The MotoGP race in Sepang was one for the history books and played out especially well for Hervé Poncharal’s privately owned Yamaha Tech3 squad, with Johann Zarco starting from pole and scoring a podium place, and rookie Hafizh Syahrin working his way up from 23rd to 10th place. The latter, a national hero in Malaysia, had an exceptionally emotional race, being the first Malaysian ever to start in the MotoGP category at Sepang.
After a horrible crash in Australia, all eyes were on Yamaha Tech3 rider Johann Zarco. Although he returned from hospital down under without any broken bones, an impact like that could well have left its mark psychologically. But this didn’t seem to be a problem for the Frenchman, who started out slowly on Friday but found a good pace during qualifying, ending up second on the grid. Then, a penalty knocked pole incumbent Marc Marquez down six places, allowing Zarco to slip into the top spot on race day Sunday.
The weather played a major role in the Malaysian GP - sunshine mixed in with some heavy downpours. Because the chance of heavy rain was higher in the afternoon, the course directors decided to bring the competition forwards by two hours, so that the chequered flag would drop just before the rain was due to come. When the green flag dropped at 1pm local time, it was the factory Yamaha of Valentino Rossi that got off to a lighting start, leaving the rest of the field trailing. Marco held on to second place for most of the race and pulled every trick in the book to find a way past “the doctor”, but his 2016 Yamaha was no match for the blue and yellow factory machine.
Eventually, it was the newly crowned champion Marquez who showed off all his strengths and took second spot to chase the Italian. But with only a few laps to go disaster struck and Rossi, who had been leading comfortably, crashed, handing a ninth win to the Spaniard. As with so many other events, tyre conservation is a huge factor in winning or losing a race and it was tyre degradation that got Zarco in the end. With just one lap to go after Rossi’s crash, it was Suzuki’s Alex Rins who piled the pressure on the Frenchman, who gave it his all but, with no grip left on his rear tyre, he had to settle for the third podium spot.
It was a special weekend for Malaysian MotoGP fans and even more so for Tech3 Rookie Hafizh Syahrin, the first Malaysian racer to ever start at the Malaysian GP at Sepang. But it seemed as if the national hero was overwhelmed by the nerves and pressure of proving himself in front of his home audience, and he qualified last on the grid. But starting out last didn’t seem to bother Hafizh or the fans, as they cheered loudly, bringing tears to the eyes of the Malaysian. During the race, however, he picked up the pace dramatically and put in a great performance, cheered on by over 100,000 fans who had shown up for the race at Sepang Syahrin. By the end, he took tenth spot!
With just one race to go with Yamaha, Tech3 have shown they’re no underdogs.