First Malaysian MotoGP Team
Petronas Yamaha Sepang
Petronas Yamaha Sepang will become the first Malaysian MotoGP team to compete across the MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 classes in 2019. The team was officially presented at the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia this week amongst high hopes for a promising 2019 MotoGP season.
MotoGP riders Franco Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo lined up with their 2019 Yamaha YZR-M1 machines alongside Petronas Sprinta Racing riders Khairul Idham Pawi (Moto2), and Ayumu Sasaki and John McPhee (Moto3).
It all started during the 2018 Grand Prix of Spain, in the first week of May. Rumours that two slots might become available on the MotoGP grid for 2019 reached Razlan Razali and he wasted no time in contacting with Carmelo and Carlos Ezpeleta, at which point the door to the elite category creaked open – albeit only slightly.
Petronas are not newcomers to motorcycle racing and have a long history in Formula1, obtaining sensational results with Mercedes, including the last five F1 World Championship titles. Noor Afiza M Yusof, Head of Brand Management of Petronas, sees their success on four wheels as the model to follow in MotoGP.
Team Director Johan Stigefelt, meanwhile, went about the task of putting the first – and for him the most important – piece of the jigsaw in place – the recruitment of Wilco Zeelenberg.
Johan Stigefelt – Team Director
“Yamaha’s help during the team’s first steps was fundamental. If they didn’t help us out in the way they did for the Valencia test, with the engineers, technicians, material… we wouldn’t have been able to do that test or even Jerez. You can have the biggest budget and the best material but you need a good human group. If you don’t have that, the team spirit and the team itself will never be the same. I am really happy to be able to present the team and riders today alongside Petronas, and it is a great feeling to show everybody our new colours. I am proud that the riders in all three categories will have the same look, which was the objective for us – that everybody sees us as a united structure. I also want to take the opportunity to thank all of the partners who have made it possible for this project to move forward. We will be back to work on track very soon, at our home circuit, the Sepang International Circuit. We will start with the MotoGP riders, who will be able to enjoy their new bikes and new material from Yamaha. We have planned an extensive programme of tests, even though the riders already have a little experience on the Yamaha. The conditions will be demanding at Sepang and we have a lot of work to do, so it will be a big challenge for Franco [Morbidelli] and Fabio [Quartararo].”
The new Team Manager of Petronas Yamaha SRT remembers his own excitement when he was first told about the project and reveals the clear objective he has set.
Wilco Zeelenberg – Team Manager of Petronas Yamaha SRT
“I feel excited to start this new role and I think that the longer everybody is together, the better we will do. We want to become the best satellite team on the grid and become the go-to team for any promising young rider looking to make the step up to MotoGP.”
One of the most important factors on the sporting side was of course to secure the signatures of two top riders for the new project.
2018 Rookie of the Year Franco Morbidelli and the man who will look to relieve him of the title, Fabio Quartararo, makes the step up from Moto2. The team will be Yamaha’s only satellite representation on the grid, receiving top level material and factory support thanks to the magnificent working relationship between the team and Yamaha Motor Co. Ltd.
Franco Morbidelli – MotoGP
“I feel like one of the people within this project that has the duty to make it a success. I don’t feel that I have more or less responsibility than anybody else – we are all the same – but each of us has to do their job to the best of their ability to make Petronas, Yamaha, the sponsors and the fans proud. This is my second team presentation as a MotoGP rider and my first with this ambitious team. To be honest it has been really impressive, everybody is very excited and committed to the team. I came to KLCC before but it never fails to impress. To make the presentation here, to see the colours on my Yamaha for the first time and to enjoy the moment with the people of Malaysia has been fantastic. This is a great day for PETRONAS Yamaha SRT! I love how the bike has turned out and the whole look with the leathers and helmet. I am looking forward to debuting it next week in the first test at the Sepang International Circuit. We all have a lot of work ahead so I am looking forward to getting back on the bike and joining up with the team to continue our progress and preparation for the start of the season in Qatar.”
Fabio Quartararo – MotoGP
“When my manager told me about it for the first time I didn’t believe him. Honestly, I didn’t think that I would get such a good opportunity to move up to MotoGP this season. But once the first contact had been made, we knew that this team would be immediately fighting to be the best satellite team, that it would have a very professional technical staff and a very positive atmosphere, so I had no doubts in accepting the challenge. I am very excited to have unveiled the new design of the bike and to have presented the whole team here at home, in Malaysia. I love it! Now I am really excited to get back on the bike at the Sepang International Circuit in the three-day test we have ahead. I am happy to be starting the new season there because it is one of my favourite tracks. We will try to give our best to learn as much as possible. We have six days of tests before the first race in Qatar, so I will do everything possible to be ready for the opening Grand Prix. The goal for any rider moving up from Moto2 is to become Rookie of the Year, so we will work hard to achieve it.”
In the intermediate category, the Petronas Sprinta Racing outfit heads into its second season with a new face on board – Malaysia’s two-time Grand Prix winner Khairul Idham Pawi.
Khairul Idham Pawi – Moto2
“It has been a dream presentation; for me it is something incredible to unveil the team’s new colours in Kuala Lumpur, my home, because I have never done anything like this here before. To see so many people together at the Petronas Twin Towers was very exciting. I love the new bike that the team have put together for the 2019 season and I am very much looking forward to getting back into action soon.”
Meanwhile in Moto3, Ayumu Sasaki welcomes a new team-mate in John McPhee, forming a new pairing ready to fight for the positions of honour at the front of the pack.
Ayumu Sasaki – Moto3
“It was an incredible day. It was very nice to have all five of the team’s riders here – it has been very exciting. I also love how the bikes look, so now I want to see what they’re like on track! I am very keen to get back on the bike, meet up again with my technical staff and complete some laps at the Sepang International Circuit. I hope to understand the bike as soon as possible and come back to my riding style after almost three months without riding. I’m really looking forward to Sepang and also the Jerez Test. Our target for this season will be really high. McPhee will be the best team-mate I can ask for and together we will try to be as fast as possible and fight for the podium when we can.”
John McPhee – Moto3
“What an amazing day here in Kuala Lumpur! To have the Petronas Sepang Racing Team launch at the Petronas Twin Towers was something special. The new livery looks great and now I’m really excited to get the season underway. Now we head to the Sepang International Circuit to start our new season. My aim is to make the most of the next three days to kick off our season in our best possible way. We’ve got an exciting year ahead with lots to look forward to.”
2019 MotoGP Calendar
- 10 March Qatar*, Losail International Circuit
- 31 March República Argentina, Termas de Río Hondo
- 14 April Americas, Circuit of the Americas
- 05 May Spain, Circuito de Jerez
- 19 May France, Le Mans
- 02 June Italy, Autodromo del Mugello
- 16 June Catalunya, Barcelona – Catalunya
- 30 June Netherlands, TT Circuit Assen
- 07 July Germany, Sachsenring
- 04 August Czech Republic, Automotodrom Brno
- 11 August Austria, Red Bull Ring – Spielberg
- 25 August Great Britain, Silverstone Circuit
- 15 September San Marino, Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli
- 22 September Aragón, MotorLand Aragón
- 06 October Thailand, Chang International Circuit
- 20 October Japan, Twin Ring Motegi
- 27 October Australia, Phillip Island
- 03 November Malaysia, Sepang International Circuit
- 17 November Comunitat Valenciana, Circuit Ricardo Tormo