Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) won the 2017 race at Phillip Island and this year was a different story for the Portuguese rider after a tough race that saw him come home outside the top ten, but it wasn’t the disaster it could have been. Key rival Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) also struggled, and in the end Oliveira took some solace from keeping the fight alive and cutting the gap at least by a bit – one point. Now, however, a race later means the margins change again and Bagnaia arrives at Sepang with a 36-point advantage. To be crowned Champion, he needs to be 25 points clear of his rival at the flag.
Round 17: Moto2™ Full Race
If he finishes ahead of Oliveira then, it’s game over – and he has a lot more room to manoeuvre than that. If Oliveira fails to finish or fails to significantly cut the gap, it’s an automatic CheckMate for the Italian and he’ll take the title. So Oliveira will be gunning for glory with nothing to lose in his last stand at Sepang; as it is, it’s not enough to allow him to do anything but attack.
The guys sharing the track with the duel for the title could have a big say in the outcome too. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was back on the top step last time out for his third podium of the season – all of which have been wins – and the South African beat Joan Mir (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) to it by a fitting 0.036. They’ll be riding high into Malaysia, as will the likes of Augusto Fernandez (Pons HP 40), who took a stunning fourth fighting for the podium, and Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) will take some heart from a much-improved race weekend Down Under. Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP 40), Dynavolt Intact GP duo Marcel Schrötter and Xavi Vierge, Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) – all have serious pace.
36 points is a lot to play with for Bagnaia, but the field on which these battles is fought is a well-populated one. Will we see the Championship contenders back at the front at Sepang? Oliveira won last year so he’ll want to repeat that this season and turn Australia around – but how will Bagnaia play it? Find out at the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix on Sunday.
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