With less than 24 hours to go until practice starts for the MotoGP season opener, here's a few more previews from the MotoGP teams:
Bautista ready for the season opener
Rizla Suzuki MotoGP rider Álvaro Bautista is ready for the Qatar GP after completing a positive test, and escaping uninjured from a 250km/h crash, earlier this week.
Bautista is eager to get back into the racing groove following some encouraging pre-season tests that have seen him and his crew work on many new settings and components for the Suzuki GSV-R, to make the machine more competitive in all conditions.
The first round of the season is the only night race on the calendar and the hot desert sun will be replaced by thousands of watts of man-made light that will illuminate the 5,380m Losail International Circuit, giving this Grand Prix a very singular and atmospheric feeling.
The Qatar race will also mark the 300th Grand Prix since the FIM, IRTA and Dorna joined forces in 1992 to manage the MotoGP World Championship. This will be celebrated at the event with the whole paddock being invited to take part in a special presentation.
Bautista will take to the track for a unique three nights of practice and qualifying at this year's Qatar Grand Prix. The first practice session will be at 19.55hrs local time (16.55 GMT) on Thursday, followed by two further practice sessions on Friday evening, before an hour of qualifying takes place on Saturday at 19.55 local time (16.55 GMT). Sunday's 22-lap race will get underway at 22.00hrs local time (19.00hrs GMT).
"This is where the action really starts and I'm looking forward to this weekend. I like to ride the bike and we've had some good tests, but I like to fight with other riders more and be out there racing. We've done a lot of good work throughout the winter and that should help us in different conditions and the cooler night temperatures at Qatar will give us a good chance to see how far we've come. I'm really focused on the new season and the whole crew and Suzuki are right behind me, which is a good feeling, we now need to get out there and get into the action."
Repsol Honda Team ready to start 2011 Championship
The wait is over. Tomorrow the season officially starts under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.
After very strong performances in the winter tests, where the Repsol Honda riders were on top of the time sheets both in Sepang and in Qatar, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso and Casey Stoner are very confident for the opening round of the season.
Casey Stoner, the fastest rider of the last Qatar pre-season test can boast the biggest numbers of victories at this track. The Australian has won the MotoGP race here three times in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and also the 250 once in 2005.
Dani Pedrosa, fast and consistent during the whole winter test, is ready to face the Qatar race - where he has enjoyed two podiums at MotoGP level in 2007 and 2008, and also in 250 in 2004. He is confident that he and his machine are in good shape to have a strong start to the season.
After good results in the pre-season, Andrea Dovizioso is looking forward to the first race of the Championship. Andrea has good memories of this track, finishing on the podium in the 3 classes. In 2010 he finished third after a very strong race and in 2008, on a Honda satellite bike, he finished fourth overtaking Valentino Rossi on the last lap of his first ever race in MotoGP.
"I'm really looking forward to start the season. We've been here for many days already and it's time to start racing. Our expectations for the race are high after the results of the winter test. I think we did a good job, the bike was competitive in Sepang and when we have changed the circuit it kept the same level, so I'm very happy about that. We start this season with a competitive bike. The RCV212V hasn't changed so much from the one we had for the second half of last season and I feel confident. Anyway, we need to be very concentrated because the race weekend will be very demanding with four days of testing, our rivals will improve and we will see how the conditions are, I expect very windy as it's been during testing. Both the bike and I are in a good shape and I hope we can take this occasion to start the season strongly. I am very sorry for what is going on in Japan. I have been with Honda since the beginning of my career and I have many Japanese friends. My thoughts are with them and I really hope the situation will get better soon for all of Japan".
"Racing in Qatar is special because it's the first round of the season and we race at night. I have good memories at this track, like my first race in MotoGP when I finished 4th or last year's podium, and I look forward to start racing after a very positive winter preparation. Casey and Dani have raised the level, but compared to last year I feel more competitive. Here in Losail the bike slides a lot and it's important to find the specific setting for this track. The race will be long and physically demanding but I am looking forward to start the Championship. Concerning the decision taken yesterday to postpone the GP of Japan I agree with it. The extent of the damages made by the earthquake and the tsunami are so big that it was not thinkable to have a GP there in few weeks. The priority of the Country in this moment is to take care of the people and recover fro m the situation. I feel very close to the Japanese people".
"In this difficult time with the events in Japan, it is hard to go racing and this tragedy is at the front of all our minds. That said, it's what we do, so we must concentrate to the best of our abilities to bring home a good result for Honda and all it's employees. After a strong winter testing period, I'm very happy with the set-up we have found on the bike and I go into this race weekend looking for a good result. When the flag drops, we will see the true pace of all our competitors and know where we stand and I can't wait. Usually, I feel comfortable here at the Losail circuit and I hope that this year - my first with the Repsol Honda Team, we can achieve a good result".
