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Mar 20, 2014

Aleix Espargaro Leads, Nearly Equals Race Lap Record In First MotoGP Practice, In Qatar (Updated)

Aleix Espargaro (41). Photo courtesy of Dorna/

FIM MotoGP World Championship

Losail International Circuit

Doha, Qatar

March 20, 2014

Free Practice One Results (all on Bridgestone tires):

(Current Circuit Best Lap Record: 1:53.927, Jorge Lorenzo, 2008 -- Current Race Lap Record: 1:55.153, Casey Stoner, 2008)

1. Aleix ESPARGARO, Spain (FORWARD YAMAHA), 1:55.201 - Open

2. Alvaro BAUTISTA, Spain (HONDA), 1:55.667 - Open

3. Bradley SMITH, UK (YAMAHA), 1:55.816 - Open

4. Andrea IANNONE, Italy (DUCATI), 1:55.996 - Open

5. Pol ESPARGARO, Spain (YAMAHA), 1:56.020 - Factory

6. Dani PEDROSA, Spain (HONDA), 1:56.332 - Factory

7. Valentino ROSSI, Italy (YAMAHA), 1:56.542 - Factory

8. Colin EDWARDS, USA (FORWARD YAMAHA), 1:56.626 - Open

9. Jorge LORENZO, Spain (YAMAHA), 1:56.668 - Factory

10. Nicky HAYDEN, USA (HONDA), 1:56.670 - Open

11. Marc MARQUEZ, Spain (HONDA), 1:56.682 - Factory

12. Stefan BRADL, Germany (HONDA), 1:56.726 - Factory

13. Cal CRUTCHLOW, UK (DUCATI), 1:57.046 - Open

14. Andrea DOVIZIOSO, Italy (DUCATI), 1:57.100 - Open

15. Yonny HERNANDEZ, Colombia (DUCATI), 1:57.623, crash - Open

16. Karel ABRAHAM, Czech Republic (HONDA), 1:57.779 - Open

17. Hiroshi AOYAMA, Japan (HONDA), 1:58.182 - Open

18. Hector BARBERA, Spain (FTR-KAWASAKI), 1:58.394 - Open

19. Scott REDDING, UK (HONDA), 1:58.495 - Open

20. Mike DI MEGLIO, France (FTR-KAWASAKI), 1:58.732 - Open

21. Danilo PETRUCCI, Italy (ART-APRILIA), 1:59.321 - Open

22. Broc PARKES, Australia (PBM-APRILIA), 1:59.328 - Open

23. Michael LAVERTY, UK (PBM-Aprilia), no time recorded - Open

More, from a press release issued by Movistar Yamaha:

Movistar Yamaha Riders Fight for Grip in Qatar as MotoGP Begins

Losail Circuit (Qatar), 20th March 2014

The 2014 MotoGP World Championship finally got underway this evening under the floodlights of the Losail circuit in Qatar. Having launched their new livery just yesterday, the newly named Movistar Yamaha MotoGP riders were out feeling their way on the night track for the first time this year.

With little rubber down on the circuit and some sand blowing across from the desert, grip issues became the number one problem to solve for both Valentino Rossi and teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Just 15 minutes in the session was red flagged to allow a clean up of some of the debris on track left by rider Jonny Hernandez’s earlier crash.

Rossi returned to the track in thirteenth position after the clean up and began to work on his set up, gradually moving up the timesheets, running as high as fifth before dropping two places to seventh behind highest placed factory rider Dani Pedrosa in sixth at the end.

In true Lorenzo style, the Mallorcan was one of the first out of the pit lane as the session began, eager to get to work on his set up ahead of this weekend’s opening round of the championship. Unlike the satellite and open class riders who had the fortune to test in Qatar two weeks ago, Lorenzo had no data to go on and struggled to find a way round the lack of grip he encountered on the track. He ended the first practice of the weekend in ninth position, just under 1.5 seconds from the front.

46 Valentino Rossi

7th / 1'56.542 / 18 laps

“The track is in quite a bad condition but I think it’s quite normal for a first practice. There is a lot of sand and not a lot of rubber down. Also a lot of riders except the factory riders have been here for three days and have done a lot more km and a lot more laps so it’s normal they are stronger than us. Now the work for the weekend will be hard to reduce the gap. I have a lack of grip front and rear, on corner entry and also on acceleration the bike moves very much. I think the condition of the track is getting better and it will get easier.”

