This weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix is generally recognised as the toughest event of the MotoGP season - tough on bikes, tough on tyres, tough on riders, tough on everyone.

With ambient temperatures hovering in the mid-thirties and humidity levels often over 80 per cent, Sepang stretches riders to the limit on the scorching track and subjects mechanics to toiling on boiling motorcycles in the stifling pits.

"The conditions are difficult for everyone, especially for the riders, but also for the people working on the bikes," says Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio, "But we've been there before, we know what to expect and we're ready for it. I think this race will be particularly interesting because we'll be able to see how far we've come since we tested here last December. Those tests were one of the team's first real sessions with the M1, so it'll be great to check our progress in terms of lap times.

"For sure, Sepang will be a four-stroke track, with two long straights and a lot of fast, open corners, so I think we can expect to see the 500 lap record well and truly beaten. I think we have a good chance to fight for victory this weekend, our bike has been good for some while now, and our engine performance continues to improve."

If this weekend is gruelling for everyone in pit-lane, it will be especially demanding for YZR-M1 project leader Ichiro Yoda, who has two extra riders to look after as Yamaha has equipped Tech 3 riders Olivier Jacque and Shinya Nakano with one M1 apiece for the last three races of the season.

"This will be a very busy weekend for all Yamaha racing staff!" smiles Yoda, a man who knows the meaning of hard work, having been shuttling back and forth between Europe and Japan all summer.

"We now have two more M1 riders, but this is good for us because it delivers more feedback, which allows us to test more solutions and make faster development progress, though, of course, the Marlboro Yamaha Team remains Yamaha's number one priority. The bikes that Jacque and Nakano will ride will be the same spec as the machine used by Max to win at Brno in August."

"Sepang is a significant race for us because it was here that Max and Carlos tested the M1 for the very first time in December 2000, when our Japanese test riders were doing most of the riding. I think our lap times from that test were around 2min 06secs, last December we did 04s, and I think we can do high threes in qualifying this weekend.

"This is one of the toughest tracks for rear tyres, so we will work throughout practice to manage tyre life to the best effect, setting up the bike to be gentler with the rear tyre. We also have some chassis parts to try, we had these parts at Motegi but weren't able to try them there. Otherwise, we won't be making any big changes to our set-up. Since Brno, we've had a good base set-up, so I'm confident we can have another good weekend."

"You need a lot of everything at Sepang - good power, good braking and good direction changing, especially on the gas," added Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's crew chief, "You can take the first part of the track as an example - a long straight that leads into a very tight turn one, then a very quick right/left flick into turn two.

"We tested there last December, but the bike has changed a lot since then. It's got better in every way - engine, chassis, electronics, everything. Max should have a good weekend, the bike is now fully competitive at every track, so we can expect to be in competition for pole position and race victory."

Sepang is one of the longest tracks on the World Championship calendar - only Assen and Suzuka are longer - and boasts the longest-lasting lap in grand prix racing, several seconds longer than the Dutch and Japanese venues. The Malaysian GP venue is also one of the widest racetracks in the world, putting riders and machines to the test with an excellent variety of corners and high-speed straights. Withering heat and humidity are further challenges, not only for riders and machines, but also for technicians and everyone else working in pit-lane.

"Sepang is always tough, just because the weather conditions are so extreme," commented Carlos Checa's crew chief, Antonio Jimenez, "But I think it will be good for us.

"Carlos rode the M1 for the first time at Sepang in December 2000 and immediately got a good feeling for the bike. You need a compromise set-up for Sepang, with good braking stability for the first and last corners and settings that allow you to keep a good rolling speed through the turns. We will also adapt the set-up to help the tyres because it's a tough track for tyres - when it's hot, the tyres slide more and that reduces tyre life."



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