HONDA RIDERS READY TO RACE
The 2011 MotoGP World Championship will have a subdued kick-off this weekend under the desert lights in Qatar, with the ongoing tragedy in Japan weighing heavily on the hearts minds of the racing community.
Everyone at Honda Motor Company has expressed their condolences to their fellow countrymen as they embark on what they hope will be another world championship. Following a very successful testing season, no one is more ready to celebrate the 300th grand prix of the Dorna era than Honda's roster of world champions.
Honda riders excelled in the limited pre-season testing by finishing fastest in each of the eight sessions over three tests. The final test finished just days ago here at the Losail International Circuit east of Doha, the capital of Qatar, and when it did, Repsol Honda teammates were fighting for supremacy.
There was little between Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) when the two-day test concluded on Monday evening. Stoner was a mere .064s better on his fastest lap of 1m, 55.681s, though he was more consistently in the ‘55s.
The 25-year-old Australian had an instant affinity for the desert circuit. In 2006, his first year in the premier class, the Honda-mounted Stoner arrived at the track after a difficult journey with little sustenance and earned his first pole position in only his second MotoGP race. Stoner then went on to lead the race for the first nine of 22 laps.
The following year Stoner used his win in Qatar, one of ten victories in 18 races, as a springboard to capturing the 2007 MotoGP World Championship. He returned to Qatar the following year and won again, stretching his margin of victory by more than two seconds, which he would do again when he won the 2009 running of the race. Stoner was in the lead last year and pulling away when his front end slid out. Now, having finished with the fastest time at the test, Stoner is ready to get back to the top step of the podium.
Pedrosa is no stranger to the podium in Qatar. The two-time 250cc World Champion finished third to Stoner in both 2007 and 2008. Having finished the test here with a near similar time to his new team-mate, Pedrosa is ready for the start of the season.
In 2010, Pedrosa had his most successful season. The 25-year-old from Sabadell, Spain won four races, twice as many as he'd won during any of the previous four years of his MotoGP career. There were four further podiums and certain to be more before he suffered a broken collarbone at Honda's home grand prix at Twin Ring Motegi. Pedrosa's pre-season form confirms that his physical condition has returned to championship level, and he'll need to be in top shape in such a talented field.
Andrea Dovizioso, the former 125cc World Champion, enters his third year with the Repsol Honda team having had his most successful MotoGP season in 2010. Dovizioso finished on the podium seven times and finished with the most points of his MotoGP career, while equaling his career best overall finish of fifth. Yet Dovizioso wasn't able to add a victory to his win in difficult conditions at Donington Park in 2009, though he came tantalizingly close more than once.
Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) enters his second season brimming with confidence from a successful test season. Simoncelli was the fastest of all riders at the second test in Sepang, narrowly in front of Pedrosa and Stoner, with Dovizioso fifth fastest. The combination of a year's experience and improvements in the Honda RC212V had put Simoncelli among the class favourites. The 2008 250cc World Champion saw the potential in the 2011 race machine at the 2010 season-ending test after Valencia. The bike has more power than previous versions and "Super Sic" was comfortable from the start. Now he needs to maintain his progress as he enters his first full season on factory equipment.
Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini), the last ever 250cc World Champion, also starts his sophomore season in the premier class. The top Japanese rider in the world championships made an impressive leap on the first day of the final test to set the third fastest time.
Being among the leaders is nothing new for the nine-time race-winner who has spent most of his grand prix career in the Honda family and he plans to be there this year. The move to the San Carlo Gresini Honda team has been seamless and Aoyama gives the team much of the credit for his testing success.
Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP) is the most recent world champion, having won the inaugural Moto2 World Championship in 2010. Prior to that the Spaniard spent five years in the MotoGP class, with three of those aboard Hondas. Now back in the top class, Elias has had a difficult pre-season adopting to the Honda RC212V, though he refuses to believe he's gotten the most out of himself and the machine and expects to improve with more seat time.
Losail International Circuit is 15 kms. east of Doha, one of the fastest growing cities in the world and the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The 5.38k track, with ten right hand corners and six lefts, was designed primarily for motorcycles with vast run-off areas known as "Uncini's Beaches" for the IRTA safety rep, former 500cc World Champion Franco Uncini. The layout has a variety of corners and a long front straight, with near constant high speeds and changes of direction. One of the downsides is the desert location. Gusty winds blow sand across the surface, which can catch a rider out if he's not paying attention, and which can also wreak havoc on tire life.
The 1.068k front straight is one of the longest on the calendar, with speeds reaching close to 330kph in qualifying and just less during the race. An occasional tailwind can catch riders out, causing them to overrun the first corner until they adapt to the speed.
