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Preview Grand Prix of Qatar, Losail
Posted by: newsla on Mar 18, 2014 - 08:41 PM
MotoGP
Preview Grand Prix of Qatar, Losail


As is fast becoming a new tradition, the 2014 MotoGP World Championship begins under floodlights at Qatar this weekend, with Repsol Honda RC213V rider Marc Marquez poised to begin the defence of his classic Rookie World Championship, and team-mate Dani Pedrosa prepared for his own assault on the ultimate crown in motorcycle racing.

 

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The factory pair head a total of four Honda RC213V riders, but for 2014 there is a new MotoGP category, the “Open” class, and four new Honda RCV1000R customer machines make a total of eight Hondas on the 23-strong grid.

The first race of the year is always keenly anticipated, and the Losail circuit’s unique desert location and unique after-dark timing lend a special atmosphere to the event.

Here one year ago reigning Moto2 champion Marquez made his stunning debut in the MotoGP class, qualifying sixth but fighting his way to third in a dazzling first-race rostrum. He won the second round, and – but for one crash and one black flag – finished on the top-three podium at every race, including six race wins.

Still only 20 years old and with 125cc and Moto2 titles already in his cabinet, his blazing maiden season made him the youngest-ever premier-class World Champion. He did it with almost a year to spare: should he secure the title before this year’s Japanese GP in October, he will again beat the previous (1983) record holder, Honda’s Freddie Spencer.

Marquez dominated the first round of pre-season tests at Sepang in Malaysia, but then suffered a leg fracture in a crash while training. He missed the next tests under doctors’ orders, to ensure recovery for the start of the new season.

Team-mate Pedrosa’s 2013 title challenge was blunted by injury and misfortune, but the former 125cc and double 250cc World Champion still added three more race wins (bringing his career total to 48), as well as ten other top-three scores to secure third overall.

The 28-year-old Spaniard returns for his ninth year in the official Repsol Honda team. After devoting pre-season testing to selecting the best possible setting combinations to exploit the power and handling of the awesomely fast Honda RC213V, he is ready for another campaign to achieve overall victory in the premier class, to add to his earlier titles.

HRC Vice-President Shuhei Nakamoto shared the feeling of eager anticipation.

“We’ve had a positive winter testing period with Dani. He has had an incredibly busy test schedule, completing over 500 laps in the nine days of testing, which has been vital. He is happy with the bike, and ready for the start of the season.

“Unfortunately Marc was unable to take part in two out of three tests. Anyway in the only test he did, Marc was very fast and completed many laps gathering a lot of data for the HRC engineers. Now we must wait and see his physical condition when he arrives in Qatar. It will be an interesting season, and we look forward to starting it.”

Two riders return in the same Honda satellite teams as last year.

Alvaro Bautista, riding the GO&FUN Honda Gresini RC213V, finished sixth overall last year. Although the 29-year-old Spaniard never quite made the top three, a series of strong performances at year’s end proved how the team had got to grips with the rider’s exclusive use of Showa suspension and Nissin brakes. His secondary role is in race-development of these Japanese components, supplied by companies with strong links with Honda.

Germany’s only MotoGP rider Stefan Bradl, in his third season riding the LCR Honda RC213V, secured a first podium last season, finishing second at the US GP after claiming a maiden pole position at the challenging Laguna Seca circuit. The 24-year-old’s chances in the close secondary battle for fifth overall were spoiled with a freak injury in Malaysia. The former Moto2 World Champion finished up seventh.

Four riders will campaign the works-replica RCV1000R machines, including former Honda World Champions Nicky Hayden and Hiroshi Aoyama. Top US racer Hayden claimed the MotoGP crown in 2006; Japan’s Aoyama was the last ever 250cc World Champion in 2009. Now they are team-mates in the Spanish Drive M7 Aspar Honda team, spearheading the new Honda’s challenge.

Class rookie Scott Redding rides the GO&FUN Honda Gresini RCV1000R alongside Bautista. The Briton, still the youngest-ever GP winner, finished a strong second in the Moto2 championship last year, fighting to defend his lead until a rare crash left him injured with three races to go.

The final RCV1000R goes to Czech racer Karel Abraham, a former Moto2 race winner in his fourth season in the premier class. Abraham pulled out of the latter half of last season for reconstructive surgery to a shoulder injury, and was working his way to full fitness at pre-season tests.

The all-Honda-powered Moto2 World Championship can be relied on to produce nail-biting racing, and with last year’s championship top two moving up to MotoGP, the battle for supremacy will be all the more fierce.

With powerful and reliable race-tuned Honda CBR600 engines supplied by the organisers, close battles are guaranteed through the field; while rival teams use different racing chassis to look for the vital and in this class very narrow racing edge.

Last year’s third-place finisher Esteve “Tito” Rabat has switched teams, taking Redding’s place on the Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex, with Finn Mika Kallio as team-mate. The pair finished third and fourth last year.

The competitive nature of the class is clear from the ensuing positions: from Dominique Aegerter in fifth overall to Johann Zarco in ninth covered by less than 20 points.

