MotoGP Preview: Bring On Qatar

Cycle News Staff | March 16, 2011

The following are team releases for this weekend’s season opener in Qatar…The following is from Honda…The 2011 MotoGP World Championship will have a subdued kick-off this weekend under the desert lights in Qatar, with the ongoing tragedy in Japan weighing heavily on the hearts minds of the racing community.Everyone at Honda Motor Company has expressed their condolences to their fellow countrymen as they embark on what they hope will be another world championship. Following a very successful testing season, no one is more ready to celebrate the 300th grand prix of the Dorna era than Honda’s roster of world champions.Honda riders excelled in the limited pre-season testing by finishing fastest in each of the eight sessions over three tests. The final test finished just days ago here at the Losail International Circuit east of Doha, the capital of Qatar, and when it did, Repsol Honda teammates were fighting for supremacy.There was little between Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) when the two-day test concluded on Monday evening. Stoner was a mere .064s better on his fastest lap of 1m, 55.681s, though he was more consistently in the ?55s.The 25-year-old Australian had an instant affinity for the desert circuit. In 2006, his first year in the premier class, the Honda-mounted Stoner arrived at the track after a difficult journey with little sustenance and earned his first pole position in only his second MotoGP race. Stoner then went on to lead the race for the first nine of 22 laps.The following year Stoner used his win in Qatar, one of ten victories in 18 races, as a springboard to capturing the 2007 MotoGP World Championship. He returned to Qatar the following year and won again, stretching his margin of victory by more than two seconds, which he would do again when he won the 2009 running of the race. Stoner was in the lead last year and pulling away when his front end slid out. Now, having finished with the fastest time at the test, Stoner is ready to get back to the top step of the podium.Pedrosa is no stranger to the podium in Qatar. The two-time 250cc World Champion finished third to Stoner in both 2007 and 2008. Having finished the test here with a near similar time to his new team-mate, Pedrosa is ready for the start of the season.In 2010, Pedrosa had his most successful season. The 25-year-old from Sabadell, Spain won four races, twice as many as he’d won during any of the previous four years of his MotoGP career. There were four further podiums and certain to be more before he suffered a broken collarbone at Honda’s home grand prix at Twin Ring Motegi. Pedrosa’s pre-season form confirms that his physical condition has returned to championship level, and he’ll need to be in top shape in such a talented field.Andrea Dovizioso, the former 125cc World Champion, enters his third year with the Repsol Honda team having had his most successful MotoGP season in 2010. Dovizioso finished on the podium seven times and finished with the most points of his MotoGP career, while equaling his career best overall finish of fifth. Yet Dovizioso wasn’t able to add a victory to his win in difficult conditions at Donington Park in 2009, though he came tantalizingly close more than once.Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) enters his second season brimming with confidence from a successful test season. Simoncelli was the fastest of all riders at the second test in Sepang, narrowly in front of Pedrosa and Stoner, with Dovizioso fifth fastest.

The combination of a year?s experience and improvements in the Honda RC212V had put Simoncelli among the class favourites. The 2008 250cc World Champion saw the potential in the 2011 race machine at the 2010 season-ending test after Valencia. The bike has more power than previous versions and “Super Sic” was comfortable from the start. Now he needs to maintain his progress as he enters his first full season on factory equipment.Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini), the last ever 250cc World Champion, also starts his sophomore season in the premier class. The top Japanese rider in the world championships made an impressive leap on the first day of the final test to set the third fastest time.Being among the leaders is nothing new for the nine-time race-winner who has spent most of his grand prix career in the Honda family and he plans to be there this year. The move to the San Carlo Gresini Honda team has been seamless and Aoyama gives the team much of the credit for his testing success.Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP) is the most recent world champion, having won the inaugural Moto2 World Championship in 2010. Prior to that the Spaniard spent five years in the MotoGP class, with three of those aboard Hondas. Now back in the top class, Elias has had a difficult pre-season adopting to the Honda RC212V, though he refuses to believe he’s gotten the most out of himself and the machine and expects to improve with more seat time.Losail International Circuit is 15 kms. east of Doha, one of the fastest growing cities in the world and the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The 5.38k track, with ten right hand corners and six lefts, was designed primarily for motorcycles with vast run-off areas known as “Uncini’s Beaches” for the IRTA safety rep, former 500cc World Champion Franco Uncini. The layout has a variety of corners and a long front straight, with near constant high speeds and changes of direction. One of the downsides is the desert location. Gusty winds blow sand across the surface, which can catch a rider out if he’s not paying attention, and which can also wreak havoc on tire life.The 1.068k front straight is one of the longest on the calendar, with speeds reaching close to

