Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa mastered atrocious conditions to win the red flag-shortened Malaysian Grand Prix and keep his championship hopes alive on the drenched Sepang International Circuit. Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo was second and Repsol Honda's Casey Stoner third.
The MotoGP race began in a heavy rain that would later claim many in the field. It played out as many have recently, with Lorenzo bolting into the lead-he'd chosen the soft rear rain tire-and Pedrosa hunting him down. Pedrosa passed the Yamaha rider on the tenth of 20 scheduled laps and was in the lead on the 14th when conditions deteriorated significantly, prompting Race Direction to throw a red flag. The riders returned to their pit boxes, and as the rain intensified, the decision was made to call the race official. Pedrosa had a career best sixth MotoGP win, having won five of the past six races, and a career best 14th MotoGP podium. It was also his first ever wet grand prix win.
"This victory is really amazing for me," Pedrosa said after closing the points gap on Lorenzo to 23 points, 330 to 307, with two races remaining. "It's the first time I've won in the wet in my life and I'm really, really happy. I want to thank my team and the people who helped me to get here, because when I started racing in these conditions I was weak and they know how difficult it's been during all this time. Jorge (Lorenzo) set a really high pace at the beginning of the race and I remained calm to stay with him. I knew he was on a soft rear tire and he could pull out some good laps at the start.
"Lap by lap I got a little more confident and I could still push and at halfway in the race I overtook him and built a good gap. Some laps later the rain came down heavy and it was hard to stay on the bike. I was lucky to be able to win this race, and also Jorge to finish second because he was almost on the ground. So, I'm happy for the victory, but especially happy to be able to dedicate it to Ginés [Guirado], a good friend and member of the Repsol Honda Team that sadly passed away yesterday. This one is for you."
Lorenzo nearly threw away his championship lead just before the red flag before making a miraculous save in Turn 15. Like most riders, he agreed that the race should have been stopped.
"If we were riding at 20 kph it is easy to stay on the bike, but it is very difficult to find the limit in these conditions," he said. "They made the right decision to stop the race. For us it was great, because we might otherwise have finished on the ground and crashed. We used the soft rear where Dani (Pedrosa) and Casey (Stoner) used the harder one. When the conditions were OK they used less of the center of the tire, so when the conditions became worse they had more to play with."
Fearing that he could damage his ankle and end his season, Stoner considered not riding. The last thing he wanted to do was miss his final Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island next weekend. But he took the risk and was rewarded with his first podium since winning the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Laguna Seca. He also strengthened his third position in the championship that helped give Repsol Honda the Team championship for the second year in a row.
"At the start of the race, I would have been very happy for a podium," Stoner said. "I was considering not taking part in the rain at all as the risks were very high: If I had come off the bike again and hit my ankle, it would have been game over for the rest of the season.
"As the race progressed I slowly got my confidence back and I was working on different things as I hadn't ridden in the wet in quite some time. I slowly began to catch the front two, but unfortunately ran out of time as they red flagged the race. In a lot of ways I'm disappointed, but I'm happy with the points haul we took today and another podium."
Ducati Marlboro's Nicky Hayden rode smartly to finish fourth, his best of the season. Hayden stayed out of trouble and gradually moved up the order to take fourth when Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Andrea Dovizioso fell on the tenth lap. (Dovizioso remounted to finish 13th.) The Kentuckian was in fourth and holding his own when the race was stopped.
"Those were really tough conditions," Hayden said. "I got a good launch, but when (Andrea) Dovizioso got sideways in front of me, I shut off the throttle and lost positions. I was able to recover, but I lost some confidence when the rear tried to come around a couple times.
"I had to be really patient in the beginning, but once I got rolling, I had good rhythm. It was clearly the right decision to call the race. There was a lot of water those last couple of laps, and it was almost impossible to see, although the rear lights on the bikes helped a lot. In dry conditions, I would've been thrilled with fourth, but I know our potential is higher in the wet. It would've been amazing to give my guys a podium today, but it's a decent result. Hopefully, it can help me come out of the difficult period and give us something to build on."
Teammate Valentino Rossi passed San Carlo Honda Gresini's Alvaro Bautista on the 13th lap to take fifth just before the race was called.
"Our race wasn't bad because I got a great start despite being so far back, on the fourth row, and then I managed to be pretty fast," Rossi said. "I was riding with Dovizioso and Stoner, when unfortunately I started having some problems with my visor fogging, and in those extreme conditions, with low light and a lot of water, it was very difficult.
"I made a mistake in Turn 7, and I was lucky not to crash because it was the same point where Dovizioso, (Ben) Spies and then (Stefan) Bradl went down. Without that mistake, I could have finished fourth because honestly, Stoner was a bit faster than I was, especially in T2.
"In general though, it didn't go bad. Of course I would've liked to finish the full race, but there was really too much water. I think the decision to stop was correct because in these conditions, the bikes can aquaplane and you can go down in any corner."
As Rossi pointed out, there were a number of crashes. Yamaha's Ben Spies crashed for the second race in a row to continue his dreadful final season with Yamaha. Spies crashed out of tenth place on the ninth lap. Three more riders went down on lap 11, Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Cal Crutchlow, Power Electronics Aspar's Randy de Puniet, and Avintia Blusens' Ivan Silva. NGM Mobile Forward Racing's Colin Edwards retired with a mechanical problem on the same lap. A lap later LCR Honda MotoGP's Stefan Bradl crashed.
The race was called on the 14th lap with Rossi just in front of Bautista. Fifty seconds behind the leader Hector Barbera (Pramac Racing Ducati) was seventh ahead of Aleix Espargaro on the first of the CRT machines, the Power Electronics Aspar ART. Paul Bird Racing's James Ellison was a CRT best ninth with Cardion AB Motoracing's Karel Abraham tenth.
Sepang MotoGP Race Results:
1. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
2. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
3. Casey Stoner (Honda)
4. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
5. Valentino Rossi (Ducati)
6. Alvaro Bautista (Honda)
7. Hector Barbera (Ducati)
8. Aleix Espargaro (ART)
9. James Ellison (ART)
10. Karel Abraham (Ducati)