99 Jorge Lorenzo

9th / 1'56.668 / 15 laps

“I’m a little disappointed because hearing the comments of the riders that were here two weeks ago it seemed the tyres were working really well. Having arrived here it seems the track is a little worse, the feeling of the rear tyre is more or less the same as in Sepang, with little grip and traction. We didn’t have three days to test here like the top five so our problems are bigger. We must hope that the tyre gets better and we can improve the grip on the rear.”

Massimo Meregalli

Team Director

“Since the beginning we were expecting that some of our competitors could be in front of us because they tested here ten days ago. For sure the condition of the circuit didn't help us either as we couldn’t work properly on the bike because of the lack of grip and the dirt on the track. We have a lot of work to do but I’m optimistic that as the conditions improve we can get our speed back. We know what we have to do as both riders complained about the same issues. Both need more grip front and rear so we will work on this and let’s see what happens next practice.”

Wilco Zeelenberg

Team Manager

“The first practice is done so 2014 has officially started! It’s very obvious that many guys have already been around the track because you can see how fast they are. For us there’s some work to do before the race on Sunday. We are struggling for grip so we need to improve but it looks like we are not the only ones. We have some work to do!”

More, from a press release issued by Repsol Honda:

2014 MotoGP season gets underway in Qatar

Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa have completed the first practice session of the 2014 season.

Dani, who struggled with grip in this first session, was anyway the fastest factory rider – with the satellite teams enjoying a clear advantage after testing here two weeks ago. He finished the 45 minute session in 6th place with a time of 1’56.332 recorded on lap 13 of 16.

2013 World Champion, Marc, who climbed back aboard his RC213V for the first time in 6 weeks after breaking his leg, chose not to have any painkillers and managed an impressive 15 laps. He finished 11th for the night with a time of 1’56.682 on lap 13.

The riders will be back on track tomorrow evening at 18h00 local time.


Dani Pedrosa

6th - 1'56.332

"We had a few problems today with grip, which is something that some of the riders who rode here at the test two weeks ago had commented about before. There isn’t much grip on the track and that means we have to try to get the most out of the bike under these circumstances. We’ll see if the track improves with a little more rubber laid down, giving us more traction. Today we just didn’t really have any, even though the track was in good condition. We still hope to improve session-by-session”

Marc Marquez

11th - 1'56.682

"I am fairly happy with how the first session went, because I haven't been on the bike in a while. I didn’t think my foot would bother me so much - especially on the right hand corners - although at the end of the session I felt better and this gives me hope of improving tomorrow. We are going to try to follow the same working strategy as today. In terms of the times, we aren't too far off Jorge, Valentino and Dani - and it's normal that the riders who were here for the test a fortnight ago are fast right from the get-go”

More, from a press release issued by Pramac Racing:

Good fourth place for Andrea

The MotoGp 2014 Championship officially started today at the Losail International Circuit. The circuit is located in the Qatar desert, about 30km from the capital city of Doha. The track s length is 5.38 Km with a total of 16 turns and a straight long 1068 meters. Since 2008, The MotoGP is scheduled at night under the floodlights powered by Pramac generators making the event even more spectacular.

The riders of the Pramac Racing team after the hard work done in the three pre-season testing got back on the track for the first practice session of the year.

Andrea Iannone - Pramac Racing - completed a total of 17 laps during the 45 minutes available . Andrea ended the free practice with a good fourth position , the first of the Ducati , and a great lap time of 1'55"996. The " Maniac Joe" used well the first free practice session using many of the set-up references of the last Qatar test . Only in the last run he tested the soft compound, not pushing it all the way because it never tried it before. The two test sessions of tomorrow will be done in order to learn more about the soft tire and continue the search for the best general setting .

Yonny Hernandez - Energy T.I. Pramac Racing – did not start in the best way the first practice session . Unfortunately on fifth lap he crashed, slamming his hand and shoulder on the ground, thankfully he doesn’t have fractures. Despite the crash at the start of the session the standings have him in fifteenth position.

Andrea Iannone ( Pramac Racing)

"It 's been a very positive session for us. The bike worked very well, even though the track was more slippery than the test I immediately had a good feeling. I'm glad to be the first Ducati , and to give my contribution to improve the bike. The Ducati is now more competitive compared to other bikes, so now we can also have fun and we can think about doing something better. "

Yonny Hernandez (Energy T.I. Pramac Racing)

"I was very scared , it was a nasty crash. On the straight before the last corner while I was at full-gas the bike wheeled slightly and when the front tire landed again is slipped away without me noticing it. I do not know how it happened! I feel lucky because I didn’t fracture or brake anything but I have a lot of pain in my the left hand and the right shoulder. "

More, from a press release issued by LCR Honda:


Losail, 20 March: following two busy months of preseason testing the opening round of 2014 MotoGP World Championship gets underway today at floodlit Losail circuit with teams and riders involved in the first practice session of 45 minutes. LCR Honda Stefan Bradl took the track aboard his RC213V for a first shakedown completing 19 laps and qualifying 12th with a 1’56.726 best lap time.

