No Rain Riding in Qatar

Henny Ray Abrams | April 9, 2009

Mat Mladin, Jamie Hacking, and Jake Zemke aren’t the only ones who won’t race on tracks they feel are unsafe in the rain. At the pre-race news conference for the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix, it was revealed that the MotoGP field won’t ride in the wet on  the Losail International Circuit.The riders’ position was revealed when Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen made an off-hand comment while answering the moderator’s  question. The Australian pointed out that it had rained the last few times that the MotoGP field had visited Qatar, including last month’s test. He then went on to say, “I believe the rule is we don’t ride if it rains. So we need all the sessions we can get, because they’ve been cut.” Cost-cutting measures imposed this year have reduced the Friday’s lone practice and Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions from an hour to 45 minutes. “And if it is wet it’s going to be a real shame. Everyone loses track time and it’s not what we need. So, fingers crossed it stays dry, there’s not too much wind, there’s not too much and we can have a good race.”

Asked later if the riders had an agreement among themselves not to ride in the rain, Vermeulen said, “I don’t know if it is an agreement, but it is my understanding we don’t ride. I don’t know why, but that’s the rule as I understand it.”Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner, like Vermeulen a member of the rider safety commission, clarified the riders’ position.”We were told this when it rained at the test last time,” Stoner said. “It is just because of the vision with the lights shining off the rain and the reflection. Basically, we weren’t going to be able to understand where there’s rain and where there’s not and it become a little bit dangerous. Normally it doesn’t rain here.”The forecast for the GP weekend calls for day-time highs in the mid-80’s and nighttime lows in the low 70’s, when the riders are on track. The first MotoGP practice session is set for 10:30 p.m. local time, 3:30 p.m EDT, Friday night.In separate interviews, Mladin, Hacking, and Zemke all said they wouldn’t ride if it rained at Auto Club Speedway last month. Last weekend, prior to winning both races, Mladin said he wouldn’t ride on a wet Road Atlanta course. (Zemke and Hacking weren’t asked). At least two other tracks on the AMA calendar have historically been thought of as unfit for rain racing. And the two new venues on the calendar, New Jersey Motorsports Park and Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas, have yet to be approved for racing, wet or dry.

Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.