330kph in qualifying and just less during the race. An occasional tailwind can catch riders out, causing them to overrun the first corner until they adapt to the speed.What makes the front stretch compelling is that the finish line is towards the end of the straightaway, which lends itself to draft passing at the finish line, and graphically highlights the top speed discrepancies between the various machines.The 2011 running of the race marks the fifth year that the MotoGP season kicks off at night, as a concession to the daytime temperatures that average 35C ambient and much higher on the asphalt.

The circuit, which won the 2008 IRTA Best Grand Prix of the Year award, prides itself on being the largest permanent venue sports-lighting project in the world, with 3600 fixtures. The

lighting gives the track surface a unique look, with nighttime humidity affecting traction.For the first time in anyone?s memory, the grand prix weekend is spread out over four days, with practice beginning Thursday evening leading up to Sunday’s season-opener. The denizens of the paddock work deep into the night and sleep late in the morning, while enjoying Doha’s sandy beaches long into the afternoon.HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTESCasey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V) says: “In this difficult time with the events in Japan, it is hard to go racing and this tragedy is at the front of all our minds. That said, it’s what we do, so we must concentrate to be the best of our abilities to bring home a good result for Honda and all its employees. After a strong winter testing period, I’m very happy with the set-up we have found on the bike and I go into this race weekend looking for a good result. When the flag drops, we will see the true pace of all our competitors and know where we stand I can’t wait. Usually I feel comfortable here at the Losail circuit and I hope that this year, my first with the Repsol Honda team, we can achieve a good result.”Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) says: “I’m really looking forward to start the season. We’ve been here for many days already and it’s time to start racing. Our expectations for the race are high after the results of the winter test. I think we did a good job, the bike was competitive in Sepang and when we have changed the circuit it kept the same level, so I’m very happy about that. We start this season with a competitive bike. The RC212V hasn’t changed so much fro the one we had for the second half of last season and I feel confident. Anyway, we need to be very concentrated because the race weekend will be very demanding with four days of testing. Our rivals will improve and we will see how the conditions are, I expect very wind, as it’s been during testing. Both the bike and I are in good shape. And I hope we can take this occasion to start the season strongly. I am very sorry for what is going on in Japan. I have been with Honda since the beginning of my career and I have many Japanese friends. My thought are with them and I really hope the situation will get better soon for all of Japan.”Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) says: “Racing in Qatar is special because it’s the first round of the season and we race at night. I have good memories at this track, like my first race in MotoGP when I finished fourth or last year’s podium, and I look forward to start racing after a very positive winter preparation. Casey and Dani have raised the level, but compared to last year I feel more competitive. Here in Losail, the bike slides a lot and it’s important to find the specific setting for this track. The race will be long and physically demanding but I am looking forward to starting the championship. Concerning the decision taken yesterday to postpone the GP of Japan, I agree with it. The extent of the damage made by the earthquake the tsunami are so big that it was not thinkable to have a GP there in a few weeks. The priority of the country in this moment is to take care of the people and recover from the situation. I feel very close to the Japanese people.?Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Gresini Honda RC212V) says: “Things start getting serious on Thursday and I am really looking forward to getting out on track and reaping the fruit of all the hard work we have done during winter testing. Out in Malaysia and more recently here in Qatar I have been able to see that Honda have produced a great bike, I have improved as a rider and my team has also improved on last year. As a result I am really happy and confident that we have the tools to be competitive from the first race. Right from the first test at Valencia I realised that the 2011 bike had a good competitive base and that has been proved. The bike is powerful, fast and I can ride it as I want ? I feel really good in the saddle. Honda have done a great job and they have given me a lot of support. I am in good shape and keen to pick up where we left off last season and build on those results. A podium would be fantastic but to be able to fight on level terms with the top five would also be a great start. I am confident and will give my best to achieve it.?Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Gresini Honda RC212V) says: ?I am happy and satisfied with the vibe within the team. This important relationship has allowed me to set some good lap times during the winter and now I can’t wait to get out there in a Grand Prix and see if all our hard work pays off with results. I have confidence, I feel in great form and the bike is powerful, fast and capable of taking me to good results. I have a well prepared team who I have already found a perfect feeling with and I am confident we can run with the best in the field. We have done a great job during winter testing and we are ready for the challenge. I hope we can give Team San Carlo Honda Gresini lots to be excited about.”Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP) says: “During the test session here we have changed many things on the bike to find the proper setting and some things work in the right way some others not. Thanks to new timing we will have more time to adjust the bike for the race on Sunday. I know it won’t be easy but I knew the adaptation period to his bike would have been long. I am confident because the team is doing a very good job and I am very stubborn. I like this track and the atmosphere is unique. We will see what is going to happen in the next days.”The following is from Yamaha…This weekend marks the end of a long winter of waiting as the hugely anticipated 2011 MotoGP season bursts into life on the floodlit Losail International Circuit in Qatar. Reigning MotoGP World Champion Jorge Lorenzo steps up to the grid to challenge for a second title at the controls of his YZR-M1 with nothing less than victory in his sights. Joining him in the garage and completing Yamaha Factory Racing’s line up for this season will be 2010 MotoGP Rookie of the Year Ben Spies.The 2010 season saw Lorenzo firmly cement his place as one of the Grand Prix elite. The 23 yr old Mallorcan stormed through the 18 round season to take an impressive nine race wins and a premier class record breaking 383 point tally on his way to title victory. The Yamaha Factory rider has started every MotoGP race in his premiership career at Qatar from the front row, t aking a pole position in his 2008 MotoGP debut and has always finished on the podium, although a race win has so far eluded him.Spies, the Texan Factory newcomer, is no stranger to Yamaha having taken the Yamaha Factory Superbike to victory in the 2009 World Superbike Championship. He went on to impress in his debut season in MotoGP in 2010 on the Tech3 Yamaha M1, securing sixth in the championship standings as the highest placed non-factory rider, scoring two podiums and a dazzling pole position start for his home race at Indianapolis in the process. The 2010 season opener at the Losail circuit saw the 25yr old push on from a fourth row grid start position to finish the race in fifth, just 3.9 seconds from the race winner.


