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Rizla Suzuki MotoGP ready for desert night race
Loris Capirossi and Chris Vermeulen are both fresh from a two-night test at the 5.38km desert-based circuit, where they both made significant progress with the development of the 2008 Suzuki GSV-R.
The first round of the season will mark a very significant moment in the 60-year history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, marking the first time a race has been staged at night under artificial lighting conditions. The Losail circuit will be bathed in light from thousands of high-tech bulbs that give off enough illumination to almost allow the riders to wear dark visors!
Capirossi will be making his debut Grand Prix for Suzuki, after joining the manufacturer at the end of last season. The Italian star has a good record in the Qatar GP and will certainly be planning to continue with his good form at the circuit that saw him take a podium in 2006.
The first running of a race at night will present many new situations that riders, mechanics and manufacturers will not have faced before. Bridgestone will be working especially hard to make sure its tyres gives the Suzuki GSV-R as much grip as possible on the colder track temperatures that are likely to be experienced over the weekend. Equally, keeping the carbon brakes up to an optimum working temperature will be another consideration for all involved.
Rizla Suzuki MotoGP takes to the track on Friday evening for two practice sessions followed by a further session the following evening. The all-important qualifying-hour will take place at 22.55hrs local time on Saturday, to determine the grid positions for Sunday’s 22-lap race that gets underway at 23.00hrs local time (20.00hrs GMT).
Loris Capirossi: “This is a very exciting race for me as it is my first time racing a Suzuki and I am really looking forward to that, as it will be an emotional time for me. I really feel like part of the Suzuki family and they are doing everything possible to help me. It will also be the first race we do at night and that adds to the excitement. We have tested in Qatar under the lights for two-nights now and they are very good to ride under. We have done a lot of testing leading up to the first race and we are almost ready, we will use the practice days to sort out a few things, but I am sure on race-night we will be 100% prepared and ready to go!”
Chris Vermeulen: “I am really pumped up about the whole forthcoming weekend. Not only because of the thrill of riding in the first race and at night, but also because I can’t wait to get back racing – that’s what I do! We have done loads of testing since the end of last year and have now got a good base package to work with on the 2008 bike, so we will certainly be looking to get a good result at Qatar on Sunday. It’s a whole new experience for us to race at night, the NASCAR guys do it in America and Formula One will race at night later this year, but I’m sure this race will create a lot of interest and a lot of spectators will be watching to see how it goes. For me the toughest part is staying awake – I’m an ‘early to bed’ type as I said before the test - but I’m sure I’ll be alright!”
Honda MotoGP Team Hopes to Shine in Floodlit Encounter
And it’s Honda star Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) who will be emerging from the dark days of injury to get his third season of MotoGP underway. Dani injured his right hand testing at Sepang in Malaysia. The injury is still not totally healed, but durable Dani is fit enough to be in contention when qualifying begins here on Friday.
He will emerge from pitlane with his erstwhile team-mate Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V) from the same garage they have shared for the past two seasons. The duo will once again be making firm challenges for the biggest prize in motorcycle sport.
The Honda factory has elected to start this Grand Prix with the conventional valve spring version of its potent 800cc V4 power unit. Meanwhile development work aimed at making the power delivery of the engine with pneumatically-operated valves more rider-friendly continues apace.
Hayden has been well on the pace during testing, topping the timesheets at Sepang in late January and again at Jerez in Spain last month. The American former World Champion has a big season ahead of him after struggling in the first half of 2007 before emerging late season as a rostrum force once more.
He shows all the signs of a man who feels he has it all to prove again in 2008 after lifting the MotoGP title in 2006. His rivals know that this level of intent from a rider with the Kentucky Kid’s aggression and pace signals racing of the highest intensity to come over 18 rounds in eight months.
Honda’s new draft of premier class riders are also showing they can cut it at the highest level. Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V) has been flying in testing and the former Kawasaki rider has taken to the Honda well, posting the third quickest time in floodlit testing here at Losail.
