The Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang (Oct. 29) is the second-to-last race on the MotoGP schedule, and home to some of the most dramatic races in recent history. If you want to start an argument with a MotoGP fan, just take a hard line on the 2015 Rossi/Marquez incident. It doesn’t matter which side you pick, everyone’s wrong.
Back to the race itself. If there are Honda tracks and Yamaha tracks, Sepang is definitely a Honda track. Interestingly, it’s also a Dani Pedrosa track, with the tiny Spaniard winning three of the last five outings, losing only to Andrea Dovizioso (on a Ducati, in difficult conditions) and Marc Marquez, the year he won 13 of 18 races. The reason for Honda’s dominance? It’s a Hermann Tilke-designed F1 track, which means width and big, boring straights. Motorcycle racing is supposed to be about skill, feel, and delicately taming an aggressive machine, but those two long straights surrounding the grandstand complex, separated by just a tight hairpin, reward horsepower above all else. Nobody does horsepower better than Honda, whose riders have spent the last three years complaining about their bikes generating too much horsepower. It’s no coincidence that the only other bike to win here in the last five years was a Ducati, another manufacturer that struggles with a surplus of horsepower.
Those long straights also particularly benefit Pedrosa, the smallest rider on the grid, and a rider of one of MotoGP’s most powerful bikes. That power-to-weight advantage hasn’t always helped; on twistier tracks, Pedrosa has a tough time muscling a 160-kilogram, gyroscopically-stabilised motorbike around. But the physics of it is perfect for coming out of a hairpin onto a long, wide straightaway.
Given Pedrosa’s advantage, you can certainly imagine Marquez taking a conservative approach to Sepang and managing his points lead, while Pedrosa, some 54 points back from his teammate, takes another signature win. Marquez is by no means a cautious man, but with a lead in the championship, and in the penultimate race of the season, he can be.
All of the above makes Pedrosa is a great pick to win here. But as always, you can’t count out Marquez. Even on an inferior bike, even on a track that disagrees with him, even with a serious injury, there’s still this lingering probability that Marquez will pull some impossible Marc Marquez-nonsense out of nowhere and win the race.
The Yamaha is impossibly fast, and Marquez broke his leg two weeks ago? Marquez wins.
An engine failure in qualifying, requiring him to sprint back to the pits and race out on a spare bike with the wrong tires? Marquez makes pole, with seconds to spare, and wins the race.
When apportioning the balance of probabilities and setting odds on these races, you set aside somewhere between 5 and 10% for the smiley Spanish youngster and then you go about your disciplined practice of evaluating the underlying realities of the race.
Could Andrea Dovizioso break through and win this race in the dry? With the horsepower of the Ducati, and Dovizioso’s form in 2017, there’s no reason to think that the Italian rider can’t steal this race from the Hondas. The other Italian on the grid, and it’s bizarre to write about Valentino Rossi that way, could be a factor, but the Yamaha just isn’t as suited to Sepang’s layout as other bikes, and the factory hasn’t won here since 2010, ancient history in MotoGP.
2017 Sepang MotoGP Odds
- Dani Pedrosa (Honda): 7/3
- Marc Marquez (Honda): 3/1
- Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati): 4/1
- Valentino Rossi (Yamaha): 6/1
- Honda: 9/11
- Ducati: 31/9
- FIELD: 31/9