First on the schedule was the popular and familiar climes of the Sepang International Circuit: a 5.5km wide, fast and inviting layout punctuated by two long straights and more emphasis on top speed, acceleration and hard braking. Sepang has been a regular haunt on the Grand Prix slate since the turn of the century and held positive recent memories for Husqvarna Motorcycles thanks to the exciting battle for Moto3 victory and double podium appearance in 2022.
Sasaki was in a determined mood after the bad luck that forced him out of the previous Grand Prix in Thailand due to a blameless early race incident. The Japanese was hoping to reduce a 17-point deficit to Jaume Masia at the top of the world championship standings. Meanwhile Veijer was hungry for more silverware in the wake of his maiden trophy in Buriram two weeks beforehand.
On Friday Sasaki and Veijer ended dry practice sessions with the 9th and 22nd fastest lap-times respectively on Combined Standings. Veijer was negotiating the demands of Sepang for the first time but he quickly got the hang of the track and went through Q1 on Saturday and then attacked Q2 to achieve P2 and a front row start. Sasaki was 5th and only a tenth of a second from Pole after what was a very positive day of qualification for the squad.
Moto3 was run through 15 laps and with interspersed sunshine. Sasaki and Veijer were immediately into the top three. The leading group initially saw 12 riders swarming the 15-corner trajectory together until six made the breakaway at mid-race distance. Sasaki took turns to lead while Veijer remained calm and poised and ever-present in the podium slots. The race went down to the final two-lap decider and it was Vejier who attacked and kept the advantage all the way to the flag to take his very first win by 0.06 of a second from Sasaki. The feat represented the first Dutch victory in the class for 33 years and the team’s first success this season.
Just two Grands Prix and a maximum of 50 points remain in play for 2023. Sasaki sits 2nd in the standings and with a gap of 13 to P1. The Japanese has ten podium appearances so far this year and is still chasing his first ’23 triumph. Veijer had entered the top ten after Thailand and his full 25 points in Malaysia means that he rises to 8th. Husqvarna Motorcycles is 3rd in the Constructors championship and IntactGP are still leading the charge for the Teams contest. They have a 45-point cushion over the next nearest pursuer and can be confirmed P1 next week.
MotoGP will swap the heat of competition in Malaysia for more raised temperatures with the journey to Doha and the recently renovated Lusail International Circuit this week. Although the Grand Prix of Qatar has been shifted from its traditional slot at the beginning of the championship agenda to the end, the schedule will still involve a dusk/night affair for the MotoGP categories.
Collin Veijer: “I feel great! Very tired! It was a great race and I tried to stay at the front as much as I could. At one point I had to attack my teammate because the group behind me would have passed also. Finally we have a 1-1 for our team and I’m very happy about this. I want to thank the whole team for their help all the time.”
Ayumu Sasaki: “I think I had an amazing race. I was always the one leading and controlling the pace as I tried to manage the tyre. I knew that Jaume Masia and my teammate were with me and through Turn 8 on the last lap I didn’t realise Collin would pass me there and I didn’t brake that late; otherwise I could have been more ‘there’. Anyway, we closed the gap in the championship and we have two races to go. We will give our maximum.”
Moto2™ was in mind for the IntactGP team even before the squad arrived in Malaysia. Incoming 2024 rider Senna Agius completed his fantastic title-winning campaign in the European Championship at Valencia in the weekend between Thailand and Malaysia and ensured a positive buzz around the crew as Sepang quickly came into focus. The onus then fell on Darryn Binder and Lukas Tulovic to find the right feeling, set-up and confidence at the Grand Prix.
On Friday the South African found his way to be 21st fastest while the German toiled a little further back and ranked 24th after practice. Q1 and Q2 passed on Saturday and in sunny conditions but Binder suffered a fast blameless crash in the morning and was unfit the rest of the Grand Prix. The 25-year-old sustained two dislocated fingers on his left hand and a hit to the right ankle and could not make his 150th world championship start. Tulovic was on the eighth row for the 17-laps on Sunday and #3 tried his best to make up ground but would ‘DNF’ after a fall on the second circulation.
Onto Qatar and the final flurry of laps and action of the 2023 world championship story.
Lukas Tulovic: “It’s very annoying because my start was great and in the second corner I recognized early the chaos that was brewing on because everyone was going crazy on the inside. That’s why I chose the outside line, which paid off very well because I got up to P17. I prepared my overtaking manoeuvre in the right-hand bend before the back straight but I hit a bump there and lost the front wheel. It’s a great shame and I’m incredibly sorry for the team because after such a strong start and very good preparation in terms of race pace, a lot could have been possible today. I definitely could’ve scored some points. I’ll take the positives with me and we’ll be back in attack mode in a week’s time. Finally, all the best for a speedy recovery to Darryn.”
Results Moto3 Malaysian Grand Prix
1. Collin Veijer (NED) Husqvarna 33:30.072, 2. Ayumu Sasaki (JPN) Husqvarna +0.066, 3. Jaume Masia (ESP) Honda +0.328
World championship standings Moto3
1. Jaume Masia (ESP) Honda 246 points, 2. Ayumu Sasaki (JPN) Husqvarna, 233, 3. David Alonso (COL) GASGAS, 205, 8. Collin Veijer (NED) Husqvarna, 130
Results Moto2 Malaysian Grand Prix
1. Fermin Aldeguer (ESP) 36:04.378, 2. Pedro Acosta (ESP) +7.128, 3. Marcos Ramirez (ESP) +9.558, DNF. Lukas Tulovic (GER) Husqvarna, DNS. Darryn Binder (RSA) Husqvarna
World championship standings Moto2
1. Pedro Acosta (ESP), 320.5 points, 2. Tony Arbolino (ITA), 243.5, 3. Jake Dixon (GBR), 183,
19. Darryn Binder (RSA) Husqvarna, 32, 24. Lukas Tulovic (GER) Husqvarna 12