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The qualifying session for the 2008 Qatar Grand Prix proved once again that running in the late evening is having more ramifications than anyone considered. The planning for this event has been, as ever, extraordinary, but like most well-planned events, there are always things which people overlooked. So far in Qatar, it's been the track temperatures.
Once again it was Casey Stoner who was fastest during the early session of Free Practice, ahead of this evening's official qualifying session. And once again, it was Jorge Lorenzo who was second fastest, just as the Spaniard was last night. But behind Lorenzo was his team mate and seven-time world champion Valentino Rossi, who took nearly 8/10ths off his previous fastest lap time.
If the first session of free practice at Losail was a typical case of the Stoner Show, the young world champion stamping his authority on the field right from the get go, and with the most dictatorial jackboot he had to hand, the second session was a slightly different affair, in several interesting ways. Of course, the outcome was still the same, with Stoner topping the timesheets once again, but how he got there was a completely different story. In FP1, Stoner took fastest time just 8 minutes into the session, and held it for the rest of the hour.
Normal service was resumed, Friday evening, with Casey Stoner taking the top spot on his second lap, and never properly relinquishing it again. The slightly cooler conditions of early evening have added to the speed, as both Stoner and Lorenzo are inside the existing lap record.
The big surprise is Jorge Lorenzo, who is already very fast on his Fiat Yamaha. Lorenzo's arch nemesis Andrea Dovizioso is in third, ahead of Lorenzo's team mate Valentino Rossi. The first of the factory Hondas is Dani Pedrosa in 5th.
At last. The long winter break is over, and a new day dawns on MotoGP with the season opener at the Losail circuit in Qatar. Although it's not so much a new day as a new night, as MotoGP, in its continuing struggle to win fans over from other forms of motorsport, has scooped Formula 1 to stage the very first night race in motorsports. The fact that racing has been running under the lights for years in the US is being conveniently overlooked, as most Europeans remain blissfully unaware of NASCAR and other forms of stock car racing, and so to Dorna, it's the very first night race.
After Honda got their predictions of how to build a title-winning 800cc MotoGP bike so utterly wrong in 2007, expectations were raised that they would not make the same mistake again in 2008. If there was ever a year that you might expect HRC to come out with an unbeatable factory bike, surely this would be it.
For those of you who did not recently watch the Daytona 500 here in The States, you missed your best opportunity to see the handiwork of Musco Lighting prior to the GP of Qatar. Musco has been the premier outdoor lighting specialists in The States for 32 years. I first heard of them 23 (or more) years ago while I was marching in drum & bugles corps on American and Canadian football fields. For three years in the mid '80s, the annual Finals competitions were held in Madison, WI.
As the final few days count down before the first MotoGP race of 2008, and the tension and excitement starts to swell inside the breast of motorcycle racing fans, it's hard not to get carried away at the prospect of a brand new season. And there is much to get excited about: the entry of some of the most exciting young rookies into motorcycle racing's premier class; the first title defense for another new champion; and a slew of riders and, more importantly, manufacturers out to avenge themselves for last year.