MotoGP After four months, two tests and time enough for a mountain of expectation to rise from preseason, the foreword is finally written and the... Qatar Grand Prix, Preview: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3

MotoGP

After four months, two tests and time enough for a mountain of expectation to rise from preseason, the foreword is finally written and the first race of the year is about to begin. Losail International Circuit changes from test venue to shimmering, spectacular MotoGP™ oasis in the desert outside Doha, ready for the floodlights to light up its every curve and give us a first glimpse of what the season may have in store. Every epos begins with a single verse and a new odyssey is poised to get underway.

So where do we begin? Two of the biggest questions as we head for Qatar line up alongside each other at Repsol Honda. Reigning Champion Marc Marquez comes back from surgery to his shoulder and questions abound as to the race readiness of the now seven-time World Champion, although Losail is far from an ideal venue from which to make a judgement: he’s only won once at the track in the premier class, and that was in his all-conquering 2014 season. Can he go the distance? And what of the man who enters the stage with the best record at Losail; the man now on the other side of the garage? That’s Jorge Lorenzo, who has six wins in Qatar – three of which came in MotoGP™ – and they speak highly of the ‘Spartan’’s skill at the venue. But how will he come out the blocks this year as he continues his recovery from a broken scaphoid and adaptation to a whole new machine?

Meanwhile, at the Mission Winnow Ducati garage, it’s less adaptation and more fine-tuning for last year’s Qatar GP winner Andrea Dovizioso. Confident in testing but not to a fault, the Italian begins the season with the natural advantage of being fully fit. Add that to his 2018 success at the venue and solid reports from testing, there’s likely a good few bets been placed on ‘DesmoDovi’. For new teammate Danilo Petrucci, meanwhile, the odds are a little longer – but the new addition to the factory Ducati team has shone in testing and he can’t be counted out. There are few motivations bigger than the chance at a first victory.

A first victory to kick off the season would be just what the ‘Doctor’ ordered for Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP after a more difficult season last year. In testing, however, it was Yamaha who locked out four of the top six on the final day in Qatar and 2017 winner Maverick Viñales who went top, so it looks promising. Can he replicate that on race day? Or will the experience and four previous MotoGP™ victories at the venue tip the scales in favour of teammate Valentino Rossi?

There could be another, newer name in the hunt for victory, too. Viñales may have gone quickest but Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins spent the Qatar Test either right behind the Yamaha man or just ahead of him – sometimes literally. Confidence in their 2019 machine has shone out of Suzuki, and Rins is a man in form. A dark horse for the win? Or can that not be said of someone who threw down an impressive gauntlet on the timesheets already?

His rookie teammate, Joan Mir, also made a buzz in testing. But the rookie who took the limelight most at the Qatar Test was most definitely Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT). First debutant and top Independent Team rider, the Frenchman finished the test in a stunning second place – and it wasn’t a fluke. Plenty of eyes will be on him, and the man who managed a similar feat in Sepang, Francesco Bagnaia (Alma Pramac Racing). The two could prove a headache for the Independent Team riders gunning for glory already, and the likes of Bagnaia’s teammate Jack Miller, Quartararo’s teammate Franco Morbidelli, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) will be aiming to stamp some authority on the new kids on the block.

Another big point of interest in Qatar will also be aiming to get well within that battle. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Pol Espargaro finished the test inside the top ten and impressed once again, and he’ll want more than a couple of points to prove a point for the Austrian factory as they enter their third year in MotoGP™. And Johann Zarco, recent arrival to the other side of the garage, will have his sights set on his teammate and closing the gap – as well as gaining a little more fresh air between himself and impressive rookie Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3).

It’s a long time since the 2018 Valencia GP and the hour is finally upon us to go racing again. New faces, new colours and a mountain of expectation…get ready for another epic season of MotoGP™ and tune in for the VisitQatar Grand Prix from the 8th to 10th March as we see the first verse unfold.

