Motorsport: Sombre backdrop as Lorenzo and Pedrosa battle it out

By Eric Thompson

This weekend's MotoGP at Sepang, Malaysia, round 16 of the championship, is the first anniversary of Marco Simoncelli's death at the track.

The Italian rider died after a crash involving Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi on only the second lap of the race.

Simoncelli lost the front wheel of his bike while battling for fourth place and fell in front of following riders.

The young Italian rider was one of the rising stars of the sport and Sepang's chief executive Razian Razali said: "A bronze plaque will be installed at turn 11 in remembrance of Simoncelli."

In addition to the plaque, a Marco Simoncelli rookie of the year trophy will be unveiled today and awarded to the best MotoGP newcomer at the final race in Valencia, Spain.

Once Simoncelli has been remembered the riders' focus will be back on the championship.

While Jorge Lorenzo may lead the championship with three races to go, Dani Pedrosa is the rider on a roll. The Honda rider is 28 points behind Lorenzo, and bar his accident at Misano, would have won every race since August.

If Lorenzo can keep it together and finish no worse than third in the next three races, the title will be his no matter what Pedrosa can conjure up.

"It's two seasons since I raced in Sepang and I'm looking forward to it now," said Pedrosa.

"It's a track where you have a little bit of everything - it's hard to ride, it's hot, there are fast and slow corners, hard braking, long straights ... and everybody has references from the tests.

"I'm really enjoying racing at the moment and I want to continue like this, pushing the maximum from our side without thinking about the others."

Pedrosa's teammate Australian Casey Stoner is in his last season in MotoGP and remains in third place despite missing three races after injuring his ankle at an Indianapolis Grand Prix qualifying crash.

On his comeback last weekend in Japan Stoner managed a fighting fifth place and the defending world champion's hope for a third title are all but gone.

Stoner, who celebrated his 27th birthday earlier in the week, has won in all three classes at Sepang, including two MotoGP wins for Ducati.

"After a disappointing race in Japan, I'm looking forward to going to Malaysia, it's a track where I've had success at in the past," said Stoner. However, this weekend marks the anniversary of Marco's death so I'm sure it will be a strange feeling ...

"It's going to be a hot weekend and it's a physically demanding circuit, my ankle isn't feeling very good after the race in Japan so I've been resting it as much as possible. The track is a little smoother and more flowing so hopefully I won't have so many issues as I had in Japan."

If his ankle holds up in qualifying today, Stoner should be a force in tomorrow's race having set the pace during winter testing at Sepang, when he smashed the two-minute barrier with the new 1000cc RC213V.

Pedrosa meanwhile is hoping some of the rest of the pack would find more pace to insert themselves between him and Lorenzo, who has shadowed the 27-year-old home in second place in every race the Spaniard has won.

Pedrosa needs a little help from the other riders if he is to further close the gap and make a real push for the title after this weekend's race.

Points after 15 races

Jorge Lorenzo 310
Dani Pedrosa 282
Casey Stoner 197
Andrea Dovizioso 192
Alvaro Bautista 144
Valentino Rossi 137
Cal Crutchlow 135
Stefan Bradlh 125

- NZ Herald

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