The night race at Qatar is spectacular alright, but it certainly has its downsides. For example, it's ten to four in the morning as I type this, and I've been back at the hotel for about 15 minutes. I'll go to sleep in an hour or so, then be up at some weird time in the afternoon.
Ah, I hear you say, surely the practice was finished by 11:30pm, what took you so long? Well, the journalists start work when the riders finish, and we start the chase around the paddock for interviews with riders, a kind of mad scramble to listen to what riders have to say about the races. Qatar being both a night race and a flyaway, it's doubly bad. For the debrief with Jorge Lorenzo, for example, we were crammed between a fence and the prefab hut which the teams are using as their headquarters at Qatar:
Casey Stoner took first blood in MotoGP's season opening Free Practice session, dominating the timesheets and putting over half a second between himself and his nearest challengers. Fiat Yamaha's Valentino Rossi took an early lead, cracking into the 1'57s on his third lap, but he would hold his lead for just 15 minutes. The Marlboro Ducati rider then took over, and continued to control the practice from then on.
Rossi was to suffer another painful defeat at the end of the session, when teammate Jorge Lorenzo pipped him to 2nd place by just two thousandths of a second. But the Mallorcan was immediately punished for his hubris, crashing out with a couple of minutes to go.
Andrea Dovizioso finished 4th, and first Honda, the Repsol rider spending most of the session mid-pack, but finding some speed towards the end. Nicky Hayden had an even worse start to the session, sitting down in 15th at one point. But a trip to the pits seemed to solve his woes, and the American soon bounced back to end the day in 5th.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Ben Spies made another big impression, regularly featuring in the front three, but as the times dropped, he found himself bumped down to 6th. Alvaro Bautista had a very strong debut on the Rizla Suzuki, ending 7th, 6 places ahead of his teammate Loris Capirossi, who crashed spectacularly in the middle of the session.
The first official free practice session for the Moto2 bikes was a strange and exciting affair, with the timesheets changing rapidly and continuously. The 41 bikes that crowded track made it difficult for the riders to get a fast lap in, but the track slowly cleared, and times plummeted as the riders and teams got used to the track.
RSM Scot rider and MotoGP refugee Alex de Angelis topped the timesheets for most of the session, with Marc VDS Racing's Scott Redding taking the lead for fifteen minutes before being demoted by De Angelis once again. Julian Simon confirmed his good form on the Mapfre Aspar RSV, setting the 3rd fastest time, while Technomag rider Dominique Aegerter finished 4th.
Former MotoGP, 250 and 125 riders dominated proceedings, their experience at Qatar giving a telling advantage over the production riders who had been fast in testing. Claudio Corti was the first of the non-Grand Prix riders, ending down in 19th 1.7 seconds off De Angelis, while Kenny Noyes ended the day in 21st. With a couple of sessions to go before racing on Sunday, things are likely to change quite a bit before then.
Results of FP1 for the Moto2 at Qatar:
After such a long, long winter, the bikes finally rolled out on track at Qatar. First up were the 125cc youngsters, and it was a Derbi clean sweep of the top four. Pol Espargaro finished fastest, with Efren Vazquez and Marc Marquez both three tenths behind him. The gap from Marquez was over half a second, Sandro Cortese taking 4th, ahead of Nico Terol, the first of the Aprilias. Britain's Danny Webb ended in 10th, with title hope Bradley Smith well down in 12th, nearly three seconds off Espargaro's pace.
Results of FP1 for the 125cc class at Qatar:
Kawasakis continue to dominate the World Supersport class, with Katsuaki Fujiwara beating his Motocard.com Joan Lascorz for the second session in a row. Fujiwara increased his advantage over the Spaniard, while the Hondas closed up behind. Ten Kate's Michele Pirro was the 3rd fastest man, finishing ahead of Parkalgar's Eugene Laverty. The Triumphs of David Salom and Chaz Davies completed the top 6.
Results of QP1 for the World Supersport class at Valencia:
Ducatis dominated the first qualifying session for the World Superbike class at Valencia, with 6 Ducatis finishing in the top 8. Althea's Carlos Checa was fastest again, as he had been during FP1, with Pata's Jakub Smrz and Checa's Althea teammate Shane Byrne in 3rd. Max Biaggi was the first of the non Ducatis, ahead of the leader in the title race Leon Haslam. The factory Xerox Ducatis follow, Michel Fabrizio leading Noriyuki Haga, with DFX Corse's Lorenzo Lanzi rounding out the top 8.