Andrea Dovizioso (JiR Scot Honda RC212V) has moved up from the 250cc class as runner-up overall in both 2006 and 2007, and the Italian ace has quickly adapted to the physical demands of grappling with bigger, more powerful machinery. Sixth fastest at the end of last weekend’s test session, he feels confident – and ‘Dovi’ has never been a rider to talk up his chances without backing them up on track.
The San Carlo Honda Gresini Team riders Alex de Angelis (another top pick from the 250cc class) and the hugely experienced Shinya Nakano have both been riding on the limit in the run-up to this race. Both men crashed here in testing. But the San Marinese 250cc graduate and the Japanese master will both be fit enough to race despite more than a few bruises.
The Losail International circuit lies ten kilometres from Qatar’s capital of Doha and the 5.38km track is now a known quantity for most riders across the classes. Built in 2004, it features more turns than any other track on the calendar, six lefts and ten right-handers in all. Nor is there a chicane of any description. This puts a high premium on machine agility and it also brings tyre wear issues into sharp focus.
Artificial grass placed along the track to allay riders’ fears of sand being blown onto the surface is only partially successful. Under windy conditions this worsens and with the added unknown of racing at night, all riders are approaching this race with a certain amount of caution.
The 1068m straight, 20m longer even than that of Catalunya, is approached at relatively slow speed, making brisk acceleration through the gears vital. Power and top speed are among the primary requirements – and also stable braking at the end of that 320km/h blast flat out in top gear.
Corner speed and machine agility are also at a premium and with a much cooler track temperature at night, tyre choice will be critical in terms of finding rubber that can cope with a track surface varying in temperature and thus grip as it drops from its usual 45-degree daytime level in the cool night air.
Dani Pedrosa, who finished third here in 2007, said: “This certainly isn’t my favourite circuit. Most of the time it’s quite windy at Losail, which blows sand from around the circuit on to the track, making it dirty. The tarmac itself is grippy but when it’s dusty there’s not much grip. And it’s always dusty off the racing line, so if you get offline you lose a lot of time because you have to be very careful not to fall. Fortunately it’s not bumpy and the safety is good. Technically, this circuit requires very precise bike set-up, with good agility and good straight-line speed; these two factors are very important at Losail. Riding at night here is a new experience, but for my liking there is too much humidity as night falls, and you really notice it on the track.”
His Repsol Honda team-mate Nicky Hayden said: “I’m just really happy to be going racing again because that’s what it’s all about. Qatar is going to be an interesting weekend running at night. The actual track is really good – except you don't have 100,000 people going wild for their favourite rider and it’s just missing that bit of history. I think running it at night is going to make a difference to that. It’s going to be real interesting how the tyres work at night. I think it's gonna be cool and I’m really looking forward to it because I enjoyed riding at night in the tests. I’ve spent a lot of time under lights doing dirt track at home, but until the tests here, the only time I’d ridden a roadracer in the dark was practising for the Suzuka Eight Hours in 2003 and that was really cool.”
The two friendly Aussie rivalshad their obligitory "Battle of Troy" pictures taken early in the week for the showdown at thir home track with Bayliss (left) throwing an aligator whip around Corser(right). Ironically they have both make their homes with in Monaco since they began competing in the World Championships, as the base for traveling is more centralized
2009 HANNspree SBK World Superbike Championship, Round 2 of 15 Phillip Island
Troy Baylis Doubles in his Final Home Race at Phillip Island
Fabrizio had a much more difficult start to Race 1 after stalling the start line and being hit from behind. The resulting red flag half way around the track resultinged in the entire 3-rider Ten kate Honda team coliding with each other and taking out the entire team, but they all were able to make it back to the pits to pick up their spare bikes for the restart. Fabrizio sustained muscular contusions to his right calf and although in pain, he returned to the grid for the race 1 restart. After a less than perfect start, Fabrizio soon moved up from eighth place to fourth and, after a battle with Corser and Xaus, was able to take an impressive third place and his first podium with the Ducati Xerox Team. Unfortunately in Race 2 a jumped start for Fabrizio meant a drive through penalty, leaving him unable to catch up and with an eventual nineteenth place finish.