Aegerter returns this year on the Technomag carXpert Suter. He was just two points ahead of fellow-Swiss racer, the former 125cc World Champion Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock Suter). Seventh-place went to another ex-125 Champion Nico Terol (Mapfre Aspar Suter), with the extra distinction of three race wins. He too returns with the same team. Likewise top Japanese rider Takaaki Nakagami (eighth, now on an Idemitsu Honda Team Asia Kalex); while French ace Zarco is on the new Caterham Moto Racing Suter.

The Pons HP40 Kalex team, victorious last year with the departed Pol Espargaro, fields two high-level rookies: Moto3 champion Maverick Vinales and his deadly rival from the same class Luis Salom. The pair were locked in close combat for the title all last season.

The entry-level Moto3 class pits rival manufacturers against one another, under tight rules governing the mandatory single-cylinder 250cc engines.

A six-strong Honda entry is spearheaded by two top-level recruits: multiple race winner Alex Rins and team-mate Alex Marquez. Rins was a strong title contender last year, finishing a close second; while Marquez made an even stronger rookie debut than his older brother Marc, finishing fourth overall with a debut-season win. They were riding rival KTM machines, but together with the Estrella Galicia 0,0 team have switched to Honda for 2014.

French Alexis Masbou returns on a Honda in the same Ongetta-Rivacold squad, with new Honda rider Zulfahmi Khairuddin from Malaysia in the colours of Ongetta-AirAsia.

Spanish veteran Efren Vazquez is new to Honda, and joins Briton John McPhee in the Saxoprint-RTG Honda squad; the Briton in his second full season.

The 5.38-km Losail circuit, with ten right hand corners and six lefts, is designed with a priority on motorcycle safety. Extensive run-off areas are surrounded by artificial grass, to reduce the sand blown onto the track by the desert winds, a constant problem at Qatar for traction and tyre wear.

The 1.068-km start-finish straight is one of the longest on the calendar, with speeds approaching 350 km/h – Marquez’s Repsol Honda RC213V recorded 344.7 km/h last year. Even the best riders sometimes over-run the first corner early in practice, as they adapt to the speed and occasional tailwinds. Races are often decided at the finish line, as riders slipstream rivals to make dramatic overtaking moves over the line.

The corners are predominantly right-handers, with several corner combinations requiring precise lines to avoid losing time.

The first grand prix was run in the blistering daytime heat in 2004, while the first race under the lights was in 2008. The 3,600 floodlighting fixtures made Losail the largest permanent venue sports-lighting project in the world, and at night the circuit is visible for miles in every direction.

Uniquely the Qatar GP is a four-day weekend. Moto3 practice begins at 6:00 p.m. (GMT +3) on Thursday evening, with the first MotoGP race of the season on Sunday night at 10:00 p.m.

From Qatar, the MotoGP circus crosses the Atlantic for two consecutive races in North and South America. Round two is at Austin, Texas on April 13, with the first race at Argentina’s new Termas de Rio Hondo circuit two weeks later.

Honda MotoGP Rider Quotes

Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez says:
“Obviously it was very disappointing for me to miss the two tests but the good news is that I’m getting better and the bone is mending. I’ve been exercising more, so I’ll have to see how I am in Qatar – I don’t expect to be 100 percent, but I will try my hardest. The important thing is to take some valuable points and then get up to 100 percent by round two in Austin. Arriving in Qatar as World Champion is something new to me – to defend the Title – and I know that from the first session the eyes of the world will be on us. Taking my first podium here last year was special and I have good memories!”

Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa says:
“It’s been a pretty positive pre-season and we’ve completed a lot of laps in both Sepang and Phillip Island. We’ve made a lot of progress but as always there is room to improve. Since we finished in Australia, I’ve been concentrating on my fitness and focusing on the start of the season, my days are pretty hectic with the various training regimes. The race weekend in Qatar is quite long, as it stretches over four days, and the grip level is always quite low the first practice. Now I’m looking forward to the start of the Championship!”

LCR Honda rider Stefan Bradl says:
“I am very excited to be back on track, especially in Losail. Racing in the night time is very special for MotoGP fans but also for the riders. During the last test session in Qatar we mainly focused on the overall package of my machine to get a proper base for the first race. We struggled a bit on soft tyres but the pace on the long distance was quite good. We have done a good job in the winter break and I feel physically and mentally ready for this new season”

GO&FUN Honda Gresini rider Alvaro Bautista says:
“During the three-day test in Qatar we made several changes to the bike: during the first day of practice I was not feeling very comfortable, but by the end of the test the situation had undoubtedly improved, so we are confident ahead the first Grand Prix. However, we must consider that the Losail International Circuit for us is one of the most difficult tracks of the season; unfortunately, here we are still not able to be as fast as we would like. Therefore I expect a tough weekend, in which we will need to work hard if we want to improve. But we will give 110 percent to try to be protagonists.”

