Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo bring their two-man battle for the MotoGP title to Malaysia’s tricky track this weekend for the penultimate race in a season streaking toward a nail-biting finish.
The contest between the Yamaha teammates tightened at last weekend’s spectacular Australian Grand Prix, where Lorenzo shaved Rossi’s season points lead down to just 11.
Rossi, 36, is a legend in the sport who has won seven world championships in the premier class over the course of his glittering career, but the Italian hasn’t taken home the crown since 2009.
“There are only two races for the championship left and it will be important not to make any mistakes,” said Rossi, whose slip to a fourth-place finish at Phillip Island opened a crack for Lorenzo.
“In Australia we had a good race but it could have been much better. Now we need just two good races to finish this successful season off.”
Rossi is comfortable on Malaysia’s muggy, slippery Sepang circuit, winning six times in the top-tier class.
There is a chance he could clinch the title on Sunday if he tops the podium and Lorenzo falters to finish lower down in the pack.
But that looks unlikely, with Lorenzo a fixture on the podium all season, and the championship could go down to the wire next month at Valencia.
Lorenzo, 28, who won the world championship in 2010 and 2012, is yet to win in the premier race at Sepang.
He may need victories in the final two contests for a shot at his third MotoGP world title.
“The main goal is to cut some more points from Valentino’s margin and I will try to arrive to Valencia with a smaller disadvantage. I feel strong and look forward to racing in Malaysia,” said the Spaniard.
Rossi’s lead would have been even slimmer had Lorenzo been able to close out a victory at Phillip Island.
But defending champion Marc Marquez swept beneath Lorenzo on the final go-around to win a thrilling race that saw 52 overtakes between the top four finishers.
Rossi has 296 points, followed by Lorenzo’s 285.
Despite his stirring victory in Australia, Marquez is well back in third on 222 points.
His chances of repeating as champion were dashed by a broken left hand suffered last month while training on his mountain bike at home in Spain.
Rossi was the runner-up at Sepang last year in a race that was meaningless for the world title, as Marquez had already secured it with a dominant season.