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GP Week : Issue 172
DANI’S SECRET ASIA RISING 29 GPWEEK.com // 29 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: At the start of this season, after six years of trying, former 125 and double 250 champion Dani Pedrosa had scored 15 wins. An average of 2.5 a year. This year, he has already added another six to that total, in the space of less than four months. And he’s looking set for more. Title rival Jorge has won the same number ... but his last real win was in Italy also four months ago. His only other win since then was at Misano, where Dani was knocked off on the first lap, from a race he had looked like dominating. Had that not happened, and had Dani taken the seemingly predestined win there, he would now be leading on points. What has changed? What has transformed a rider who for years never seemed willing to fight? And who was pants in the wet – rather amazingly, Sunday’s win in Malaysia was his first ever in the wet. One factor is clearly his motorbike. Honda has put more than anyone else into their new 1000, and the money spent has been highly effective. With power, reliability, and that valuable and still top secret seamless-change gearbox, it is the marvel of the grid. A magnificent genuine grand prix racer, even if it is too expensive to please Dorna chief Carmelo Ezpeleta. Another is that he has for once remained free from injury. But it’s more than that. The Dani of the past year or two is a different rider: ready to fight hand to hand, and ready to push in the wet. Asked how he’d mastered rain conditions, he became secretive, declining to divulge details beyond saying: “It was a very strange system.” Whatever he’s done, it’s worked. And if he did come strong a bit too late for this year – there’s always the next. In years to come, we may look back on this race as a turning point ... the moment when riders from Asia began to make themselves felt. Asia, excluding Japan that is ... for years there have been fast men and even World Champions in the smaller classes from the country where the motorbikes are made. But they stood alone and apart from the continent, in this as in so many other ways. Asia’s arrival at the front has also started in the smaller classes, and the signal moment came on the only full-time Malaysian racer Zulfahmi Khairuddin’s 21st birthday, with a resounding pole position in Moto3. The next day Khairuddin continued to excel. He’s led a number of races this year, but reliably faded as the laps counted down. This time he led the latter part of the race, and was only finally dispossessed on the last corner. Second, especially such a close second, was still a rostrum landmark. It wasn’t only him. The Moto2 race had that rather rare animal – a local wild card: 18-year-old Hafizh Syahrin (above), best known for his exploits racing pocket bikes. He qualified 27th in the dry, but had ser ved noticed by posting top time in the wet on Friday afternoon. The race was wet, but the kid from Selangor was on fire. He came storming through, riding round the outside of redoubtable riders like Marquez and Iannone to take the lead. He was still a close fourth when the race was stopped. The two had helped garner a record crowd for the race, at 77,000 fully 10,000 up on last year’s record. Crowds have fallen pretty much everywhere else this year, radically at some European venues. Southeast Asia – including Indonesia – is also one of few areas where motorcycle sales are booming, making development of racing there of key interest to manufacturers. It is surely no coincidence that former 500 GP winner and close Honda associate Tadayuki Okada is to bring a ‘Team Asi’” to Moto2 next year. Funnily enough, Hafizh Syahrin is top of the short list for riders. MOTOGP >>> SEPANG