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Page last updated at 12:05 GMT, Friday, 23 October 2009 13:05 UK

Matt Roberts' Malaysian MotoGP column

Malaysian MotoGP, Sepang
Date: 24-25 October
Saturday 24 October: Qualifying: 0550-0900 (BST), BBC Red Button/online Sunday 25 October: 125 and 250cc race: 0350-0605 (GMT), BBC Red Button/online Race: 0645-0800 (GMT), BBC One/online, Race repeat 1230-1330 (GMT), BBC Two/online

By Matt Roberts
BBC Sport at Sepang

Valentino Rossi on the track at Sepang
Rossi can clinch the MotoGP World Championship at Sepang

Valentino Rossi did not make the perfect start to his quest to win the MotoGP World Championship in Malaysia, lapping fourth fastest in free practice - a position that would nevertheless be enough to seal the title on Sunday.

With a lead of 38 points and a maximum of 50 up for grabs, fourth place for Rossi would secure a further 13 points and effectively wrap things up even if Lorenzo - Friday's pacesetter ahead of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa - were to win the race.

If Lorenzo is second, Rossi will take the title with ninth place and if the Spaniard is third he can win it in 13th. Nothing less than a podium will do for Lorenzo.

With the 125cc title already decided in Australia last weekend in favour of Julian Simon, Hiroshi Aoyama gets another chance to wrap up the 250cc crown here and the Japanese rider got off to the perfect start with the fastest time in Friday's opening session.

Aoyama would take the title with victory on Sunday providing Marco Simoncelli is no higher than fifth, second place if Simoncelli finishes no higher than 10th and Bautista does not win the race, and third place if Simoncelli is no higher than 14th, Alvaro Bautista does not finish either first or second and Hector Barbera does not win. Got that? Thought not.

Barbera, incidentally, sat out the first 10 minutes of today's practice in protest at his team, who he claims have been late paying his wages.

The Spaniard was in more relaxed mood on Wednesday, joining Aoyama, Loris Capirossi and 125cc rider Nico Terol on a visit to an elephant sanctuary.

After setting off from the circuit in the morning the riders arrived at the Bukit Rengit Biodiversity Institute by midday and after lunch there they travelled a further short distance to the Kuala Gandah sanctuary, where they helped to feed the elephants, took rides on them and then had the chance to take a dip with them - although only Terol was brave enough to jump in.

Loris Capirossi
Capirossi took time out in Malaysia to visit an elephant sanctuary

It was a particularly significant photo opportunity for Barbera, who revealed to us in an interview at Misano last month why he has an elephant as his mascot: "It's because I have big ears… and a big trumpet too!"

"It was just amazing, it was a really nice feeling and when you see a place like this you realise how important it is that they are trying to save this beautiful animal," said Capirossi.

"Riding the elephant was a bit like riding my Suzuki as they are both quite crazy!"

Suzuki certainly had a crazy weekend in Australia, where they decided to run a new engine for the race and as a result exceeded the maximum allocation of five since Brno.

However, the logic behind the move, which saw Capirossi relegated to the back of the grid and Suzuki docked 10 points in the manufacturers' championship, was actually quite shrewd.


Having qualified 13th and with a grid of only 17 following the withdrawal of Niccolo Canepa through injury, Capirossi only actually dropped four places on his qualifying position, whilst Suzuki are stuck in fourth place in the championship anyway - too far adrift of Ducati and too far ahead of Kawasaki (Hayate) for that to change by the end of the season.

With Canepa unfit to return to action until Valencia, his place this weekend is taken by Aleix Espargaro, who stepped in for the Italian so ably at Indianapolis and Misano that he was signed up by the Pramac Ducati team for 2010.

Canepa was injured in a huge practice crash at Phillip Island, suffering a severe puncture wound in his right arm that would be at risk of infection in the gruelling heat and humidity of Malaysia (31C and 54% on Friday).

Espargaro, who was the slowest MotoGP rider on track on Friday, was one of a number of premier-class riders humbled by Bradley Smith in a go-kart race on Thursday.

Brad beat Dani Pedrosa, Alex de Angelis, Mika Kallio and Marco Melandri to the line and exacted some form of revenge over his team-mate Julian Simon, who pipped him to victory and the 125cc title in Australia.

Smith repeated the result on two wheels in today's free practice as he looks to wrap up second in the championship this Sunday.

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see also
Stoner holds off Rossi in MotoGP
18 Oct 09 |  MotoGP
Steve Parrish's MotoGP column
23 Oct 09 |  MotoGP
Lorenzo wins to reduce Rossi lead
04 Oct 09 |  MotoGP
MotoGP on the BBC
15 Mar 11 |  MotoGP

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