Marc Marquez begins title defence as new season kicks off
The floodlit Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar will signal the start of the 2014 MotoGP™ season this weekend, as 21-year-old Marc Marquez looks to begin the defence of the World Championship title he historically won on the first time of asking last year
This weekend’s race will be the 11th at the desert-based Losail International Circuit, which has been on the calendar since 2004. The track first welcomed the season-opener in 2007 and has hosted an evening race since 2008.
The first Qatar winner was Sete Gibernau, although in more recent times one looks to Jorge Lorenzo who has claimed the last two events. Riding for Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, Lorenzo faired better in the Phillip Island test than at the preceding pre-season gathering at Sepang and will now be threatening for a hat-trick of Losail victories. However, team-mate Valentino Rossi will also be looking to challenge, having battled hard with Marc Marquez last year.
Marquez heads into the 2014 campaign somewhat on the back foot, having suffered a broken leg in a training accident exactly six weeks before the day of opening free practice. The Repsol Honda Team rider may well be thinking of the long game, whereas team-mate Dani Pedrosa will certainly be hoping for a first race win in Qatar.
Ducati Team generated plenty of headlines over the winter break with its much-publicised switch to Open bikes. From 2014, all bikes in the field are obliged to run the spec ECU hardware as supplied by Dorna Sports and Magneti Marelli. Furthermore, teams must select either ‘Factory Option’ or ‘Open’ as their bike specification. Factory Option machines drop from 21 litres of fuel in 2013 to 20 this year, whereas those running Open bikes are obliged to use the spec ECU software as well as the hardware. In-turn, Open runners will enjoy privileges such as a maximum of 24 litres of fuel across a race distance, 12 engines per season (as opposed to five for Factories) and no subjecting to the new engine freeze regulations – allowing work on the machines during the season. Open runners can also enjoy unlimited testing.
As Ducati Team recruits Cal Crutchlow alongside Andrea Dovizioso, Monster Yamaha Tech3 places Moto2™ World Champion Pol Espargaro next to Bradley Smith. Spaniard Pol is one of four rookies in the 2014 premier class, but unfortunately sustained a broken collarbone during the final minutes of the last pre-season test.
The other three debutants come in the form of Frenchman Mike di Meglio (Avintia Racing), Moto2™ runner-up Scott Redding of England (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) and Australian Broc Parkes (Paul Bird Motorsport, team-mate to Michael Laverty).
However, it was Aleix Espargaro – elder brother of Pol - who was the revelation of the off-season thanks to his lap times with NGM Forward Racing. Making best use of a Yamaha lease deal, Aleix has been tipped by paddock insiders for some major surprises, as he and Pol look to become the first siblings to share a premier class podium since Nobuatsu and Takuma Aoki at Imola in 1997.
International flavour to 2014 Moto2 battle
The intermediate class of the MotoGP™ World Championship promises to produce some superb racing once again this year and picking a Qatar race winner from the talented list of Moto2™ participants is a challenge in itself.
Reigning Moto2™ World Champion Pol Espargaro, one of the trio of title winning Spaniards last year, has moved up to MotoGP™ accompanied by rival Scott Redding, whilst Esteve Rabat remains in Moto2™ albeit with a new team having switched to the well-run Marc VDS Racing outfit over the winter.
Espargaro’s former teammate and compatriot Rabat has looked competitive in preseason testing with his new squad and with his teammate Mika Kallio, who has 39 podiums to his name in the smaller classes, the pair expect to fight at the front in Qatar.
Interwetten Paddock Moto2 rider Thomas Luthi could be a title contender having also shown his strength during winter testing, whilst IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia’s new recruit Takaaki Nakagami still aims for his first win following a run of second place finishes in the middle of last season.
The current Moto3™ World Champion Maverick Viñales and his colleague Luis Salom are debutants and may need time to adapt to the class, with plenty to learn as they get set to battle with their new team Tuenti HP 40.
Briton Sam Lowes comes into the Grand Prix scene as reigning Supersport World Champion and joins the Speed Up Moto2™ squad. Could he feature on the podium on his debut?
The exciting new Caterham Moto2 entry is spearheaded by Frenchman Johann Zarco and the sole American in the intermediate class - Josh Herrin – and fans will be eager to see how competitive the new team is at round one.