Troy Bayliss closed out his last race ever for fans at his Phillip Island home track with both race wins and a Wheelie Big Show! The new 1098F and 10989RS Ducati bikes proved impressive as well despite having less peak hosepower than the inline 4-cylinder bikes and having to run 12 pounds more weight.
Bayliss now leads the championship with 88 points, 27 points ahead from Nieto (Suzuki) while Fabrizio is in eighth place overall. Ducati leads the manufacturers championship with 95 points and a 32 point advantage over Suzuki.
Troy Bayliss (winner - Race 1 and Race 2) - "It's something you dream of, to have a double win and I knew this year it would be difficult to achieve but I have a great team behind me who all worked really hard. overnight They had to build a new bike for me from scratch after my crash yesterday. I had a few ups and downs this weekend. After Race 1 I was struggling with the last 6 laps but in the end I managed to take the win. In the second race the tyres were a little slower but I felt better on the bike which was more consistent and a pleasure to ride. After race 1 I was so tired but after the second one I felt great. I had to concentrate hard today as in the second race, even though I was ahead I was aware I had to keep it together and put in some consistently good laps. It's been incredible, great weather and some good racing. I know there will be fighting to come later this season so two wins like that was just fantastic."
Bayliss (21) leads the race 1 Start over Haga (41), Nieto (76) and Corser (11).
Bayliss Injured in Practice Crash, Sets New Rrack Record, and Secures Superpole
“It has been a bit eventful but I’m sitting here on pole and that makes me feel good about tomorrow’s race” declared Bayliss. “Deep down I knew Troy was the man who I was going to have to beat. We always end up fast here and it was pretty close and I’m sure it’s going to be a good race tomorrow. I did a long-run yesterday and planned to do another one today but the crash put paid to that. I did quite a few laps and I’m reasonably happy with the tyres and I feel sure the first few laps will be decisive up to about lap 8 and then it’s definitely going to get slower and a lot harder for the rest of the race.”
Corser said: “It’s always great to race here at Phillip Island and see all the friends and family. Today the bike was working well, but we had a few problems in that last free practice trying to get the bike balanced. Unfortunately we were unable to use the qualifying tyre before Superpole so basically I was doing it for the first time on the qualifying tyre. We can’t complain too much however and well done to Troy.”
Fabrizio commented: “It’s been a great weekend so far and hopefully I can continue. Let’s see if I can stay with these two ‘old’ guys tomorrow! It’s going to be a really tough race, I feel sure and for me to finish behind them will be a great satisfaction.”
Carlos Checa declared: “I wasn’t sure with the qualifying tyre, which I’ve only used a couple of times but all the team pushed me to use them whereas I wanted to use the race tyre. We are trying to understand better the bike, which is still young, but the feeling for the tyres is already good. This combination is working much better now and we are at a good level quickly.”
Qatar winner Fonsi Nieto was fifth for Alstare Suzuki, followed by the rapidly improving Jakub Smrz (Guandalini Ducati), Noriyuki Haga (Yamaha WSB) and Max Neukirchner (Alstare Suzuki). Max Biaggi (Sterilgarda Go Eleven Ducati) had to abandon his Superpole run before entering the shoot-out lap after his gear lever snapped and the Italian will start from row 4 of the grid.
Bayliss takes center on the Race One podium between Corser and new team mate Michel Fabrizio.
Race One Runaway for Bayliss, With Corser 2nd
Carlos Checa took 2nd in Race Two on the yet to be developed new Ten Kate 2008 Honda CBR1000RR
"It's something you dream of, to have a double win on your last time here" declared Bayliss. "I knew this weekend was going to be very difficult, everybody's riding well and there's a lot of good bikes out there. I have a great team behind me and I'm happy with the result. After the first race I was struggling the last few laps and was worried it was going to be a duel with Max, but he managed to crash and then he did so again in the second race. The times were a little bit slower in race 2 but I felt better on the bike, it was more consistent throughout and a pleasure to ride".
