Stage set for season opener in Qatar
22 Mar 2017 - 0:45
Another chance to make history kicks off under the floodlights at Losail International Circuit on March 26 when the flag drops and the bikes roar into action to signal the start of the new MotoGP season.
2016 was a history maker of nine different winners in the MotoGP championship and another incredible Championship win for Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez.
But 2017 is the deepest grid ever, with a record ten World Champions sharing 29 titles between them - some gearing up to add to their legends, and four rookies wanting to start writing them – with an unbelievable total of 197 premier class victories having been taken by the class of 2017.
Preseason has given us some incredible indications of the season we have to look forward to. Stealing the headlines has been Movistar Yamaha MotoGP newcomer Maverick Viñales – who topped every test – with teammate Valentino Rossi seeming to struggle more to unlock the potential of the package, with a deficit to his teammate on the timesheets. Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) has made huge leaps forward in red, “aero-fairings” have come calling as wings get banned, and there has been a rider shuffle across half the grid.
Rewind a year and Repsol Honda Team were facing down what looked like would be a tough season. This year, both reigning Champion Marquez and teammate Pedrosa have been much happier in preseason, despite some crashes for the rider from Cervera.
Marquez’ record at Losail is good – two podiums and a win from four races in the premier class – but the Spaniard says the track is not suited to the Honda, and wrapped up the test in Qatar wanting to fight for the podium under the floodlights.
Team-mate Pedrosa has had a tougher time at Losail, but the ‘Baby Samurai’ shone during testing throughout winter. With Viñales out front in every test, only one other rider has been in the top five overall at Sepang, Phillip Island and Losail – Pedrosa. After a tough start to 2016 followed by that stunning win in Misano, progress for the Spaniard is still very much an upward curve.
An upward curve is something mirrored by old nemesis Jorge Lorenzo. Teammate Andrea Dovizioso has concentrated on development and testing parts for the new campaign – with positive results – whilst Lorenzo has simply focused on adaptation.
That has paid off, with the ‘Spartan’ moving up from well outside the top ten to complete the top four overall at the close of action in the preseason test in Qatar.
‘DesmoDovi’ has a good podium record at Losail and the Desmosedici goes well at the venue – but Lorenzo is the king of the desert.
Six victories for the ‘Spartan’ – half of which have been in the premier class – make for good reading ahead of the season opener. Add Ducati’s recent record of podium success at the track and Lorenzo seems to have the chance to break a record in Qatar: only former teammate Rossi has ever won back-to-back premier class races with different manufacturers. Losail, for Lorenzo, may not just prove the start of a new era – it could be much more.
Rossi’s last win at Losail was in 2015 in a stunning season opener. After a difficult preseason, the ‘Doctor’ will be hoping for the hand to fall as it did on Day 2 of the Qatar Test, which saw the Italian shoot up the timesheets as track conditions were favourable.
Viñales is at the other end of the spectrum of experience. But with two seasons in the premier class under his belt and a full house of being the fastest man in testing, the young gun seems one to beat.