Stefan: “Today our plan was to save tyres for the next few days to have more options for tomorrow and the qualifying. It was important for us to lap on a hard tyre from the beginning to the end and, for this reason, we knew that we could not finish in the top of the timesheet. The track conditions were the same of two weeks ago and the grip was very poor. Let’s say that today we got a first impression and tomorrow we will start to push harder and fine-tune the bike”.

More, from a press release issued by Monster Yamaha Tech 3:

Wait is over for Tech3 as floodlights beckon at Qatar

The long winter period of four months will finally come to an end as Monster Yamaha Tech3’s Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro arrive in the Middle East ahead of the highly anticipated, opening race of the 2014 MotoGP season under the floodlights.

The Commercial Bank of Qatar Grand Prix is held at the 5.4 kilometre long Losail International Circuit which lies just outside the capital city Doha, and features a main straight of over 1km in length. All racing sessions are held at night time whereby the circuit is lit up by over 3000 lights, a truly unique spectacle for the fans and riders alike.

Bradley Smith arrives feeling confident of being able to fight within the top 10 on Sunday as he enters his second, full time MotoGP campaign. The young British rider had a very productive pre-season, in which he completed many testing laps experimenting with numerous aspects of his bike. Smith is excited about the potential of his new Yamaha YZR-M1 and together with his Monster Yamaha Tech3 Team he looks forward to the opening session on Thursday.

Pol Espargaro is entering his rookie year in the MotoGP class, having superbly clinched the Moto2 World Championship last year. The young Spaniard had a very positive pre-season in which he adapted to his new Yamaha YZR-M1 quickly and comfortably, and proceeded to set impressive lap times at the Sepang and Qatar tests. Despite carrying a small injury, confidence remains high for Espargaro who is prepared and keen to embark on his MotoGP adventure with the Monster Yamaha Tech3 Team.

Bradley Smith #38:

“I am really pleased with how the winter testing went, and I can’t wait to get started! These first three races are going to be vital and I’m feeling far more confident and at ease on the bike than I was on my debut here at Qatar last year. I am feeling happy with what was achieved here with testing and this means that we are definitely hitting the ground running. The desert is always a bit unpredictable, but we are prepared. We have already done a lot of very good laps in the pre-season, and I am really excited for round one!"

Pol Espargaro #44:

“I’m really looking forward to the first race here on Sunday. My shoulder is better, and I don’t think it will affect or limit me too much, even if it’s still not fully healed. I am really looking forward to my first racing experience this weekend and I will give it my all during every session, although, of course, there is still a lot to learn. If we battle with the other satellite riders we will have done a good job. Pre-season was very good as we covered most of the things we needed to, and as a result I feel prepared and confident. We can do well here at Qatar this week.”

Herve Poncharal – Team Manager:

“I am excited for the opening race, after what was quite a long time off during winter and I am confident that Bradley and Pol are ready and will do well this season. Last year was a very good rookie year for Bradley, who has been working hard through the winter to digest everything he learnt during 2013. He is somebody who likes to understand everything before giving his all and he was very focused with testing this year. I believe he will surprise people. Pol’s ambition for the season is to learn, we know he is already fast, and even if the injury here during the last test might not be the ideal way to kick off the season, I’m convinced he will do a fantastic job. We are very happy to have him with us and for sure he will deliver some great racing. Yamaha has once again provided a fantastic package, which is very competitive and our two young riders who are eager to fight, so let’s get the season underway and go racing!

More, from a press release issued by Cardion AB Motoracing:

Abraham after opening day: we can be satisfied

Karel Abraham took the sixteenth fastest time in the first opening free practice of the MotoGP season in Qatar. The Czech rider got nearly close to his maximum in pre-season test and he loses to the fastest Aleix Espargaro just 2,578 seconds.

Karel Abraham

"It’s a first day of the season, but I think that we can be satisfied. We are just less than half of second slower than during last tests and it is quite promising. The positive fact is that we got in front of other “open” Honda riders and that we got sixteenth position as well. Anyway there is a lot of work waiting for us and we definitely have to speed up, because others will speed up too. The results shows that today hardly anybody has ridden fully, as nobody from factory teams is in front. Concerning my shoulder - I feel it a little, but it wasn´t painful during riding. Anyway it is too soon for any conclusions after not more than half an hour of riding."