Fastest Race Lap 6° Max Biaggi 1'33.477 171,186 Km/h
Riders Championship Standings:
Andrew Pitt Leads Ten Kate Honda to a Triple in 600cc World Supersport
A three rider Honda civil war at the beginning of the race became a six rider fight at one stage, but the trio of Pitt, second place qualifier Josh Brookes (Hannspree Stiggy Motorsports Honda CBR600RR) and Robbin Harms (Hannspree Stiggy Motorsports Honda CBR600RR) were the top-finishing trio after an all-time classic Supersport race. They swapped the leading positions time after time, with Pitt attempting to slow the pace to conserve his tyres, allowing other riders to join the fray until the very last lap, when the top three moved ahead again.
They had been joined by first Fabien Foret, then Garry McCoy on the three-cylinder Triumph and Jonathan Rea (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR600RR) who could not start as fast as his main rivals. He ended up fifth, equalling his qualifying performance after looking like he could take a podium at one stage. Gianluca Nannelli (Hannspree Althea Honda CBR600RR) made it seven Honda riders in the top ten places, with privateer riders Joan Lascorz and Gianluca Vizziello taking seventh and eighth places respectively on their Honda CBR600RRs.
Qatar podium finisher Craig Jones (Parkalgar Honda CBR600RR) struggled in Australia, qualifying 12th and dropping to 16th in the race itself, struggling for traction. Andrea Antonelli (Hannspree Althea Honda CBR600RR) qualified 19th and suffered a DNF.
In the championship itself, Brookes leads with 33 points, Lascorz is second on 29, with Pitt third, thanks to his 25 Phillip Island points. Harms also has 25 points, and is credited with fifth after a three way tie in the championship table. Jones is sixth, on 16.
Pitt said: “The guys in the team have worked very hard to make it all work this weekend. We came here very determined after the first race in Qatar. We had to bounce back and we’ve done so in the best possible way. It was a tough race, with a big group of guys battling at the front, but I was confident I could work it out in the last laps. I did, and I’m very happy with the result.”
Brookes said: “It wasn’t as good as 2004, when I won, but it was a fantastic and very close race. I would like to thank the team for believing in me and for doing a great job this weekend. It was a very tough, hard race but great fun at the same time. I’m sure all my friends, family and fans really enjoyed the race and they must have been biting their nails at the end. Pitt and I put our heads down and charged for the line, but in the end he got it - by just sixty-two hundredths of a second!”
Harms said: “I am very, very happy because it’s been tough recently, what with my injuries. I felt very strong in the race and although it must have seemed a crazy race, I felt totally in control. I was actually a bit frustrated with Pitt sometimes because in some places he was holding me up. I’d like to say thank you to the team for doing a great job and hope we can carry on this way.”
SUPERSPORT 600cc: RACE : (Laps 21 = 93,345 Km)
Riders Championship Standings:
With the current Aprilia RSV1000 2-cylinder bke now left behind by the new World Superbike rules allowing 1200ccc twin cylinder bikes, Aprilia has chosen instead of increasing displacement to produce an all new 1000cc V-4 engined bike to sell and contest World Superbike in 2009. BMW is also expected to introduce a 4-cylinder superbike to enter World Superbike in 2009.
Four cylinders, 1000 cc, power of well over 200 HP in the race version, the new bike due to make its road debut by the end of 2008 will mark Aprilia's return to the World Superbike Championship in the 2009 season.
The Aprilia engine in fact uses integral ride-by-wire technology, opening up new frontiers in managing such a powerful engine, with almost infinite possibilities for controlling power output and traction.
Night Moves: Casey gets the Ducati GP08 airborne at Losail under the night time lights in a record breaking run. This is one of the few times we'll ever see the team bikes in full Marlboro logo livery due to the strict anti-tobacco laws in Europe and the USA,
Preview: The First Night Race in MotoGP History
The riders have already had the opportunity to get accustomed to the peculiar conditions that will greet them at the circuit thanks to two days of tests at the end of February, when they rode their MotoGP machines under artificial lighting for the first time. Casey Stoner adapted quickly to the unusual surroundings whilst Marco Melandri made small but constant steps to improve his feeling with the bike and circuit.
