As news, rumor and speculation seep out from Qatar, with news stories contradicting each other appearing almost every minute or so, there is only one thing that we know for sure about the 2009 MotoGP Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail: That it wasn't run at its scheduled time. The latest state of affairs is that the race is to be run on Monday, at 9pm local time - though by the time you read this, that may have changed.
The story so far: Unseasonal thunderstorms have been plaguing the Qatari peninsula for the past few weeks, causing the loss of a day of testing, and hanging like a sword of Damocles over the practice sessions by spattering thick, heavy raindrops on the paddock's rental cars as they made their way to and from the track. Rain started to fall during the 125 race, causing the race to be shortened to just 4 laps, the shortest race in MotoGP history, with half points awarded to the finishers.
The rain started to clear after the podium ceremony, and the 250 race started 40 minutes later than scheduled, though drastically shortened to just 13 laps so as not to force the MotoGP race to be rescheduled. But Mother Nature had other plans: rain started as the MotoGP bikes sat on the grid, falling in earnest once the grid was cleared ready for the warm up lap. A downpour of almost biblical proportions then ensued, scuppering any chances of running the race later that night.
If the race had been scheduled to take place during daylight, then the rain would not have been a problem. Racing has taken place in similar conditions before, and only the severest of downpours has stopped racing before, and then only if the rain falls once racing begins. But Qatar is held under the floodlights - ironically to avoid the extreme heat that can scorch the desert state at most times of the year - and though the Musco lighting systems are ingeniously designed not to dazzle the riders, the rain turns the track into a mirror, reducing visibility for the riders to zero.
The cancellation of the race caused a veritable whirlwind of activity among staff from Dorna, the teams, the riders, the MSMA and the track authorities. Meetings were held, adjourned for further consultation, held again, adjourned again and then continued. The teams were consulted, the riders were consulted, most importantly of all, the TV companies were consulted, and eventually, the race was rescheduled to take place on Monday, in the early evening.
The decision was not met with universal enthusiasm. A group of riders including Casey Stoner, Sete Gibernau, Chris Vermeulen, Dani Pedrosa, Nicky Hayden and Loris Capirossi were opposed to race being put back a day, with Stoner telling Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport, "It's not a good idea to run on Monday. We can't be sure it won't rain tomorrow, and the rain today has washed sand onto the track, so there's a safety risk."
Just as happened to the 125cc race, rain has disrupted the MotoGP race. But luckily for the MotoGP riders, the rain started to fall before the race started, and before the riders had a chance to get hurt. Just minutes before the race was due to start, as the track was cleared ready for the warm up lap, rain drops got heavier, then started to fall in earnest, prompting race direction to delay the start of the race. The rain then started in earnest, drenching the track and making the race look very unlikely.
The problems with the race point to the absurdity of running a race at night. Environmental aspects aside, the threat of rain always meant that the events were susceptible to disruption, as the reflection of the light off a wet surface reduces visibility to zero and makes racing impossible. Having moved the start of the season back to April, so that the temperature would be warmer during the night races, after complaints that the track was too cold and starting to get damp in the colder temperatures of March, perhaps it is time to reconsider, move the race back to March, and just run it during the day. If it rains during the day, at least the race can continue as normal, the riders using wet tires as at every other track.
The lighting at Qatar is remarkable achievement, and the running of the race under the floodlights a triumph of technology. But it is also unnecessary and pointless, serving no purpose other than doing so because we can. As is so often the case when human hubris gets the upper hand, nature is quick to slap us back into place. Better to be practical, and run during the day, rather than try to solve a problem that doesn't really exist in the first place.
Full results from the Warm Up session for the 2009 Qatar Grand Prix:
|6||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'57.658||0.961||0.209|
|8||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'57.874||1.177||0.174|
Nicky Hayden has spent his first weekend racing the Ducati MotoGP bike embodying the phrase "inauspicious start". Electrical problems, engines blowing up, nothing would go right for the American, hoping for a new start after years at Repsol Honda. Then, at the very end of qualifying, Hayden added a huge highside to his run of misfortune.