GO&FUN Honda Gresini rider Scott Redding says:
“Racing for the first time in MotoGP will be a great thrill, no doubt: after all, competing in the premier class is a dream for every rider. When I line up my bike on the starting grid, for sure I will feel a little nervous, but also very curious to begin this new adventure and finally see what we can get. Our goal right now is to stay with Nicky Hayden and try to be the best Honda rider in the Open category, although it must be recognized that I still have to learn many things, from tyre behaviour to the electronics. I like the Losail circuit a lot, as well as racing at night … not being able to see anything else around the track is a strange but pleasant feeling, because it helps me to stay focused. Finally, it is very cool to think that my first MotoGP race will be exactly my 100th World Championship Grand Prix.”

Drive M7 Aspar Honda rider Nicky Hayden says:
“Even though the last test went well and we made some important progress I honestly hoped we would be better prepared for the season and closer to the front by now. Anyway, in terms of the level of communication and the relationships in the team we are getting stronger and stronger. This will be my first race back on a Honda and my feeling with the chassis definitely helps: it’s fun to ride. We are ready to start a new adventure and I am excited, looking forward to getting started. We know it won't be easy because there is a lot of strong competition but the simple fact that I am back in MotoGP for another season is a source of satisfaction and also motivation to do a good job. As a team we are hoping to get more and more competitive as the season progresses. Losail is not one of my favourite tracks but I like the feeling of racing under the lights.”

Drive M7 Aspar Honda rider Hiroshi Aoyama says:
“Everything is new to me this year in terms of the bike and the team so we are still in a transitional stage but we were in Qatar just two weeks ago for a three day test and we gathered a lot of information that will be important this weekend. The aim is to put everything we learned in the test into practice. The first race of the season always has a special and unusual feel to it. I am looking forward to getting there and giving it my best. The level in this championship is very high and there are a lot of strong riders in the Open category this season. Our motivation couldn't be higher and we are looking to make the strongest possible start to the season. I am looking forward to a new adventure with a new team and back with Honda.”

Cardion AB Motoracing Honda rider Karel Abraham says:

“The start of the season has come a little too soon for me, because my shoulder is still not fully recovered – but during the tests I was constantly improving, gaining overall positions and closing the gap to Nicky Hayden, the fastest rider on the Honda RCV1000R. Of course I am still learning the new bike, but I will be giving it my best effort to gain points at Qatar.”

Moto2 Rider Quotes

Marc VDS Racing Team rider Esteve Rabat says:
“Preseason testing has gone well. We’ve found a good setting with the bike and the lap times have been fast, but now we must carry that momentum into the first race. I’m going to Qatar to fight for the win, but I suspect the other 34 Moto2 riders are heading out there with exactly the same idea! Everyone arrives at the first race of the season with a lot of energy and high expectations, so it’s definitely a bit special. I like the Qatar track, but we will need to fight from the first practice to stay in front. We need to work hard, make our best and push every day.”

Marc VDS Racing Team rider Mika Kallio says:
“The results from the end of last year when combined with our preseason testing performance means we go into 2014 with some confidence. The first three races are the most important; if we can return to Europe at the end of April with three good results behind us then that only adds confidence and motivation. I really believe that this season I can fight for race wins and also the title. While Qatar doesn’t rate as one of my favourite tracks, I’ve had some good results there in the past and I find racing under floodlights quite interesting, as it’s a bit different to the other races on the calendar.”

Technomag carXpert rider Dominique Aegerter says:
“At the last Jerez test I was faster than ever before. We have worked hard and have a lot of very valuable data, and the collaboration with the WP suspension specialist is getting better. Now the focus is on the first race … my goals are clear. I want to improve on my fifth championship place last year. I started 2013 very well. If I can do the same this year, I will be the happiest of the Moto2 pilots.”

Honda Moto3 Rider Quotes

Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda rider Alex Rins says:
“Going to Qatar with a new project ahead, with a new bike and with HRC supporting us makes me very keen to get started. Qatar is a fast track, with some corners similar to Jerez and just the one slow corner. That’s why I think that our bike will be well suited to the circuit. There are riders who go fast when following others, so it will be interesting to see what happens when we are halfway through the race and the tyres start to go off.”

Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda rider Alex Marquez says:
“After the final day of testing at Jerez I feel pretty good and very motivated for the new season. Losail is a track where I have already ridden last year. It is one of the more difficult tracks and rather long, but we will try to be as focused as possible from the start. We will be giving 100 percent whenever we are on track. I think that the circuit could work out well for us: There are medium speed and fast corners and the Honda is good at cornering quickly. We have to work on setting up the bike from the start, in order to be prepared for qualifying and the race.”

Ongetta-Rivacold Honda rider Alexis Masbou says:
“At the beginning of the month I had a pin removed from my left wrist, which had been giving me problems, and although I had a lot of wrist pain over three days of testing at Jerez, I set a new personal best lap time. The latest engine has improved in the acceleration phase, and should be even better at Losail. I am looking forward to the first race … that is when the real fun begins.

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