The same could be said for the entire winter testing programme for the Ducati Marlboro Team, with the defending World Champion on top form and satisfied with the job done on the GP8 and with the Bridgestone tyres in all conditions at all of the circuits in Malaysia, Australia, Spain and Qatar. Melandri, meanwhile, has been focused on finding his own way forward, concentrating on setting a consistent pace on race tyres as opposed to worrying about a hot lap on soft rubber. He now feels confident that he is ready for the start of the season.
Last year in Qatar Stoner made a stunning debut with Ducati, taking an incredible maiden victory in MotoGP to become the youngest Australian rider ever to do so and the first to register wins in all three Grand Prix classes. Melandri battled from tenth on the grid to take an impressive fifth place finish.
LIVIO SUPPO, MotoGP Project Director
I want to say a big 'thank you' to everybody at Ducati Corse: the development work has been wonderful once again and Casey is very satisfied with the evolution of the GP8 - Filippo's 'small step' theory is being rewarded. I also want to thank our partners, who are supporting us in this new challenge. Bridgestone have worked hard to maintain their competitiveness and all of our technical partners, especially Shell, have always known how to respond positively to our requests. It is going to be really exciting to start the season under the floodlights of Losail and to be amongst the first to contest a World Championship race at night!"
CASEY STONER, Ducati Marlboro Team - "I'm happy that the races are starting up again and I'm satisfied with the job myself and the team have been able to do in the preseason tests. The Ducati engineers have made a few small changes to the bike over the winter that have produced a notable general improvement. The GP8 has better acceleration in low revs and the set-up changes we made at Phillip Island have improved its performance on the exit of corners. The Bridgestone tyres have worked well at all of the tracks we've tested at, including the night test in Qatar, so from that perspective I'm also really happy. It is going to be fun to race at night but for me it won't be a completely new experience because I already did a couple of speedway and dirt-track races at night when I was a junior back in Australia. It will be different but I don't think it changes the job for the rider, especially because we've already had two days of tests last week to get used to the track conditions and the lights. Temperature will be an important factor, though, especially as far as the tyres are concerned because at 11 o'clock when we start qualifying and the race it is really cold. We'll have to wait and see if the conditions are the same as they were for the test."
Circuit Record: Casey Stoner (Ducati - 2007), 1'56.528, 166.208 km/h
Stoner needed just 45 minutes to find his bearings around the floodlit circuit of Losail in Qatar, with almost five and a half million watts lighting up the first official test session at 1800h local time, following a spectacular opening ceremony. Within an hour Stoner had clocked a stunning lap of 1'55.368, inside the current lap record and almost three seconds clear of his nearest rival. The test didn't finish until 0100h in the morning but both Ducati Marlboro Team riders were in positive mood. Track temperatures at 2000h were around 18°C.
Also in the top five were Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet, JiR Team Scot’s Andrea Dovizioso and Tech3 Yamaha’s James Toseland – a quartet of Michelin riders who all lapped within a second of Stoner’s hot lap.
Under the state-of-the-art lighting system at the desert circuit, Alex de Angelis from the San Carlo Honda Gresini squad made it a good night all round for the 2008 MotoGP rookies as he lapped sixth quickest.
Behind the San Marino rider came Kawasaki’s John Hopkins, who lapped 71 times despite still being on the comeback trail after his groin injury. Meanwhile Repsol Honda’s own comeback kid Dani Pedrosa, who rides with an injured hand still, used a softer tyre at the end of the session to cut his lap time, with experienced Yamaha pair Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards rounding off the top ten.
The entire 2008 MotoGP field was in attendance, gaining a crucial first taste of what to expect at the season opening Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar on 9th March and focusing mainly on race tyre tests for the majority of the seven hour session with temperatures a cooler than expected average of 16ºC.
In the last hour of the practice Lorenzo improved his own time to move up into second on the timesheet. The 250cc World Champion was still more than half a second behind Stoner though, the premier class title holder having set the pace right from the start with a time of 1’55.368 in the first hour of the outing, a time which he later reduced by a further 0.038s midway through the evening.
Anthony West was the session’s only crasher, an accident early on which did not result in any significant injury for the Australian Kawasaki rider, whilst the majority of the feedback from the teams and their MotoGP charges with regard to visibility and riding conditions was highly positive.