Results of QP1 for the World Superbike class:
Katsuaki Fujiwara lead a clean sweep for the Motocard.com Kawasaki team during the first session of free practice for the World Supersport class at Valencia. Fujiwara just pipped his Spanish teammate Joan Lascorz, but both men finished well ahead of the following pack. Chaz Davies took his ParkinGo Triumph to 3rd, just ahead of Kenan Sofuoglu and Eugene Laverty.
Carlos Checa set the fastest time in the first session of free practice for the World Superbike class at Valencia, the Althea Ducati rider finishing a tenth of a second ahead of Michel Fabrizio on the factory Xerox Ducati. Two four cylinders took 3rd and 4th, with Sterilgarda Yamaha's James Toseland ahead of BMW's Troy Corser. The two men leading the championship, Alitalia Aprilia's Max Biaggi and Alstare Suzuki's Leon Haslam, were 5th and 6th, while Ten Kate Honda's Johnny Rea finished ahead of the second factory Ducati of Nori Haga.
Results of the first session of free practice for the World Superbike class at Valencia:
Regular readers of MotoMatters.com will be aware of our admiration of and friendship with the leading Italian motorcycle website GPOne.com. The site is a goldmine of information for motorcycle racing fans, and the deep roots which the site's writers have in the paddock allow the site to provide both news and in-depth analysis of MotoGP and World Superbikes better than probably any other site in the world. The only minor drawback for English speakers is the fact that the site is in Italian, but that is a hurdle which is easier to clear than you might think.
So it was a disturbing sign when GPOne.com went off air in the period between the Portimao WSBK race and the Qatar MotoGP season opener. But its absence was for a very good reason. The people who run the site were hard at work completely redesigning and updating the site, as well as switching it to a new content management back end.
They guys over at OnTheThrottle have been holding a series of live pre-race shows with the World Superbike commentating team Jonathan Green and Steve Martin, in which they talk through the upcoming WSBK races and the issues likely to be a feature of the weekend. Fortunately, these videos are also available after the fact, for people who missed the live show and wanted to catch up.
In the latest episode, Green, Martin and OTT's Dave Williams discuss the chances of Ducati dominating the weekend at Valencia, about tires, and about Leon Haslam's chance of holding on to his lead throughout the weekend. Enjoy the video:
Whenever I go to a MotoGP race, it seems that something weird always happens. Not just the kind of weird stuff that happens when you go on vacation - that happens often enough - but stuff that catches you off guard and leaves baffled and bewildered.
So it was this morning. After a very long night finishing up my season preview and an account of the Fiat On The Web team's adventures - three quarters of which I lost, due to my own stupidity, and had to retype - I awoke to an eerie silence. In a place where daytime temps can reach 40 degrees, even this early in the year, that silence means trouble, because it replaces the hiss of the air conditioning unit, the only thing that lies between you and a lot of sweating, puffing, and fanning yourself while you attempt not to boil.
A quick flick of the light switch proved that it wasn't the airco that was the problem, but that the electricity was out entirely. Still, there was a faint wireless signal and my laptop had plenty of battery left, so I finished up some work and decided to head to the circuit. The late night meant I had overslept, and the Fiat On The Web team had gone on their road trip without me - a trip Alex later reported was fun, but hot - so I headed downstairs to the car hire desk in the hotel.
At the last preseason test of the year at Qatar, run under the floodlights to allow the riders to get used to the conditions, five riders went down in a period of thirty minutes late on in the test, as dew forming on the track made conditions treacherous. After that test, several riders called for the time of the MotoGP race to be brought forward, from 11pm local time to 9 or 10.
In the pre-race press conference, Valentino Rossi repeated his preference for bringing the race forward, a suggestion which received the support of both Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden later that evening.
But at a press conference held to open the Qatar MotoGP round, attended by Carmelo Ezpeleta, the CEO of Dorna, and Nasser Al-Attiyah, head of the Qatari motorsports federation, the Dorna CEO was not convinced a change would be necessary. Ezpeleta felt that conditions had changed since the last test, obviating the need to change.
The start of the 2010 season finds MotoGP in a deeply schizophrenic state. The MotoGP class remains sparsely populated, with just 17 riders on the grid - despite prospects of one new manufacturer running wildcards and another looking to enter the series full time once the paddock returns to Europe. Meanwhile, in the brand new Moto2 class which replaces the 250cc two strokes, 40 riders are scheduled to take to the start at Qatar.
This year sees a bumper crop of rookies enter MotoGP, bringing some much-needed fresh blood into the class, along with a healthy dose of excitement. At the same time, the podium lineup at every race is as good as fixed, with the Fantastic Four almost certain to claim the lion's share of the silverware, leaving the rest of the field to pick over what remains.