Marco Grana

chief mechanic, Cardion AB Motoracing

"Today we did a quite good job. We almost reached our maximum of pre-season test and it is quite promising beginning of the weekend. The bike works well although we are struggling little bit on dirty track. Conditions got worst a little bit compared to the last pre-season test. We have to improve the grip of tyres. The front is quite well but we have to work on the rear. Anyway we are on the right way and we can be satisfied with today’s result. We have prepared some changes of setup to test it tomorrow. The target is to speed up at least of the half of the second."

More, from a press release issued by Ducati Corse:

First day of free practice for Ducati Team riders under the spotlights in Qatar

The first free practice session for the opening round of the 2014 MotoGP World Championship was held this evening at the Losail circuit in Qatar. As has now become tradition, the free practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself on Sunday all take place after dusk, on a track illuminated by floodlights.

In the first forty-five minutes of free practice action, which was briefly interrupted by the red flags following a crash by Pramac Racing Team’s Yonny Hernandez, Crutchlow and Dovizioso completed sixteen and seventeen laps respectively. At the end of the session, the two Ducati Team riders had recorded thirteenth and fourteenth quickest times, and were separated by just a few hundredths of a second.

Tomorrow will see another day of free practice action, with the second and third sessions starting at 6 pm.

Cal Crutchlow (Ducati Team #35) – 13th (1m57.046s)

“Today was more or less what I expected, and it was difficult because of the track conditions. Obviously a lot of the other guys had already tested here at Losail, and it looks like this made a bit of a difference. We figured some things with the Ducati that we need to improve, but I’m happy with the way the guys worked. We worked in a methodical way, and we are taking baby steps at the moment with the bike, so I look forward to coming back tomorrow with two more free practice sessions. It’s great to get back on track in Qatar, I like this circuit and I’m sure things will steadily improve over the weekend.”

Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team #04) – 14th (1m57.100s)

“It was a bit of a strange session today, you could see that coming to test at this circuit made a big difference for many riders, especially in this first free practice session. In fact, all those who did the test here at the start of March are ahead in the timesheets, and above all they managed to find the right rhythm to lap at a constant pace. The Losail circuit is a bit strange as well, it’s hard to get dialled in at the start and in fact we struggled a bit. To be honest, I had hoped to begin a bit better than what I did, but in any case we will have time tomorrow to work to improve the bike and especially to get into a good rhythm on this track for Sunday’s race.”

More, from a press release issued by Dorna:

Aleix Espargaro sets the pace as MotoGP™ action commences

Aleix Espargaro (NGM Forward Racing) set the pace in the opening FP1 session of the year for the premier class in Qatar, with Alvaro Baustista (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) and Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech3) second and third respectively

In the first Grand Prix practice session of the new ‘Open’ class era it was Espargaro in P1 with his Open entry Forward Yamaha with a 1’55.201 best lap, with Bautista 0.466s behind him.

Espargaro’s pace was over 0.3s slower than he went in testing here two weeks ago. The day was not without incident for him as he received a fine for speeding in the pit lane.

At the start of his second season in MotoGP Smith was third by a 0.6s margin, with Andrea Iannone (Pramac Racing) and rookie Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech3) also in top five as the riders who tested in Qatar occupying the top end of the timesheet. The younger Espargaro brother appears to be riding smoothly despite his collarbone injury sustained ten days ago at this track.

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) were the quickest Factory riders in sixth and seventh, whilst the top ten was completed by Colin Edwards (NGM Forward Racing), Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) and Nicky Hayden (Drive M7 Aspar).

World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was 11th as he tested his fitness after breaking his right leg in preseason, whilst Yonny Hernandez (Energy T.I. Pramac Racing) finished 15th and went for a scan after walking away from a turn 16 crash which caused a brief red flag due to track debris.

More, from a press release issued by NGM Mobile Forward Racing:

Espargaro leads the way as MotoGP begins in Qatar

The opening round of the 2014 MotoGP Championship began this evening at the Losail Circuit in Qatar. The first free practice saw the NGM Forward racing rider Aleix Espargaro on top of the time sheets already at the beginning of the session, while he was using the hard tyre, riding in 1.55”. The Spaniard was able to further improve his lap time, when he put the soft tyre, recording his best time of 1’55.201, securing the fastest time of the first free practice session of the 2014 season.