The test visit continues on Friday with a second and final 2008 MotoGP preseason test under the Losail floodlights, followed by three days (1st-3rd March) of testing for the smaller classes as of Saturday – just days before the start of the World Championship at the same venue.
Qatar Official MotoGP test – Day One– official lap times:
Race lap record: 2007, Casey Stoner - 1'56.528
Jorge Lorenzo Tops Day 2
Having been second fastest on Thursday on race tyres at the desert circuit Lorenzo continued his good work with his late hot lap, nearly half a second faster than the Losail pole position record, having already completed an excellent race simulation with a series of laps in the 1'56 margin – almost matching Casey Stoner’s 2007 race winning pace.
Although Lorenzo insists his debut MotoGP season is essentially a learning exercise, his performance in the last test session of the winter means he will go into the season opening Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar next weekend confident of a strong result in his first ever premier class race.
Likewise Briton Toseland has made good progress during his preparations for his long awaited MotoGP bow. Having successfully tested suspension parts, worked with various tyres and of course having adapted to night-time riding in the groundbreaking Losail test, he too should be bursting with anticipation ahead of round one, after missing out on Friday night’s top spot by less than a tenth of a second.
Also on the pace in third position - and just 0.381s behind Lorenzo - was Frenchman Randy de Puniet, who has been a strong performer over the winter testing period and appears to be enjoying the Honda-Michelin package at his disposal with his new team Honda LCR.
Toseland’s Texan team-mate Colin Edwards was fourth quickest, while Ducati Marlboro’s World Champion Casey Stoner completed the top five - the Australian 22 year-old escaping unhurt after an accident on turn two at around 10.30pm local time. After an impressive pre-season the reigning champ is undoubtedly the title favourite and completed just 31 laps before declaring his work was done and being ready and raring to race.
Also featuring in the top ten were Andrea Dovizioso (JiR Team Scot), Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda), Chris Vermeulen (Rizla Suzuki), Alex de Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) and five-time MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi – who ended the test 1.7s slower than his Fiat Yamaha colleague Lorenzo.
The session was briefly red-flagged at around 9.30pm local time due to debris on track following a crash by Rizla Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi at turn seven, but the veteran Italian was unhurt and once the action resumed he was soon back out riding again – eventually lapping eleventh fastest.
In addition to those tumbles by former team-mates Stoner and Capirossi, there were crashes late in the session for the MotoGP title holder’s new Ducati colleague Marco Melandri, San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Shinya Nakano and Alice Team’s Sylvain Guintoli as track temperature dropped to a chilly 13°C. Guintoli’s bike was badly damaged and his right arm appeared to be injured, but he was soon given the all clear by doctors onsite.
Indeed, it was that late temperature drop rather than any lack of visibility apparently causing those accidents, so the teams and tyre suppliers Bridgestone and Michelin will aim to ensure they account for similar circumstances in next week’s Grand Prix return to Qatar which of course marks the start of the 2008 MotoGP World Championship.
Qatar MotoGP Official Test – Day Two – best times:
Race Record: C. STONER - 1.56.528 (2007)
2008 MotoGP World Championship / Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar
Preview: Lights go ON for opening 2008 MotoGP round in Qatar
One of the most ambitious lighting projects in history, the task of providing a shadow-free and safe environment for the momentous race has been months in the making. The possibility of riding in the evening at Qatar had been pondered as long as two years ago, but was only confirmed last September in an official announcement in Misano. The opening event of its kind at Losail came just last week, with the arrival of all three classes for an Official Test after the lights were formally switched on.
Whilst the track itself, and its million dollar lighting system designed by experts Musco, will be the undeniable initial focus of public attention in the build-up to the race, there is no small amount of interest in the state of affairs on track in the MotoGP and lower cylinder categories.
Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner will be competing in his first race with the number one plate, opening the defence of his 2007 MotoGP World Championship crown. The Australian began 2008 with a typically dominant display at the Official Test in Jerez in February, taking the BMW M Award prize in the 40-minute shootout that marked the first competitive action of the year. He was also the early pace-setter in the first night test, laying down the fastest time of the opening night.