So severe was the crash that it was feared Hayden had suffered serious injury. The American stayed on the ground, barely moving, for a long time. Fortunately, he was quickly able to sit up under his own steam, and was taken first to the Clinica Mobile, and then to a local hospital for further checks. Even better news for the Kentucky Kid was that both checks turned up no fractures, and only a minor wound on his neck, according to GPOne.com.
Though Hayden immediately told his team that he wanted to race, team boss Livio Suppo, was a little more cautious. The team will wait to see how Hayden's condition is on Sunday before making a decision about whether to allow the American to race. As the Qatar race would mark his 100th start in MotoGP, Hayden is highly motivated to be on the grid.
Changing the way that Qualifying works is apparently the latest fashion in motorcycle racing. The World Superbike series did it by dropping the old single-lap Superpole format, and adopting a series of three knockout sessions, shameless copied from Formula One. MotoGP would protest that it has changed its qualifying format - though cost-cutting measures have reduced the length of qualifying from an hour to just 45 minutes - but the adoption of the single tire rule and the disappearance of full-on one-lap qualifying tires left MotoGP followers wondering just how this would affect the way the teams and riders approached Qualifying.
As the session started, at least one thing remained unchanged. Within a few minutes of the green lights, and on his first couple of laps out of the pits, Casey Stoner was laying down a blistering pace. The 2007 World Champion had cracked into the 1'56 bracket, and by his fourth lap, came within 0.009 of equaling the fastest time of the weekend, set by none other than Casey Stoner. The Marlboro Ducati rider was setting the bar for the rest of the field.
Though no one could directly challenge Stoner, he did not enjoy his huge (over a second) advantage for long. Within a few minutes, Valentino Rossi had jumped up to second fastest, just over 3/10ths of a second behind the Australian. Stoner did not wait long to respond: Six minutes later, the Australian was back out on track and cracking another barrier, into the 1'55s, extending his lead to over a second again with a lap of 1'55.504.
Behind Rossi, the fight for third was hotting up, with first Loris Capirossi taking the last front row spot, then Colin Edwards, before Andrea Dovizioso also got involved. Dovi held the spot for five more minutes, before Jorge Lorenzo confirmed his strong form at Qatar by blitzing a lap just short of Rossi's second place time.
Results of the Qualifying Practice for the 250cc class for the Qatar Grand Prix:
Results of the MotoGP Qualifying Practice for the Qatar Grand Prix:
Casey Stoner continued to top the timesheets at Qatar on Saturday, but his domination started to look less complete. Although the Australian increased his lead to over 0.7 seconds over the man in second spot, Valentino Rossi, on multiple occasions, Rossi kept coming back to within a couple of tenths. By the time the flag dropped for the end of the session, Rossi had been joined by a brace of other riders within half a second of Stoner.
In the end, Rossi finished just 0.096 behind the 2007 World Champion, with Loris Capirossi and Jorge Lorenzo around 3/10ths off. Biggest surprise of the evening was the man in fifth: Marco Melandri beat out all of the Hondas, a factory Suzuki and a factory Ducati to finish just 0.8 off of Stoner. Dani Pedrosa seems to be finding riding a little easier, closing the big gap he had yesterday, ending up in twelfth, up from dead last yesterday. Nicky Hayden's struggle with the Ducati has got worse, finishing the session way down in 15th. His only consolation will be that he has at least one more Ducati behind him, in the shape of Niccolo Canepa.
As you have surely already noticed, MotoGPMatters.com photographer Scott Jones is at Qatar (funded in part by your generous donations and the support of our carefully selected advertisers), sending back interviews and the fantastic photos which make him our favorite shooter. He's starting to send us some of his fantastic photos, which we have shared with you below. All images should link to high-res versions of the photos. Enjoy!
One of the biggest mysteries of the past few years in MotoGP has been Honda's fall from grace. Throughout the 990 era, the Honda RC211V was the motorcycle to beat, with only Valentino Rossi capable of achieving that feat. Since the switch to the 800s - a move believed to have been made under pressure from Honda - HRC has struggled to produce a bike that is even competitive, the RC212V outclassed by Yamaha's 800cc M1 and Ducati's Desmosedici. This failure has had knowledgeable people both inside and outside scratching their heads in incomprehension. HRC has both the manpower and the brains to produce title-winning equipment, so where have they gone wrong?
