Ambient temperatures were lower at Sepang today than they had been at Losail, but the heat continued to rise as Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau came face to face for the first time since last Saturday's controversial Qatar Grand Prix.

Gibernau took victory in a dramatic inaugural race at Losail, where Rossi was forced to start from the back of the grid after his team were penalized for grid cleaning.

Rossi felt that Gibernau and his Telefonica Honda team were behind the protest - as they had seen the Yamaha team cleaning the grid and passed the information on - even though the protest was officially made in the name of Repsol Honda and also backed by the likes of Ducati and Proton KR.

The Yamaha star then crashed out as he made his way through the field, and the pair are now separated by just 14-points at the top of the championship, with three rounds to go.

"I said some things after the race in Qatar about the people involved in this situation and now it is finished," stated Rossi, who made disparaging remarks about Gibernau and his team to the Italian media.

"Unfortunately we lost 25-points and I have a hole in my finger but I think it is not a big problem to ride," added the #46. "It is important for me to concentrate on these next races and think about the championship so now we start again from zero."

Gibernau was also keen to look forward to the weekend and even expressed sympathy at his rival's Qatar penalty.

"I have spent my time at home listening to music because I don't want to know what has been said, but whatever Valentino did say was in the heat of the moment and I am not interested," said Sete.

"I have been in that situation before, when your blood is boiling and you say what you think, but everybody knows he is a good guy. To be honest I thought his penalty was unfair, but that is racing," added Gibernau.

Whilst Rossi and Gibernau bucked the trend by taking the opportunity for a brief trip home, the majority of riders made their way directly from the Middle to Far East via several exotic locations.

Former MotoGP regular Garry McCoy also made the trip over from Europe after being called up by Aprilia to replace injured rider Shane Byrne for the final three races of the season.

McCoy, who took three victories in 2000 riding a 500cc Yamaha, makes his first appearance at Sepang this weekend before heading for his home race at Phillip Island and the season finale at Valencia.

"It was very hard for me to leave the MotoGP paddock at the end of last season because I have spent my whole racing career here and I felt like I belonged," said McCoy, who has been contesting the World Superbike series riding a Ducati.

"It's been a tough year for me but it's good to be back and nice of Aprilia to give me this opportunity," added the Australian. "This weekend is a case of getting to know the bike and the team, and then seeing if I can really do something in the two races after that."

McCoy wasn't the only rider surprised to find himself in Malaysia today, with James Haydon called up by Proton Team KR to replace Kurtis Roberts for the second successive race.

Roberts was expected to have recovered from a fractured wrist and elbow in time for his team's home race but is still not fit and Haydon, who had returned to the UK after stepping in for the American in Qatar, quickly found himself back on an aeroplane.

Roberts' elder brother Kenny is also out injured and is again replaced by Yukio Kagayama at Suzuki, whilst James Ellison and Youichi Ui again line up for WCM.

Meanwhile, John Hopkins says he will be "disappointed to finish outside the top five" after making good progress with his recovery from broken ribs and a gashed buttock, sustained three weeks ago at Motegi.

Whilst tension is running high in the MotoGP class, Dani Pedrosa could win the 250cc World Championship with two races to spare providing he can take eight points more than Sebasti?n Porto on Sunday.

Pedrosa won the 125cc title at this track last year but took heed from the dramatic turnaround in fortunes of MotoGP World Champion Rossi in the last round.

"I'm looking forward to getting to the track because I've got good memories from last year and I'm hopeful we can do a good job and get a good result," said Pedrosa. "The advantage at the top of the championship is great and I want to stay consistent here in Malaysia. We have to keep the same mentality because things can change drastically in a day and I am not the type of person to take anything for granted."

As well as the likes of Porto and last year's winner Toni El?as, Pedrosa will also face the challenge of experienced veteran Marcellino Lucchi, who rides in place of current World Champion Maneul Poggiali on the factory Aprilia.

Poggiali received 50 stitches to his legs and shoulder after falling through a glass wall in Qatar but is recovering at his home in San Marino and should be fit to ride in Australia next week.

Andrea Dovizioso can follow in Pedrosa's footsteps by winning the 125cc World Championship in Malaysia, riding the Spaniard's bike from last season. The Italian teenager only needs to finish on the podium to secure the crown but was given a word of warning from Pedrosa today.

"I remember the race last year as being really hot, the bike was fourth bottom in terms of top speed and I had to push really hard," remembered Pedrosa. "But at the end I won the race and the championship and it was fantastic."

First qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix takes place tomorrow (Friday).

 

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