In the Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2 team two more Spanish race winners are striving for further triumphs this campaign. Nico Terol signed off 2013 with his third victory of the year at Valencia, whilst his improving teammate Jordi Torres won at Sachsenring and will want more podium results in his second full season.
Intriguing competition in exciting Moto3™ class
With two of the three Spanish riders who dominated the Moto3™ class last year – eventual title winner Maverick Viñales and regular race winner Luis Salom – both having graduated to Moto2™ in 2014, there are several new candidates who will be shooting for the podium at round one in the lightweight category.
Indeed the new season promises to produce an intriguing championship battle right from the word go. Having missed out on the title to Viñales on the last corner of the last race in an incredible season of racing in 2013, Alex Rins opted to remain in Moto3™ for another season.
He scored six race wins and 14 podiums in total last year so his objectives are to maintain that form and to stay in front of his rapidly improving Estrella Galicia 0,0 teammate Alex Marquez, the younger sibling of MotoGP™ sensation Marc Marquez. After an operation on his right wrist Rins missed some of the preseason and he and Marquez are on Honda Moto3™ machines this year, so their pace in Qatar will be interesting to see.
One of Red Bull KTM Ajo’s new recruits for 2014, Jack Miller, has been on the pace in testing – and he will be looking for a strong start at the Losail International Circuit as he looks to avoid the inconsistency and injuries which have hampered him in the past.
Miller shares a box with talented young Czech prospect Karel Hanika who has also shown his pace in test outings and he joins the World Championship as the reigning Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup champion with new circuits to learn. Could he stun the paddock with victory in his first Grand Prix?
Hanika’s fellow countryman Jakub Kornfeil starts his fifth full GP season at perhaps his most competitive level to date, riding in the Calvo Team KTM with Brazilian Eric Granado and Spaniard Isaac Viñales – the three of them aspiring to reach the podium in the desert.
Another interesting project for 2014 is the arrival of Husqvarna on the World Championship scene, with the KTM backed brand coming into Grand Prix racing to be ridden by Englishman Danny Kent and Finn Niklas Ajo. Kent is aiming to win races again after returning from Moto2.
Could this be the year the Italians mount a resurgence in the smaller class? Junior Team GO&FUN Moto3 and Niccolo Antonelli certainly hope so and there is also huge interest in Italy in the new SKY Racing Team By VR46 team, featuring Romano Fenati and Francesco Bagnaia. Fenati was of course on the Qatar podium in 2012 as he made his GP debut.
Also keep an eye out for Portuguese rider Miguel Oliveira on the Mahindra and his new Australian colleague Arthur Sissis as they look for a decent points haul at the first race of the year.
More, from a press release issued by DRive M7 Aspar Team:
THE COUNTDOWN IS OVER: MOTOGP 2014 IS HERE
DRIVE M7 Aspar riders Nicky Hayden and Hiroshi Aoyama ready to start new challenge with new team
It has been four long months since the end of the 2013 season for MotoGP fans the world over but finally the countdown to 2014 is over and the curtain will be raised on the new campaign under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit in Qatar this weekend. This year's battle for MotoGP honours starts with a few question marks, such as the physical shape of the reigning World Champion Marc Márquez following his recent injury and the unprecedented mixture of categories (Factory, Factory 2 and Open…) within the same championship. The answers will start to take shape on Sunday night.
There are no doubts within the DRIVE M7 Aspar garage that Nicky Hayden and Hiroshi Aoyama are ready to get back to work and continue the process of adaptation and development that they have worked so hard on during the winter. It has not been an easy preseason for the pair as they have had to get used to a new team and completely new machinery but they have both worked against the clock to arrive at the first race of the season in the best possible shape. As former World Champions themselves they know only too well the level of competition they are up against but both are determined and highly motivated to find their best form at the opening round.
Nicky Hayden: “Even though the last test went well and we made some important progress I honestly hoped we would be better prepared for the season and closer to the front by now. Anyway, in terms of the level of communication and the relationships in the team we are getting stronger and stronger. This will be my first race back on a Honda and my feeling with the chassis definitely helps, it's fun to ride. We are ready to start a new adventure and I am excited, looking forward to getting started. We know it won't be easy because there is a lot of strong competition but the simple fact that I am back in MotoGP for another season is a source of satisfaction and also motivation to do a good job. As a team we are hoping to get more and more competitive as the season progresses. Losail is not one of my favourite tracks but I like the feeling of racing under the lights.”