Valentino Rossi believes he knows what's wrong with HRC - at least this season. In an interview on GPOne.com, Rossi stated his belief that the problem lay with the riders, rather than the bike. "It's a question of riders," Rossi said. "With me or Stoner in the saddle, HRC would be at the front."
However, Rossi was careful to point out that HRC's current riders could hardly be blamed for the situation. "Pedrosa, the lead rider, is injured; Dovizioso, with a little more experience, is a potential world champion. And on the track, he gives gas, believe me. But right now, he hasn't made the kilometers necessary to develop a bike."
The waiting really is over for MotoGP fans, as the MotoGP bikes finally took to the track at Qatar to compete in earnest. First blood in the 2009 campaign went to Casey Stoner on the Marlboro (and at Qatar, it really is a Marlboro) Ducati, a fact that shocked absolutely nobody. As ever, Stoner was fast from the moment he rolled out onto the track, getting down into 1'57 territory within ten minutes, and slashing a further 0.8 seconds off his time with 12 minutes of the session left.
For a long time, Stoner's advantage seemed insurmountable, but in his final run, Valentino Rossi closed the gap from a second to get to within 0.4 of a second, with the potential for more if he hadn't run into traffic on a very fast lap. Though four tenths is a sizable gap, Rossi will feel he is at least in touch with Stoner, and with two more sessions to go, and no qualifying tires to distort the grid, the reigning world champion will be confident of staying with Stoner away from the line.
Third fastest man in the opening session of 2009 was Colin Edwards, the only other rider capable of getting within a second of Stoner, and looking as strong here as he looked last year during practice. Rossi's Fiat Yamaha team mate Jorge Lorenzo makes it three Yamahas in the top four, Lorenzo 1.2 seconds behind but with more likely to come.
The session threw up plenty of surprises. Such as Alex de Angelis in 5th, for example, but de Angelis also showed his Mr Hyde by running wide into the gravel during the session, a harbinger of what is to come, perhaps. An even bigger suprise was Mika Kallio finishing 7th, after having been as high as 5th earlier in the session. Though we've only had one 45 minute session of practice to judge him by, Kallio's single fast lap at the IRTA test at Jerez could possible be the rule rather than the exception.
Results of Free Practice 1 for the MotoGP class at Qatar:
|5||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'58.452||1.399||0.180|
|10||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'58.771||1.718||0.014|
On Thursday afternoon as the teams were setting up their garages, MotoGPMatters spoke for a few minutes with Colin Edwards’ Monster Tech 3 Yamaha crew chief, Guy Coulon about some of the challenges presented in the 2009 MotoGP season.
MGPM: My first question is about the switch from Michelin to Bridgestone tires. Has Rossi’s team shared much of their data from last year?
Guy Coulon: Yes, of course, because Yamaha already had good experience last year with Bridgestone, and quite early last year we knew that Bridgestone would be used by everyone in 2009. So Yamaha designed the 2009 bike with the Bridgestone specification. Last year Valentino used a bike at first mostly designed for Michelin, and as the season went on, his team started to understand how to modify his bike to suit the new tires. So I believe at the end of last season they had designed a proper chassis for Bridgestone tires. It’s not so different than before. It’s only some small details. So for all Yamaha riders, it’s easier to start on Bridgestone tires this year because Valentino already used them last year.
MGPM: Given that all teams are on Bridgestone this year, how will this affect your approach at Tech 3?
GC: It’s difficult to say, because this year we have regulation changes in addition to one tire maker: Tire allocation has also changed. We have only two kinds of front tires and two kinds of rear tires for each race. Last year there was much more difference between front tires and also between rear tires, and there were two brands of both. Valentino is able to compare both makers because he used Michelin when they brought many kinds of tires, and Bridgestone also before the new rules. But for Tech 3, we can only compare last year with Michelin’s many kinds of tires, and this year, with Bridgestone’s two fronts and two rears. So it’s difficult for us to compare.
The talented Scott Jones, MotoGPMatters.com's photographer, is out at Qatar covering the race for us, and is already sending back some fantastic photos, and more. But just to get the season off to a good start, here's his shots from the grid presentation earlier today. All of the pictures should link to larger, desktop-sized images.
Valentino Rossi's Fiat Yamaha M1