Not content with hosting the inaugural Sepang 8 Hours Endurance World Championship event, the Malaysian circuit has also put together a star-studded team to try and win it.

With the Sepang Circuit active in all three grand prix classes, plus MotoE, an abundance of top-level riders were within easy reach.

Yet ultimately only one of the team's GP line-up, Franco Morbidelli, was chosen.

Sepang Circuit CEO and Sepang Racing team principal Razlan Razali acknowledged that having both Morbidelli and Petronas Yamaha team-mate Fabio Quartararo would have been the biggest draw.

However, neither rider has any previous endurance (or EWC-style night racing) experience and Razali made clear they are in it to win it.

"Putting my Sepang Circuit hat on, we want to promote the event as much as possible in its debut year. Obviously, we have the MotoGP riders and [for the event] it's best for us to use both our MotoGP riders," Razali told Crash.net.

"But from the team side, an 8 Hours endurance event is totally different to a MotoGP race and so to have two MotoGP riders with no real experience is a risk in terms of winning.

"We want to win and the Sepang 8 Hours is also very important for the factories, both to make sure that the endurance series in Asia works and because it is a qualifying race for the Suzuka 8 Hours.

"We'll be racing with the #21 not because of Frankie, but because of the Yamaha Factory Racing team #21. So this entry is to qualify for the Suzuka 8 Hours."

The team, which will be known as 'Yamaha Sepang Racing', has thus settled on a line-up of Morbidelli, Hafizh Syahrin and Michael van der Mark.

Morbidelli, the only rider on the team without any EWC experience, is a former Moto2 world champion who now has two MotoGP seasons under his belt, including four front-row starts and a best result of fifth in his debut year at the Sepang team. The Italian also trains on an R1 as part of the VR46 Academy.

"All things considered, we wanted the strongest line-up possible that includes a MotoGP star, a Malaysian rider and an endurance specialist," Razali explained.

"Between our two MotoGP riders, Fabio has had a big year already so we don’t mind him not participating. Frankie wants to race during the off-season, he likes and understands the R1 and it will help him keep fit."

Local star Syahrin made history as Malaysia's first MotoGP rider for the past two seasons, prior to which he had competed in the 2017 Suzuka 8 Hours alongside Moto2, the class he will re-join in 2020.

Syahrin impressed in qualifying during his Suzuka appearance as part of Kagayama Suzuki, the team snaring seventh on the grid as the Malaysian set the fastest time of the three riders.

"My strongest memory of the Suzuka 8 Hours was competing in the Top 10 Trial," Syahrin said. "You go out on the track alone to set a lap time. We ran a good race, but unfortunately we had electrical problems. We managed to get them fixed but we finished 17th, which was quite disappointing. I hope I’ll do better in my second 8-hour race.

Syahrin added: “I’ll be training to be stronger than my first time at Suzuka. This time I know what I need to do to prepare for the race."

But the likely Sepang team leader will be van der Mark, who finished fourth in this year's World Superbike championship for Yamaha and was been part of the winning Suzuka 8 Hours team in 2013 and 2014 for Honda, then 2017 and 2018 at Yamaha.

The Dutchman has previously raced at Sepang in both World Superbike and MotoGP.

"Hafizh Syahrin is our local star and already has some experience at Suzuka, where Michael van der Mark has won many times and so he will be our endurance 'specialist'," Razali said.

EWC rules allow modifications to the 'fork, damper, swing-arm, brakes, radiator and exhaust' compared to the road machine, while teams are also given 'a relatively free hand to soup up engine performance'.

The Sepang team will use factory R1s prepared by Yamaha Austria, with the experienced YART squad also providing all of the team personal: "The crew will know the bikes inside out," Razali confirmed.

Although the riders won't get to try the machine until race week, and will need to find a compromise set-up to suit all three of them, Razali doesn't foresee any major issues in adapting to the EWC Superbike:

"Michael needs no introduction to the R1. For Frankie, riding an R1 should not be a problem and, like Hafizh, he knows the Sepang circuit very well - they both raced there in November."

Private testing and free practice for the Sepang 8 Hours will be held on December 11, with qualifying on December 12 and the race, which starts at 13:00 and ends under floodlights, on Saturday December 14.

The race will feature a 'Le Mans style' start, with riders running across the track to their machines when the flag drops.

SRC Kawasaki France (Jeremy Guarnoni/Erwan Nigon/David Checa) are the reigning EWC title holders, while Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (Vincent Philippe/Etienne Masson/Greg Black) won the opening round of this season, the Bol d'Or, held in late September.

After the 8 hours, Syahrin will return to the track on Sunday to take part in the FIA WTCR/Oscaro season finale!

"Hosting the joint bike and car championship is a very good thing for both Sepang and Malaysian motorsport," Syahrin said. “As far as I’m concerned it’ll be quite a challenge because I’ll be racing the 8 Hours of Sepang first. I’ll need a lot of energy.

"I’m interested in trying out car racing, like Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi before me. I don’t expect to get a great result, but I’ll do my best. I’ll try to enjoy myself.”

 

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