Alex Rins has shaken off his tendency to a slow start, seizing top slot in a busy close to the second free practice session for Sunday’s Malaysian GP for the first time in his second year on the factory Ecstar Suzuki.
The rising Spaniard was a full second inside the race lap record, and only just over half-a-second slower than the all-out track record, set by Dani Pedrosa in 2015.
He lapped the 5.543-km Sepang circuit, near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport south of the capital, in 1m59.608, an average of 166.8 km/h; heading a close batch of times with 11 riders inside the same second.
After heavy overnight rain, showers disrupted the first day of free practice, but the premier class got away with it, the track dry for both sessions. More than ever, with the threat of tropical rain ever-present, today’s times were possibly crucial in determining the top ten going straight into Q2 tomorrow.
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) was second, with a time set in the morning; 2018 champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) third in his afternoon run, less than a tenth down on Rins.
Marquez had at least four spectacular saves, picking the bike up on his knee and elbow after losing the front wheel. This is in line with his normal approach, of using the first day of practice to define the limit.
The Yamaha revival seemed to continue, with Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) coming through to take the lead on afternoon times during the 45-minute FP2. By the end he had been consigned to fourth on combined times, narrowly ahead of Alma Pramac Ducati’s Jack Miller. Second factory Yamaha rider Maverick Vinales, winner of last weekend’s Australian GP, was sixth.
Miller’s team-mate Danilo Petrucci was seventh then Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha) and second Suzuki rider Andrea Iannone, less than nine tenths off his team-mate’s time.
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) completed the top ten, less than three hundredths faster than former Sepang winner Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), who now faces the prospect of going through Q1, unless tomorrow morning offers a chance for improvement.
Alvaro Bautista, back on the Angel Nieto team Ducati GP17 after his factory-bike outing last weekend, was 12th. Jorge Lorenzo, resuming his factory Ducati seat, was 24th, and debating whether to continue (see News story).
There is one more timed free practice session tomorrow morning, before FP4 (which does not count towards qualifying) and two Q sessions in the afternoon.
The Malaysian GP is the penultimate round, and the third of three consecutive racing weekends.
Alex Marquez (EG-VDS Kalex) topped both Moto2 sessions, a good omen for the Spaniard yet to win a race this year. Marquez was inside the lap record, but with times close – 13 within one second – the focus was on the championship rivals.
Points leader Pecco Bagnaia (SKY VR46 Kalex) narrowly had the upper hand, placed fourth; Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) was ninth, xxxx slower.
Bagnaia leads by 36 points, and will be champion if he loses no more than 11 points to Oliveira. Thus if the latter repeats his victory of last year, fifth place will be enough for the Italian to clinch the title, having racked up eight wins to just one for Oliveira.
Fabio Quartararo (Speed Up) was second, ahead of Bagnaia’s team-mate Luca Marini; fifth and sixth went to Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Kalex) and a revived Sam Lowes (SII KTM). Then Oliveira, Baldassarri (HP40 Kalex) and Remy Gardner (Tech 3); with Phillip Island winner Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM) completing the top ten.
American Joe Roberts (RW Racing NTS) was 16th.
Moto3 lost the morning session to treacherous drying conditions, but made the most of the dry start to the afternoon, before rain came again, with close times putting 20 out of 26 runners within a second of the top time, which was still 1.5 seconds off the lap record.
Names were still shuffling when the rain flags came out, with Italian Tony Arbolino (Marinelli Honda) ending up a hundredth ahead of Scotsman John McPhee (CIP Green Power KTM); and Aron Canet (EG Honda) third.
The three title contenders were well in the mix, with Jorge Martin (Del Conca Honda) fourth, ahead of Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Honda) and Andrea Migno (Angel Nieto KTM); Marco Bezzecchi (Redox KTM) eighth, and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Honda) 13th, half-a-second off provisional pole. Martin is 12 points ahead of Bezzecchi; Di Giannantonio another eight back.