Five months on from the final race of the 2008 MotoGP World Championship, the 2009 edition of the series starts up on April 12th with the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar. The first of seventeen races to decide who will be crowned the king of the premier class takes place at the Losail International Circuit in the Arab emirate, opening up the action for the third consecutive year.
The only night race on the MotoGP calendar, the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar is a showpiece event for both the state and the World Championship. The inaugural event under the floodlights took place last year, and was won by Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner.
Reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi has won races at every track used in 2009, but is still pending victory after sunset. The Fiat Yamaha rider was victorious by day in the desert in 2005 and 2006, engaging in his first head-to-head battle with future title rival Stoner at the latter event. Last season he finished fifth in Qatar, off the podium for the first of only two occasions.
The Losail International Circuit is a favoured track for former champion Stoner, the scene of his first pole position and MotoGP victory. The Australian begins the season fresh from a triumph in the BMW M Award competition in testing at Jerez, a ‘qualifying’ competition in which he rolled over the opposition with an outstanding lap. Attention will be focused on Stoner’s endurance, called into question by his not having undertaken any long runouts since undergoing scaphoid surgery in November.
Guaranteed to be at less than 100% is 2008’s third place finisher Dani Pedrosa, who missed the final test of preseason through injury and is a doubt for the Qatari round. A crash at the scene of this weekend’s race left Repsol Honda’s Spanish star requiring surgery on his arm and leg, with his estimated return to fitness extremely close to opening night.
Jorge Lorenzo returns to the scene of his amazing MotoGP debut -where he took pole and finished second- after an injury-free preseason. He will be racing with Bridgestone rubber on his Fiat Yamaha M1 for the first time in what will be the maiden race for the series under a single tyre rule.
Four more factory riders will be in action in Qatar, as Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden lines up alongside Repsol Honda replacement Andrea Dovizioso and Rizla Suzuki’s unchanged lineup of Loris Capirossi & Chris Vermeulen.
2004 Qatar racewinner Sete Gibernau will be participating in his first MotoGP race since the 2006 Portuguese Grand Prix, whilst premier class bows will be made by Pramac Racing’s Niccolo Canepa & Mika Kallio plus Scot Racing’s Yuki Takahashi. The 800cc field is completed by Monster Yamaha Tech3 riders Colin Edwards & James Toseland, San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Alex de Angelis and Toni Eliás and Hayate Racing man Marco Melandri.
Practice for the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar begins on Friday night, with the first 45-minute practice session for the MotoGP riders taking place at 10.30pm local time.
The Losail International Circuit lies on the outskirts of Doha, the capital city of Qatar. Built in little over a year, the track cost $58 million USD and required round-the-clock dedication from almost 1,000 workers in order to get it ready for the inaugural event on October 2nd 2004. The clockwise-running track itself has a flowing layout of 5.4 kilometres, surrounded by artificial grass designed to prevent sand from the neighbouring desert from blowing onto the circuit. The main straight is over a kilometre in length and there is a good mix of medium and high-speed corners.