The theory behind running the MotoGP season opener in Qatar at night is simple: Because the daytime temperatures in the desert state are so high, causing problems for riders, bikes and tires, taking advantage of the cooler nighttime ensures the race is easier on man and machine. The evening start also timeshifts the race to a more favorable broadcast time, right into the middle of the evening primetime in key Spanish and Italian TV markets.
But night races have problems of their own: For a start, there's the monstrous amount of energy required to provide sufficient light for the riders to race in. Then there's the fact that if it rains - extremely rare in the desert, but as we saw last year, extremely rare is not the same as never - the racing has to be stopped, as water on the surface reflects the overhead lighting, making it impossible to see properly to race.
Escaping the heat of the daytime has another risk: once the sun goes down, the temperature drops precipitously, causing grip levels to change during the course of the 45 minute race and making choosing tires a bit of a gamble. Worst of all is that the nighttime chill causes dew to form, turning sections of the track completely treacherous. During the last day - or rather, evening - of testing at Qatar on Friday, Nicky Hayden, Colin Edwards, Ben Spies and Casey Stoner all crashed at the same spot in the last hour of testing, the three Americans hitting the dirt within a ten minute span.
This has caused two of the favorites to win the season opener at Qatar to call for the starting time of the race to moved to a spot earlier in the evening. In the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport - as reported by Autosport - both Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi said it would be better to move the race forward a couple of hours, to either 10pm local time, or even 8pm, to avoid the slippery conditions which appear after 11pm, the time the race is currently scheduled to run.
"It upsets me because many of us had crashed there in previous years too," Stoner told La Gazzetta. Crashes were happening without warning, Stoner said, the Ducati rider pointing the finger of blame at moisture collecting in Turn 2. Valentino Rossi said that he would be trying to talk to either Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta or Dorna's safety officer Franco Uncini about the situation, describing the decision to race at 11pm as "not very intelligent."
A 10pm start would be better, according to Valentino Rossi, as that would translate to around 8pm in Italy and Spain, around the time that the Italians are sitting down to dinner, and the Spanish are starting to cook. The earlier start would allow the Europeans to watch the race, then go to a bar later in the evening, to meet with their friends and discuss what had happened.
But Loris Capirossi put it most succinctly. When asked about the night race by La Gazzetta dello Sport, the Suzuki rider said "Do they want to race at night? Okay, it's dark already at 6pm, we can race at 8 or even at 10." With less than three weeks to go before the race starts, a decision will have to be made quickly.