The pre-season winter testing has seen both riders perform strongly, posting impressive race pace as they set up their 2011 M1s for what will be the final year of the 800cc MotoGP class. The updated 800cc machines have made advances in grip level, stability and electronics to give Lorenzo and Spies the best possible weapons in their fight for the chequered flag.Jorge LorenzoYamaha Factory Racing Rider

“The new season is here and I’m very proud to be able to start it with the number one. Our bike has been better and better from the first test but there is still room for improvement. Winning the World Championship last year was a great achievement but everybody starts the same this weekend with no points and the competition is very tough. I have been training very hard over the winter to be ready and I am excited to start.”Ben SpiesYamaha Factory Racing Rider

“It feels really good to be here as part of the Factory Team, we worked really hard last year to get here. I’ve got a great crew around me, I’ve worked with most of them before in different teams so it’s almost like a reunion! Everything has gone really smoothly in the tests, I have to say I’m more of a racer than a tester so I’m pretty impatient now to get to it and see what we can do.”Wilco ZeelenbergYamaha Factory Racing Team Manager

“We are now in the same position as we were here in Qatar last year, starting with zero championship points. Last season Jorge started injured and was recovering from his broken thumb so the pressure was not on him. Now he is World Champion and physically fit but his rivals have been extremely fast during the winter tests, so to me it means again he can start without the pressure from being the favourite!”Massimo MeregalliYamaha Factory Racing Team Director