It was a very good start also for team mate Colin Edwards who finished in 8th position recording his best time of 1’56.626. Colin worked in preparation of the race, continuing the positive work done on this track during the last pre-season test.

Colin Edwards:

“We tried the soft tyre at the beginning of the session and then we switched to the hard tyre. All in all it was a good session and I did my best lap with the hard tyre. I’m adapting my riding style to the bike instead of trying to change the bike set up. I need to ride the bike on the rear and of course it’s not natural after 22 years but this is a new challenge that I take with great enthusiasm. I’m also very happy with Aleix’s result, he is doing great and I’m really excited for him."

Aleix Espargaro:

“It’s a great start and it’s a good feeling to be on top of the time sheets. We know that we had some advantage compared to the factory riders, because we were testing here two weeks ago and we started the practice session already with a good set up. Anyway I’m happy because I was fast with both soft and hard tyre. I’m sure that tomorrow everybody will improve, but we also have room for improvement so I’m really excited to this start of the season. The most important thing is to keep on working and being focused, it’s just the first free practice and my target is to fight for the podium on Sunday."

More, from a press release issued by Drive M7 Aspar Honda:


DRIVE M7 Aspar rider benefits from gear ratio change whilst team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama suffers electronic issues

The first exchanges of the 2014 MotoGP World Championship took place under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit tonight, where a single free practice session for the premier class saw several surprises and a fast pace that was close to the lap record (1.55.153 – Stoner 2008). Having missed the test here last week there was no sign of Márquez, Rossi, Pedrosa or Lorenzo at the sharp end of the timesheets in the opening session as Aleix Espargaró, Álvaro Bautista and Bradley Smith benefitted from their preseason work and occupied the top three positions.

DRIVE M7 Aspar Team's new rider for 2014 Nicky Hayden is well known for his work ethic and it was in evidence today as he racked up more laps than any other rider (twenty) within the 45 minutes available. The American clocked his best effort on lap eighteen, stopping the clock at 1'56.670 to secure a place in the top ten overnight and almost match his fastest time from the preseason test at this track. Hayden reported improved performance from his machine thanks largely to some small changes to his gearing and chassis set-up but there were reverse fortunes for his team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama, whose evening was ruined by a series of electronic problems.

10th Nicky Hayden 1.56.670 (20 laps): “At the start of the session I was struggling to get comfortable with the engine braking in corner entry but after a few laps and especially after the red flag we managed to slightly improve the situation. We have more or less got the same setting and feeling that we established by the end of the last test, with some changes to the gearbox setting that have helped us in the straights. That has helped us to close the gap to the guys at the top, the bike is working better in the higher gears and pulling harder down the straights. We also made a chassis set-up change that is helping me get the bike stopped. To be honest it feels better than expected, which is a nice way to start the first Grand Prix of the season. The test we had here was obviously very useful, we are making progress every day and the relationship with the team continues to get smoother and stronger.”

17th Hiroshi Aoyama 1.58.182 (13 laps): “It was good to get the first free practice session of the season under our belts. We started the session with a lot of motivation but unfortunately after just a few laps we had an electronic problems and had to change bikes. We had more problems though and had to come in three times for the electronics. It is a bit of a mystery because we didn't have anything like this in the test so now we need to work out what the source of this problem is. I am sure my crew will be able to fix it and we will have a good feeling tomorrow. Anyway, if you are going to have problems like this it is better that they happen on the first day!”

More, from a press release issued by Scott Redding's publicist:

Technical problem halts Scott’s progress in Qatar

Losail, Qatar: Scott Redding’s first ever MotoGP free practice left the 21-year-old Briton frustrated, after a problem with the electronics package on his Honda RCV1000R left him down in 19th position on the timesheet.

Scott spent most of the 45-minute session in the pits, after encountering a delay between closing the throttle and the bike actually responding. The problem also affected his second bike, although not to the same degree.

The Team Go&Fun Gresini Honda mechanics are currently checking over both bikes to identify the cause of the problem, and to find a solution ahead of tomorrow evening’s two free practice sessions.

Scott Redding // 19th // 1’58.495

“Unfortunately we had a problem with the electronics which slowed us for almost all of tonight’s free practice session. Fortunately we’ve tested here, so we have some idea of where we are setup wise, but we can’t afford to lose any more time tomorrow. The problem was partly fixed on the second bike at the end of the session, but I only had time for a few laps. It’s good to get the weekend started, but a trouble free session would have been much better. I’m sure tomorrow the team will have everything sorted and we can start again.