Moto2

They say knowledge is power but as Moto2™ gear up for 2019, there are many unknowns that await them. They aren’t racing in the dark though, so to speak, and from development to testing the stage is now set as the intermediate class prepare to go racing powered by British marque Triumph.

What we, and they, already know is that the timesheets in testing have been tantalisingly close and the field are more than ready for the new challenge. And despite the biggest change to the class since inception, there are some things that seem to have remained the same: the pace of the likes of Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), as well as fellow bastions of experience Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) and Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP). And what of Schrötter’s teammate Tom Lüthi? He, like Lowes the year before, returns from MotoGP™ with a point to prove – and a long rap sheet of intermediate class success.

Alongside the experienced runners this season, however, there are also host of superstar rookies. Reigning Moto3™ Champion Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Fabio Di Giannantonio (+Ego Speed Up), Marco Bezzecchi (Red Bull KTM Tech3), teammate Philipp Öttl, Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) and Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) move up from the lightweight class, and they’re joined by Brit Jake Dixon (Angel Nieto Team) and Idemitsu Honda Team Asia duo Dimas Ekky Pratama and former Asia Talent Cup rider Somkiat Chantra as nearly a third of the field race for the title of Rookie of the Year. There’s also the debut of the new MV Agusta in the hands of Dominique Aegerter (MV Agusta Idealavoro Forward Racing) and Stenfano Manzi, bringing the chassis count to up to five alongside Kalex, KTM, NTS and Speed Up.

In testing it’s never been closer – now all that remains to be seen is the contest on race day. In Qatar at least it was Lowes who held firm at the top, and the British rider seems more than #OnIt as we head back to Losail to race. But timesheets rarely tell the tale of a race weekend entirely, so who’s going to strike first?

Tune in to see a little history made and a new era begin on Sunday 10th March as Moto2™ go racing at 17:20 (GMT+3) in Qatar. Last year says Baldassarri could hold an advantage at Losail, but this season remains unwritten as yet.

Moto3

The time has come and it will, by virtue of schedule, be the Moto3™ class heading out to race first in the VisitQatar Grand Prix. And what better way to begin than the ever impressive and incredibly close kings of slipstreaming? Just like any other race weekend, the points on offer are the same 25 but the stakes seem that much higher when it’s the season opener…so who will take those first spoils?

In the veteran camp there are a good few names that immediately stick out. Romano Fenati (Snipers Team) returns and he’s a former podium finisher at Losail, as are Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team), John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing). Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) won the 2016 edition, and the likes of Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing), Andrea Migno (Angel Nieto Team) and Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) have all had solid top ten showings there. What of the riders like Tony Arbolino (Snipers Team), gaining some serious traction in testing? Will he be able to turn his Qatar GP form around? And then there’s veteran Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3), who broke his collarbone in testing and remains a question mark…

Then there are the rookies. Losail has made many an impression for a good few new names on Entry Lists throughout the years, and 2019 could be no different. After taking victory in Valencia last season as a wildcard to become the youngest ever Grand Prix winner, Turkish newcomer Can Öncü needs no introduction, and neither does Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) after appearing with a bang on the podium in Australia last year. In addition, Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Öncü knows the track from his time in the Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup, as does Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) – could that be an advantage over the likes of Raul Fernandez (Angel Nieto Team), Ricardo Rossi (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3), Tom Booth-Amos (CIP – Green Power) and Filip Salac (Redox PrüstelGP)? In this race at least, they also have to contend with Ryusei Yamanaka at Estrella Galicia 0,0 as the Japanese rider moves up from their junior team to sit in for Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard isn’t injured, however, he’s just too young and has to wait until after his 16th birthday and therefore the Argentina GP to head out on track to race. Only the reigning Red Bull Rookies MotoGP Cup or FIM CEV Repsol Moto3™Junior World Champion can compete at 15. For Yamanaka then, the stakes are high. But aren’t they for everyone?

The time has come to find out and the lights go out for the first Moto3™ race of the season on Sunday 10th March at 16:00 (GMT +3).