What makes the front stretch compelling is that the finish line is towards the end of the straightaway, which lends itself to draft passing at the finish line, and graphically highlights the top speed discrepancies between the various machines.
The 2011 running of the race marks the fifth year that the MotoGP season kicks off at night, as a concession to the daytime temperatures that average 35C ambient and much higher on the asphalt.
The circuit, which won the 2008 IRTA Best Grand Prix of the Year award, prides itself on being the largest permanent venue sports-lighting project in the world, with 3600 fixtures. The lighting gives the track surface a unique look, with nighttime humidity affecting traction.
For the first time in anyone's memory, the grand prix weekend is spread out over four days, with practice beginning Thursday evening leading up to Sunday's season-opener. The denizens of the paddock work deep into the night and sleep late in the morning, while enjoying Doha's sandy beaches long into the afternoon.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V) says: "In this difficult time with the events in Japan, it is hard to go racing and this tragedy is at the front of all our minds. That said, it's what we do, so we must concentrate to be the best of our abilities to bring home a good result for Honda and all its employees. After a strong winter testing period, I'm very happy with the set-up we have found on the bike and I go into this race weekend looking for a good result. When the flag drops, we will see the true pace of all our competitors and know where we stand I can't wait. Usually I feel comfortable here at the Losail circuit and I hope that this year, my first with the Repsol Honda team, we can achieve a good result."
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) says: "I'm really looking forward to start the season. we've been here for many days already and it's time to start racing. Our expectations for the race are high after the results of the winter test. I think we did a good job, the bike was competitive in Sepang and when we have changed the circuit it kept the same level, so I'm very happy about that. We start this season with a competitive bike. The RC212V hasn't changed so much fro the one we had for the second half of last season and I feel confident. Anyway, we need to be very concentrated because the race weekend will be very demanding with four days of testing. Our rivals will improve and we will see how the conditions are, I expect very wind, as it's been during testing. Both the bike and I are in good shape. And I hope we can take this occasion to start the season strongly. I am very sorry for what is going on in Japan. I have been with Honda since the beginning of my career and I have many Japanese friends. My thought are with them and I really hope the situation will get better soon for all of Japan."
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) says: "Racing in Qatar is special because it's the first round of the season and we race at night. I have good memories at this track, like my first race in MotoGP when I finished fourth or last year's podium, and I look forward to start racing after a very positive winter preparation. Casey and Dani have raised the level, but compared to last year I feel more competitive. Here in Losail, the bike slides a lot and it's important to find the specific setting for this track. The race will be long and physically demanding but I am looking forward to starting the championship. Concerning the decision taken yesterday to postpone the GP of Japan, I agree with it. The extent of the damage made by the earthquake the tsunami are so big that it was not thinkable to have a GP there in a few weeks. The priority of the country in this moment is to take care of the people and recover from the situation. I feel very close to the Japanese people."
Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Gresini Honda RC212V) says: "Things start getting serious on Thursday and I am really looking forward to getting out on track and reaping the fruit of all the hard work we have done during winter testing. Out in Malaysia and more recently here in Qatar I have been able to see that Honda have produced a great bike, I have improved as a rider and my team has also improved on last year. As a result I am really happy and confident that we have the tools to be competitive from the first race. Right from the first test at Valencia I realised that the 2011 bike had a good competitive base and that has been proved. The bike is powerful, fast and I can ride it as I want – I feel really good in the saddle. Honda have done a great job and they have given me a lot of support. I am in good shape and keen to pick up where we left off last season and build on those results. A podium would be fantastic but to be able to fight on level terms with the top five would also be a great start. I am confident and will give my best to achieve it."
Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Gresini Honda RC212V) says: "I am happy and satisfied with the vibe within the team. This important relationship has allowed me to set some good lap times during the winter and now I can't wait to get out there in a Grand Prix and see if all our hard work pays off with results. I have confidence, I feel in great form and the bike is powerful, fast and capable of taking me to good results. I have a well prepared team who I have already found a perfect feeling with and I am confident we can run with the best in the field. We have done a great job during winter testing and we are ready for the challenge. I hope we can give Team San Carlo Honda Gresini lots to be excited about."
Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP) says: "During the test session here we have changed many things on the bike to find the proper setting and some things work in the right way some others not. Thanks to new timing we will have more time to adjust the bike for the race on Sunday. I know it won't be easy but I knew the adaptation period to his bike would have been long. I am confident because the team is doing a very good job and I am very stubborn. I like this track and the atmosphere is unique. We will see what is going to happen in the next days."
THE LIGHTS GO ON IN QATAR FOR THE 2011 MOTOGP WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
The MotoGP World Championship will start on Thursday at Losail International Circuit, with the first free-practice sessions planned for 6:00 p.m. for the 125cc class, 6:55 p.m. for Moto2, and 7:55 for MotoGP.
