The nineteenth and second-to-last Grand Prix of the 2022 MotoGP world championship campaign brought the eastern global stint of the series to an end as Malaysia and the Sepang International Circuit made a popular and overdue return to the schedule.
The Moto3 teams and riders had to reacquaint themselves with the oppressive heat of the site close to Kuala Lumpur and the ever-present threat of heavy rain spells. Comprehensive set-up work to deal with the two long straights and diversity of the 15 corners was also in order as the Sepang offered contrasting flow and demands compared to Phillip Island in Australia the previous weekend.
The Sterilgarda Max Racing team watched Ayumu Sasaki get down to business as the Japanese again worked with the FR 250 GP to lodge his name and number near the top of the time sheets throughout Free Practice as the Moto3 field avoided the worst of the showery climate on Friday. Sasaki ended-up with 7th place on the start grid after Q2 on Saturday while John McPhee dealt with a few issues to labour to the eighth row.
Moto3 was run through 17 gripping laps at midday on Sunday. The onus on slipstreaming and keeping a slot in the leading group through consistency and tyre preservation were vital skills. Sasaki started conservatively, especially considering rain in the morning has left the track damp in places. He soon found another gear to shift from the edge of the top ten into contention for the lead with six laps to go.
McPhee was able to regain ground to slot in the second gaggle. The experience Scot then rode hard to break free and join the leaders, staring at a very small gap to 7th position. Riccardo Rossi’s crash then allowed him to merge with the group.
The final Moto3 push was chaotic and unpredictable as always but McPhee’s sensational inside line to gain four places with two corners to go was the difference. He held onto P1 despite a last-gasp attack from his teammate into Turn 15 and sealed his fourth career victory and the first in Husqvarna Motorcycles colours by four hundredths of a second. The result marked the third triumph for the team this season. Sasaki’s 2nd place was his ninth podium of 2022.
With 227 points Sasaki still has a chance of reaching 2nd place in the world championship standings as the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana will represent the last chance and final sprint of the term in two weeks. The Circuito Ricardo Tormo in Spain will offer a maximum of 25 points and the opportunity for the Japanese to add to his tally. McPhee had risen to 16th prior to the outing in Malaysia and is now 10th. The Husqvarna Motorcycles squad have classified 3rd in the Teams’ contest for 2022.
John McPhee: “I’m proud of myself, I dug so deep. It has been such a tough season and weekend here. It was a tough day yesterday but now I’m so happy for the guys who have been supporting me. One last win in Moto3 but we still have another chance in Valencia.”
Ayumu Sasaki: “Today I gave everything. I heard that Dietrich [Mateschitz] had passed away and I just wanted to give this race to him. I pushed for all I could and will always give my wings for the championship! At least it was John who beat me today! I know it hasn’t been the easiest season for him. I tried to pass at the end but was a bit too hot into the last corner. I’m happy anyway!”
Results – 2022 Moto3 World Championship, Round 19
1. John McPhee (Husqvarna) 38:04.589, 2. Ayumu Sasaki (Husqvarna) +0.048, 3. Sergio Garcia (GASGAS) +0.146
Moto3 world championship standings
1. Izan Guevara (GASGAS) 294pts, 2. Sergio Garcia (GASGAS) 241, 3. Dennis Foggia (Honda) 233, 4. Ayumu Sasaki (Husqvarna) 227, 10. John McPhee (Husqvarna) 97