Unfortunately for Stoner’s rivals, the 22 year-old has also been highly successful at both his previous race visits to Qatar. Bedraggled by flu and arriving late for the 2006 practice sessions, the then-rookie took pole position for what was only his second MotoGP race. On the day of the Grand Prix he battled with future title rival Valentino Rossi, before eventually missing out on the podium spots. In 2007 he confirmed the potential shown the previous year, and once again duked it out with the Italian. The power of the Desmosedici and the cool head of the future World Champion saw him hold off the former champ, en route to his first MotoGP victory.
Rossi is expected to be challenging Stoner once again this year, and will be competing in his first race with Bridgestone tyres on his Fiat Yamaha M1. The five-time World Champion was the winner of the 2006 race in Losail, and one of the riders to participate in the Safety Commission’s initial analysis of the night race possibility ahead of that event.
The Repsol Honda duo of Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden will be attempting to establish their title credentials early on at Qatar, racing against time to complete development of the RC212V. Pedrosa saw his preseason hit hard by a testing crash in Sepang, and has been absent for the majority of practice opportunities to recover from a broken hand. 2006 World Champion Hayden has been putting the latest evolution of the machine through its paces in some marathon testing sessions, and has it all to prove in 2008.
The most movement after the final race of last year has come with the changing of garages, with just six of the eighteen-rider strong MotoGP grid staying with the same team for 2008. Big moves have come from the likes of John Hopkins, who switches to Kawasaki after a long association with Suzuki, Loris Capirossi who occupies the space left vacant by the Anglo-American, and Marco Melandri who in turn takes the veteran’s place in the Ducati Marlboro team.
Aside from the existing MotoGP competitors carrying on in the premier class with different teams (Randy de Puniet, Colin Edwards, Toni Elias, Sylvain Guintoli and Shinya Nakano) and those remaining with their 2007 teams (Stoner, Rossi, Chris Vermeulen and Anthony West) there is also an influx of new blood in the 800cc class. Heading up the interest is reigning 250cc World Champion Jorge Lorenzo, who has taken to the new cylinder class like a duck to water in preseason. The Spaniard rides for Fiat Yamaha as the only rookie factory rider, in a garage partitioned due to his running different tyres to team-mate Rossi. Lorenzo has quite the pedigree in Qatar, holding three wins at the Losail International Circuit from his time in 125cc and 250cc and the fastest night lap recorded so far at the track in last week’s Official Test.
Lorenzo’s former 250cc rivals Andrea Dovizioso and Alex de Angelis also move up to the premier class this year, riding satellite Honda machines for the JiR Team Scot and San Carlo Honda Gresini outfits respectively.
Another championship-winning rookie comes in the form of Tech 3 Yamaha’s James Toseland, a two time world champion in superbike racing. The Briton knows the circuit well on a four-stroke, was one of the first riders to try out the floodlights at the end of last year and took a highly positive second place in the standings at the Official Test, meaning he will not get a better chance to make an early mark on the MotoGP series.
The Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar takes place on Sunday 9th March, at 11pm local time. The 125cc and 250cc races precede the MotoGP class, at 8pm and 9.15pm respectively. Practice sessions begin on the evening of Friday 7th March.
250cc GP Class Preview
Kallio’s team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama has also had his fair share of misfortune in Qatar. The Japanese rider had been expected to star at the race last year after recording KTM’s then-best ever dry result of fifth in 2006, but crashed out on lap two and suffered a nasty finger injury. He will be one of the expected title contenders this year as the Austrian factory’s machines look stronger than ever.
Heading the Aprilia charge is Mapfre Aspar rider Alvaro Bautista, already a proven race-winner in the 250cc class. The Spaniard is joined in the garage this year by countryman Hector Faubel, one of a cluster of debutants that also includes 125cc success stories Lukas Pesek and Mattia Pasini.
Also on top of the range Aprilia machinery in 2008 are Emmi Caffe Latte’s Thomas Luthi, who came so close to a podium finish in his maiden 250cc race at Losail last year, Lotus Aprilia’s returning Alex Debon, and Hector Barbera, with all three expected to push for success in Qatar.
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