Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales began the first free practice sessions at the Sepang International Circuit on a high note. The teammates commenced preparations for this weekend’s penultimate round of the championship and showed a competitive pace right from the get-go. Both riders spent a fair amount of time topping the rankings, and they ultimately finished the day in fourth and sixth place respectively in the combined free practice results.
Rossi had his game-face on today in Sepang. This weekend he is focused on decreasing the 15-point deficit in the championship standings to potentially earn him the second place. With this motivation spurring him on, the nine-time World Champion made the most of the dry 45-minute practice time and set a solid pace, spending most of the session in fifth place. He upped his best lap to a 1’59.767s towards the end of FP1, which earned him second place, 0.070s from first.
The afternoon session under hazy sunshine allowed the Doctor to once again show a competitive pace. With a little less than 20 minutes to go, he put his Yamaha in the provisional top spot and continued to lap closely to his 2’00.035s time as he continued his second run. In the final four minutes the pace picked up, dropping the Italian to sixth. He responded by setting a 2’00.017s, but it kept him in the same position in the FP2 rankings. However, his morning time was fast enough to earn him fourth place in the combined free practice results, 0.159s from the top.
Viñales still felt a buzz from last week’s victory in Australia and entered the Sepang track in FP1 ready for business. Perfectly dry conditions helped the Spanish rider position his YZR-M1 at the top of the timesheets. He further upped his game halfway through the session with a best lap of 2’00.453s, good for provisional first place until the final five minutes. With rain posing a potential threat in the afternoon, the number-25 rider put on a softer rear tyre to make sure he stayed inside the top-10. He had dropped back to fifth but retaliated by setting a 1’59.928s to take third, 0.231 from the top.
The usual tropical showers at Sepang didn’t make an appearance in the afternoon, which meant the young rider could proceed making progress on his bike’s dry set-up during the FP2 session. He tried various settings and tyre options until, with eight minutes of the session remaining, it was time to put his bike to the test under similar conditions to those expected for Sunday’s race if it stays dry. He improved his fastest time of the day to a 1’59.802s, taking fourth in the FP2 results, 0.194s from first. This lap put him in sixth place in the combined FP timesheets.
Position: 4th – Time: 1’59.767 – Laps: 36
“The first day is positive for us, because I was quite fast this morning and also this afternoon. After checking the data on Phillip Island, we worked a lot on the setting of the bike. We tried to improve the grip level, especially from the rear tyre. The first impression is positive, because I was good on a hot lap and also the pace is not so bad. It’s only Friday, so we still have to see, but the start was good. Now we have to concentrate especially on the tyre choice, because it’s still very open, front and rear. We also have to wait and see what the weather will be like. We hope it will remain dry, especially for Sunday.”
Position: 6th – Time: 1’59.802 – Laps: 35
“It’s been a positive day, because I honestly didn’t expect to be so competitive here. Last year I struggled a lot, this is one of the tracks I struggled at the most, but suddenly, when I went out today, I felt really good. In FP1 I had a good rhythm and we have to keep working in that way. I need to concentrate a little bit more on the lines, but there’s not much to work on. We have to put in a good lap for qualifying and then make sure we’re ready for the race. I hope it will stay dry, because I had such a good feeling, but in Japan when I jumped on the bike with wet tyres, I felt strong too. We have to keep focusing on the set-up we have right now, and let’s see what happens. If the race is wet, I hope we will have had the chance to work on the wet set-up before then. The level this year is much higher and we’re already pushing and putting in time-attacks in FP1, so that’s why the lap times are so fast.”
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP – Team Director
“We made a strong start to the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend, which is exactly what we aimed for. Straight from the beginning of the morning session both Maverick and Vale were pretty fast. They felt comfortable with the bike and were able to set competitive times, though the temperatures were already quite high. In the afternoon we made further progress. We have struggled in hot conditions in the past, but today both our riders were able to show a solid pace. With Maverick leading a large part of FP1 and Vale topping most of the second half of the FP2 session, it seems we’re heading in the right direction. We will continue to work to prepare some improvements overnight and we hope for similar conditions tomorrow. That will allow us to focus on the tyres, because not all specifications have been compared by us yet.”