academy and the fourth rider to tussle for world championship honours in VDS colours, will have one final swing in the Moto2 class before jumping into MotoGP in 2018. “There is no better way to arrive in MotoGP,” he said. Speaking of the premier class: Andrea Dovizioso took the chequered flag to delay Marc Marquez’s title celebrations. The Catalan finished fourth in the wet and now holds a 21 point lead over the Italian with just 25 left on the table.
Jorge Lorenzo led the field for seven laps after passing Monster Yamaha Tech3’s Johann Zarco who flew to the holeshot and fronted the pack. Lorenzo made a small mistake on Turn15 that allowed ‘Dovi’ to power through. The Majorcan still confirmed second place and his third trophy on the Ducati while Zarco ranked in the top three for the third time in 2017 and a superb debut campaign in MotoGP.
“I was really at ease on the bike, and even though I’d have preferred a dry race, when I saw it was raining I changed my mentality and tried to keep focussed, in order to avoid a mistake like Misano,” described Lorenzo. “I pushed hard but in the last few laps I was in a bit of crisis with the tyres, especially the front, and had a few scary moments in some corners. It wasn’t the right time to do anything stupid and when I almost crashed at Turn 15 and Andrea passed me I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to fight for the win. I know exactly how important a world title is for Ducati, Dovizioso has had a fantastic season and deserves to fight for the championship right down to the last race.”
“It was a great race and I am happy to be on the podium again,” offered Zarco. “I was a bit worried about riding in the wet because when it rained on Friday, I was not fast and overall, Marquez and Dovizioso were pretty quick. When the two Ducati riders overtook me, I thought about fighting with them. Eventually, I lost too much in acceleration so I had to push a lot on the brakes. Yet, it was too risky and I lost the rear twice. On the last three laps, I ran alone in third, so I decided to stay focused and the result was already pretty good so I chose to be safe and enjoy it!”
Movistar Yamaha duo Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales toiled in seventh and ninth respectively while over in Moto3 Enea Bastianini grabbed his third podium finish of 2017 on the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda.
As is the case every season since 2002 a packed Ricardo Tormo circuit - a short distance outside the city of Valencia - will bring the curtain down on MotoGP. The eighteenth and final round will take place in two weeks time.