Although the usual work of preparing for the Grand Prix has begun at the circuit, the entire paddock is closely following the news on the terrible moment that Japan is currently experiencing. On Tuesday, the International Motorcycling Federation made the official announcement that the Motegi Grand Prix, originally scheduled for 24 April, has been postponed to 2 October. Every member of the Ducati Marlboro Team wishes the best for the colleagues of the paddock's sizeable Japanese contingent.
For the team and for Ducati, tomorrow is doubly important because March 17 is when Italy will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification. Since January, the fairings of Valentino Rossi's and Nicky Hayden's Ducati Desmosedici GP11s have worn the official logo created for this event: three waving Italian flags representing the three Jubilees of 1911, 1961, 2011 , a link between generations.
VALENTINO ROSSI, Ducati Marlboro Team
"For the first practice session in Qatar, we'll start with the settings that we found on the last day of the test, because our final lap time notwithstanding, they weren't bad. In fact, I think I could have gone faster if the strength hadn't left my shoulder almost without warning before I had even tried the soft tires. The race weekend has sessions of 45 minutes and one hour, so it should be easier from that point of view. Naturally, my shoulder isn't the only issue: if we want to have a good race, we know that in addition to me being physically ready, we'll have to find some solutions that will help us be faster and improve our pace. In any event, the debut with Ducati brings a lot of motivation, and Sunday will definitely be very emotional. A greeting to all the Italians who will be celebrating the 150th year of Italy's unification tomorrow: we know there are a lot of you supporting us, and although we probably won't yet be at our best by Sunday, we'll give it our best effort. I'm also thinking of everyone in Japan who is living through this very difficult moment. What happened is truly frightening, but Japan's people are very strong and capable of reacting. We're all behind you."
NICKY HAYDEN, Ducati Marlboro Team
"Well, it's time to go racing now! We obviously wouldn't have minded a bit more testing, but I'm looking forward to starting another season. We'll have four days here for the race weekend, so there's still time to check some more options. During the test, there were parts of the track where I was pretty fast, and a couple of long, fast corners where I was losing a pretty good chunk of time. Our focus will be to try and get the bike to steer a bit better through those spots. Hopefully as the track gets cleaned up more, it will help us a bit more than some of the others. Everyone is really tight on times, and I think that's pretty cool. I like how competitive it is, and we know it's going to be like that all season. Finally, I'd like to let everyone in Japan know the world is with them in this difficult time. I've worked with many Japanese companies over the years, so I have a lot of friends and fans there. Stay strong; we're thinking of you".
VITTORIANO GUARESCHI, Team Manager
"Tomorrow, practice starts for the Grand Prix, and we'll try to apply everything we've learned during winter testing. With Valentino, we weren't able to completely use all of the days at our disposal, and because of that, we still haven't found all the solutions for an optimal setup for him. He still won't be at 100% physically for a couple more months, but we know that when the starting light goes off, he'll give everything he has and more! In the meantime, we'll continue working without pause to improve the bike, because the others have made a lot of progress and the level is very high. Nicky is progressing and compared to Malaysia, he has found some promising solutions here in Qatar that we can work on for the race. Sunday will be very important and emotional for us and for all motorcycle racing enthusiasts—Italian and otherwise—and that gives us even more motivation and desire to do well."
PRAMAC RACING TEAM PREVIEW - LOSAIL 2011
Loris and Randy are ready for the first official session of the MotoGP on the Losail circuit. Concluded on the last day of 2011 winter testing, for Ducati Racing Team is time to get serious.
Randy De Puniet, Pramac Racing Team Rider
"There was much anticipation for this season. The test in Malaysia had not gone as we all hoped. In Qatar we worked differently. The Ducati is responding well. We tried many different solutions changing tires to understand the various reactions. We are on track. Losail takes me well, I hope to get good results. My personal goal is to vacation to be able to do better than they did last season".
Loris Capirossi, Pramac Racing Team Rider
"Unfortunately, these last days of testing did not go as hoped, but I think that we can improve and get good results. We know we can be competitive, I can't wait to be able to show on the track. My goal is simple: get number 100 on the podium. I'm at 99th, the goal is not so far away".
Fabiano Sterlacchini, Pramac Racing Team Director.
"The budget of the latter-day test is positive, we did tests that have yielded good results, unfortunately the type of track is not easy to deal with. We had two crashes, we have some compromise but we believe for the race. For half turn we had the best time of all the Ducati's, after the fall it was difficult to trace. We tried experimental tires, some drivers have found a benefit, others less so. With Loris we are not in trouble, we are confident".