Hiroshi Aoyama: “Everything is new to me this year in terms of the bike and the team so we are still in a transitional stage but we were in Qatar just two weeks ago for a three day test and we gathered a lot of information that will be important this weekend. The aim is to put everything we learned in the test into practice. The first race of the season always has a special and unusual feel to it. I am looking forward to getting there and giving it my best. The level in this championship is very high and there are a lot of strong riders in the Open category this season. Our motivation couldn't be higher and we are looking to make the strongest possible start to the season. I am looking forward to a new adventure with a new team and back with Honda.”
More, from a press release issued by MArc VDS Racing Team:
Podium the target for Rabat and Kallio in Qatar
Gosselies, Belgium – 17 March 2014: Tito Rabat and Mika Kallio head to the Middle East determined to get their 2014 Moto2 World Championship campaign off to a flying start in Qatar, after topping the timesheet at all three preseason tests in which they participated.
In Valencia and Phillip Island it was Rabat who dominated, posting the fastest time at Circuit Ricardo Tormo and then going on to smash the lap record in Australia during the Dunlop tyre test.
In Jerez, Kallio waited until the final session of the three-day test before replacing his teammate at the top of the timesheet. The 31-year-old Finn’s time of 1’42.169 was not bettered during the final Jerez test, which the two Marc VDS Moto2 riders didn’t attend.
It bodes well for the opening race of the 2014 season, which takes place under floodlights this weekend at the Losail International Circuit on the outskirts of Doha, the capital city of Qatar.
Livio Loi heads to Qatar with a point to prove, after struggling to match his previous lap times at the final preseason test in Jerez. The 16-year-old Belgian, however, remains confident of opening his 2014 campaign with a good result in the first race of the season.
“Preseason testing has gone well. We’ve found a good setting with the bike and the lap times have been fast, but now we must carry that momentum into the first race. I’m going to Qatar to fight for the win, but I suspect the other 34 Moto2 riders are heading out there with exactly the same idea! Everyone arrives at the first race of the season with a lot of energy and high expectations, so it’s definitely a bit special. I like the Qatar track, but we will need to fight from the first practice to stay in front. We need to work hard, make our best and push every day.”
“The results from the end of last year when combined with our preseason testing performance means we go into 2014 with some confidence. The first three races are the most important; if we can return to Europe at the end of April with three good results behind us then that only adds confidence and motivation. I really believe that this season I can fight for race wins and also the title. While Qatar doesn’t rate as one of my favourite tracks, I’ve had some good results there in the past and I find racing under floodlights quite interesting, as it’s a bit different to the other races on the calendar.”
“In the last session on the last day at the Jerez test, when the wind had dropped a little, I started to get the feeling back with the bike, so I’m happy enough going into the first race of the season in Qatar. I didn’t race there last year, because I was too young, so the track will be new for me, as will racing at night under floodlights. But, I’ve been practicing on the PlayStation and I will be giving it 200% this weekend, to ensure I get my first full season in Moto3 off to a good start.”
Michael Bartholemy: Team Principal
“We couldn’t have asked anything more of Tito, Mika and their respective crews during preseason testing this year. Between them they have dominated testing, topping the timesheet at every test in which they participated. It means we go into the new season confident that both riders can fight for race wins and, ultimately, the championship title. Despite a disappointing final preseason test in Jerez, and not having raced in Qatar previously, Livio remains confident of a good result this weekend. He certainly has a point to prove; the team has done everything possible to prepare him for his second season in Moto3, but now it’s down to him. He’s been given an opportunity many can only dream of, but now he needs to repay the faith shown in him with results.”
More, from a press release issued by AGT REA Racing:
AGT REA Racing set for Qatar after positive Jerez Moto2 test
AGT REA Racing rider Gino Rea has concluded the pre-season testing at Jerez with a positive final day on track. After breaking his left foot at the Valencia Moto2 test 4 weeks ago, Rea was forced to sit out the first Jerez test but returned to the track for the final Moto2 test last week. After riding through pain on the first day in Jerez, Gino had his foot x-rayed to find that the metatarsal bone in his left foot was still broken, causing him aggravating pain on a circuit that has many left corners. Walking on a crutch and riding with gritted teeth, Gino and the AGT REA Racing team continued their hard work to develop the Suter bike, adapting it to Gino’s riding style and the Jerez circuit. Making significant progress on the final day, Gino finished the final session just 1.2 seconds behind the fastest rider. Having missed 3 days testing at Jerez and riding with a broken foot, Gino and the team were very happy with the progress made and now look forward to riding in the night at Round 1 of the Moto2 World Championship in Qatar.
