Sepang MotoGP: Valentino Rossi aiming for seventh heaven

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A seventh pole position of the season in Sepang today has given Valentino Rossi a great chance to clinch his seventh MotoGP world title after a breathtaking qualifying performance in Malaysia.

Needing to only finish fourth in tomorrow’s 21-lap race to clinch a ninth career world championship, the Italian crushed his rivals with a masterclass of riding in baking hot conditions at the Sepang circuit.

In a brilliant final five minutes of a session run in temperatures that peaked at over 30 degrees, Rossi obliterated the field and he’ll start tomorrow’s race as a red-hot favourite, Sixteen minutes remained when the 30-year-old first moved to the top of the timesheets with a lap of 2.01.062 easing Casey Stoner off top spot by 0.393s.

On his next lap he extended his advantage to 0.548s but saved his best for last on his final run on Bridgestone’s soft compound tyre. Just over two minutes remained when he clocked a best time of 2.00.518 to move a massive 0.937s clear of Stoner with the fastest ever lap of the long and technical Sepang circuit. And despite a late attack from Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo and Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa, nobody could lap within half-a-second of Rossi.

Lorenzo, who is the only man capable of denying Rossi the title in the Far East, posted his best time of 2.01.087 on his last lap, but that was only good enough to reduce the gap to Rossi to 0.569s. Lorenzo, who trails Rossi by 38-points going into tomorrow’s penultimate race, secured second by 0.167s from Pedrosa, who briefly held second spot in the final seconds.

The Spaniard clocked a best time of 2.01.254 to finish over 0.7s slower than Rossi. He claimed his ninth front row start of the season though by edging out Stoner’s factory Ducati in fourth. Stoner had led the way earlier in the session but he could only muster a best lap of 2.01.455 that saw him miss the front by 0.201s.

After a disastrous Australian GP in Phillip Island last weekend, veteran Italian Loris Capirossi salvaged some pride with a brilliant ride to fifth place. Confident after a positive winter test session in February when he consistently featured in the top three, Capirossi posted a best time of 2.01.716 to claim his best grid position since he was on the front row in his home race in Mugello in early June.

A wretched weekend for British rider James Toseland continued today as the 28-year-old was woefully off the pace again. Toseland could only clock a best time of 2.03.528 that left him a massive 3.010s adrift of Rossi’s record-breaking pace and languishing down in 16th place. He was only able to get within 0.440s of Marco Melandri in 15th and only Hungarian rookie Gabor Talmacsi was slower.

Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt