By Lisa Crouch
In Sepang's sweltering conditions, Marco Simoncelli overcame technical problems to qualify fifth for Sunday's Grand Prix, while fellow Honda Gresini rider Hiroshi Aoyama finished the session in seventh, marking his best qualifying performance of the year.
Simoncelli's technical problems meant he had to qualify using his second bike, possibly costing him a front row place, the Italian however remains confident of running near the front in tomorrow's race.
“I was satisfied with our pace in the first half of the session when we were working on our race setting but not so much with the 'time attack' because just when we switched tyres I had a problem with a sensor and had to switch to my second bike, which had a different setting that I wasn't as comfortable with," he said.
"I was struggling a bit and instead of staying out there I decided to come back in and try to make a small change but it didn't work out. Anyway, I am looking forward to tomorrow and feeling confident I can fight with the three guys on the front row.”
Aoyama, who recently announced a move to WSBK with Honda for next season, was a little disappointed at missing out on the second row by just 0.082 seconds, despite his solid qualifying rewarding him with seventh on the grid.
“I am satisfied with today even though we missed out on the second row by hundredths of a second. I have got a good feeling with the bike and I think we will run the soft tyres tomorrow. I like this track and if we can refine the setting a little in the warm-up tomorrow I am sure we can be fighting near the front in the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Team Manager Fausto Gresini was encouraged for the race by his riders qualifying positions.
“It has been a positive day even though Marco didn't get a flying lap in that would have put him on the front row. In race trim he is up there with the best and Marco has improved a lot from yesterday so we are confident. I am happy for Aoyama who has shown once again how strong he is at this track. It is a shame we don't have both riders on the second row but I think they can be up there in the race.”
Last weekend in Australia, Aoyama crashed out in a rain shower while Simoncelli achieved a MotoGP career best second place.