Gino comments: “Jerez was a positive test for us. It was like our first proper test because we were very limited at Valencia once I broke my foot and we missed out 3 days in Jerez. Everything is still new for us, including the whole team and the bike but it’s been really positive, everyone is getting to know each other and myself and crew chief Alessandro made good progress with the bike. I can’t say I’m too happy with my foot being broken still, I was having to compensate for it in a lot of areas so now it’s rest time until Qatar. It won’t be fully recovered in time but I’m hoping it will be a bit easier on it than Jerez, with less left corners at Qatar. I’m really looking forward to getting there and getting out on track, it’s been a long winter so I can’t wait to go and represent American Green Technology and the LIVESTRONG Foundation.”
Dave Peterson, president and CEO of WMRR says: "Given all of the obstacles; new team, short prep time, missed tests and Gino's broken foot I'm happy with our results and the way the new team worked together. I'm sure we will move up the field as the season progresses."
The first round of MotoGP will take place this weekend at Qatar, with free practice starting on Thursday night.
More, from a press release issued by Caterham Moto2 Racing Team:
Qatar GP Race Preview
Doha, Qatar – 23rd March 2014
Circuit: Losail International Circuit
Circuit Length: 5.380 m
Fastest Lap: 2011 Stefan BRADL (GER) Chassis: Kalex, Time: 2:00.168, Speed: 161.1 km/h
Circuit Record: 2012 Marc MARQUEZ (SPA) Chassis: Suter, Time: 2:00.645, Speed: 160.5 km/h
Best Pole: 2011 Stefan BRADL (GER) Chassis: Kalex, Time: 2:00.168, Speed: 161.1 km/h
Top Speed: 2012 Randy KRUMMENACHER (SWI) Chassis: Kalex, Speed: 285.0 km/h
The Losail Circuit is located just outside the city of Doha in Qatar and is the only GP on the calendar to host a night race. Surrounded by desert this spectacular track offers a unique experience for both teams and spectators as riders battle though the dusty conditions and compete under flood lighting.
AirAsia Caterham Moto Racing Team head to Qatar for their first race of the year where riders Johann Zarco and Moto2 rookie Josh Herrin will be looking to capitalise on the progress they made throughout pre-season testing.
Johann Zarco: “I have ridden at Qatar since 2009, so this will be my fifth year racing under the flood lights.
“For me the lights don’t disturb my riding. At the beginning seeing the shadows was strange but only for the first few laps. Now it doesn’t have any effect.
“It’s good to ride at night as it isn’t as hot and in Qatar we always have good weather. The track is very smooth and fast which I like but I have never been very fast on it, so I hope I will find the solution this year and make a strong start.”
Josh Herrin: “I am very positive after our first few tests and cannot wait to go racing on my Moto2 bike.
“Initially it took a few days to get used to the Caterham Suter and I still feel like I am learning every time I ride it, but going into round one at Qatar I feel I have done everything possible to prepare for the race, which makes me feel confident.
“Although it is hard to set a goal as I have never raced at Losail before, I will still be aiming for the best possible result.”
Johan Stigefelt – Team Manager: “Qatar is a relatively easy track to learn with not a lot of heavy braking, apart from at the hairpin. The rest of the circuit really flows and you need to carry a lot of corner speed to maximise lap time. It’s not harder than any other track, you just need to have a good line and be able to push that extra bit.
“For Josh he is going to need the first day to learn but the second day he should be able to go for it.
“In terms of how the Caterham Suter is going to manage there, we don’t know, but we have a couple of things that we tried in Jerez which we think are the right steps also for Qatar.
“I feel now that we are prepared and ready to go racing. It’s going to be very interesting and fun to begin our first year with both Johann and Josh and the team. We have done a lot of testing and have a good deal of mileage behind us, providing us with plenty of data to go back to if we need it. Right now everyone is prepared and eager to start the season.
“I hope for the best, it is very important to get good results from the start and set the standard for the rest of the year. We are going to have to put some pressure on ourselves and do well and that is the target for Qatar.”