“This is a very exciting moment for Yamaha Factory Racing, we are starting this season at a special time marking the 50th Anniversary of Yamaha’s involvement i n Grand Prix racing. We have two very strong riders, the reigning World Champion and the 2010 Rookie of the Year onboard so we have the potential to do very well. I am confident that come Sunday everybody will perform to their best. The competition this year is possibly the highest it has been in MotoGP for some time so it will be a tough season, however our expectations are high. Whilst we prepare for our first race, our thoughts and sympathies are also with those in Japan following the terrible recent tragedy.”The following is from Ducati…The MotoGP World Championship will start on Thursday at Losail International Circuit, with the first free-practice sessions planned for 6:00 p.m. for the 125cc class, 6:55 p.m. for Moto2, and 7:55 for MotoGP.Although the usual work of preparing for the Grand Prix has begun at the circuit, the entire paddock is closely following the news on the terrible moment that Japan is currently experiencing. On Tuesday, the International Motorcycling Federation made the official announcement that the Motegi Grand Prix, originally scheduled for 24 April, has been postponed to 2 October. Every member of the Ducati MotoGP Team wishes the best for the colleagues of the paddock’s sizeable Japanese contingent.For the team and for Ducati, tomorrow is doubly important because March 17 is when Italy will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification. Since January, the fairings of Valentino Rossi’s and Nicky Hayden’s Ducati Desmosedici GP11s have worn the official logo created for this event: three waving Italian flags representing the three Jubilees of 1911, 1961, 2011 , a link between generations.VALENTINO ROSSI, Ducati MotoGP Team

“For the first practice session in Qatar, we’ll start with the settings that we found on the last day of the test, because our final lap time notwithstanding, they weren’t bad. In fact, I think I could have gone faster if the strength hadn’t left my shoulder almost without warning before I had even tried the soft tires. The race weekend has sessions of 45 minutes and one hour, so it should be easier from that point of view. Naturally, my shoulder isn’t the only issue: if we want to have a good race, we know that in addition to me being physically ready, we’ll have to find some solutions that will help us be faster and improve our pace. In any event, the debut with Ducati brings a lot of motivation, and Sunday will definitely be very emotional. A greeting to all the Italians who will be celebrating the 150th year of Italy’s unification tomorrow: we know there are a lot of you supporting us, and although we probably won’t yet be at our best by Sunday, we’ll give it our best effort. I’m also thinking of everyone in Japan who is living through this very difficult moment. What happened is truly frightening, but Japan’s people are very strong and capable of reacting. We’re all behind you.”NICKY HAYDEN, Ducati MotoGP Team

“Well, it’s time to go racing now! We obviously wouldn’t have minded a bit more testing, but I’m looking forward to starting another season. We’ll have four days here for the race weekend, so there’s still time to check some more options. During the test, there were parts of the track where I was pretty fast, and a couple of long, fast corners where I was losing a pretty good chunk of time. Our focus will be to try and get the bike to steer a bit better through those spots. Hopefully as the track gets cleaned up more, it will help us a bit more than some of the others. Everyone is really tight on times, and I think that’s pretty cool. I like how competitive it is, and we know it’s going to be like that all season. Finally, I’d like to let everyone in Japan know the world is with them in this difficult time. I’ve worked with many Japanese companies over the years, so I have a lot of friends and fans there. Stay strong; we’re thinking of you”.VITTORIANO GUARESCHI, Team Manager

“Tomorrow, practice starts for the Grand Prix, and we’ll try to apply everything we’ve learned during winter testing. With Valentino, we weren’t able to completely use all of the days at our disposal, and because of that, we still haven’t found all the solutions for an optimal setup for him. He still won’t be at 100% physically for a couple more months, but we know that when the starting light goes off, he’ll give everything he has and more! In the meantime, we’ll continue working without pause to improve the bike, because the others have made a lot of progress and the level is very high. Nicky is progressing and compared to Malaysia, he has found some promising solutions here in Qatar that we can work on for the race. Sunday will be very important and emotional for us and for all motorcycle racing enthusiasts-Italian and otherwise-and that gives us even more motivation and desire to do well.”