MotoGP Season Opener
The 154-day long wait for the start of the new FIM MotoGP World Championship will come to an end on Sunday, when the floodlit Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar at the Losail International Circuit gets underway.
Not only will Valentino Rossi's attempt to secure a record-equalling eighth premier class title begin, but a new chapter in the history of the sport will also commence with the first ever Moto2 race - the new intermediate category which replaces the 250cc version.
Little over three weeks have passed since the 17 MotoGP riders finished their pre-season preparations at the track, and it was Casey Stoner who signed off the third and final pre-season test as the fastest rider of the field. In doing so the Ducati Marlboro man broke reigning World Champion Rossi's pre-season dominance, and will be aiming for a magnificent fourth straight season-opening race win at the track.
Fiat Yamaha rider Rossi is still seeking as first win under the floodlights (he has won daytime races at Losail in 2005 and 2006) and finished second last year, and the factory YZR-M1 has received a glowing assessment from the Italian in the lead-up to the first race, as it has done from team-mate Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard - last year's Championship runner-up - will arrive at the first round still carrying the after effects of an injury that saw him at less than 100% at the test three weeks ago. Nevertheless he still managed to maintain a competitive check on the timesheet, and Lorenzo's physical condition will no doubt be further improved.
Dani Pedrosa, last year's third-placed Championship rider, has struggled in pre-season with his factory RC212V of the Repsol Honda team, but will be in much better physical shape for the opening race than last year, when he finished 11th after an injury affected pre-season. His team-mate Andrea Dovizioso was in good form at the Qatar official test with the third best time, and other factory riders Nicky Hayden (Ducati Marlboro) and Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki) will also be in the hunt for strong starts to their respective campaigns.
Monster Yamaha Tech3 duo Colin Edwards - who finished fourth in Qatar in 2009 - and Ben Spies have both enjoyed good pre-seasons, with the latter the best performing rookie. A host of other newcomers are making their premier class bows, such as 250cc World Champion Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda MotoGP), Álvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki), Héctor Barberá (Paginas Amarillas Aspar), and Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini). Randy de Puniet of the LCR Honda team, Marco Melandri (San Carlo Honda Gresini), and Pramac Racing pair Mika Kallio and Aleix Espargaró complete the 17-strong list.
Moto2 World Championship Inaugural Race in Qatar
The event will also bring to an end a long wait to see the debut race of the Moto2 class. With an official 600cc 4-stroke engine supplied by Honda and tyres from Dunlop, the level of competition will be high amongst the 40 riders involved. Individual skill and talent will shine through, making Moto2 a truly challenging contest for its participants and a fantastic spectacle for observers.
Toni Elías (Gresini Racing) has placed his name on the list of early favourites with his competitive times in pre-season testing, but he is fighting to be fully fit after suffering a fracture in his left hand and right ankle in a fall at the final test at Jerez last week. Other riders with MotoGP experience lining up on the Moto2 grid include Yuki Takahashi (Tech3 Racing), Alex de Angelis, Niccolò Canepa (both RSM Team Scot), Anthony West (MZ Racing), Gabor Talmacsi (Fimmco Speed Up) and Roberto Rolfo (Italtrans STR).
Claudio Corti (Forward Racing) may be making his World Championship debut but the Italian has already made his name known in testing, as have fellow debutants Kenny Noyes of the Jack&Jones by Antonio Banderas team and Yonny Hernández of Blusens STX. And of course there is 125cc World Champion Julián Simón (Mapfre Aspar) whose form has been quick as well.
125cc World GP Championship Begins in Qatar
The battle to succeed Simón will also begin in the eighth-litre category, where a number of riders will be fighting for the crown.
Marc Márquez (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) was in fine form on his new Derbi machine throughout the official tests during the winter, finishing each of the three at the top of the timesheet, whilst British rider and 2009 World Championship runner-up Bradley Smith of the Bancaja Aspar team enters his fifth season in the 125cc class. Three other riders have also served notice of their statuses as strong candidates in Spaniards Pol Espargaró, Efrén Vázquez (both Tuenti Racing) and Nico Terol (Bancaja Aspar).
Sandro Cortese (Avant Mitsubishi Ajo), Randy Krummenacher (Stipa-Molenaar Racing), Tomoyoshi Koyama (Racing Team Germany) and Esteve Rabat (Blusens STX) all have experience in the category, and rookies such as Malaysian rider Muhammad Zulfahmi (AirAsia - Sepang International Circuit) and 2009 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup winner Jakub Kornfeil (Racing Team Germany), will also start their campaigns.
The 2010 FIM Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar takes place from April 9-11, with the opening practice session of the 125cc class starting the weekend at 8pm local time on Friday. The 125cc race takes place at 8pm local time on Sunday, with Moto2 at 9.15pm and MotoGP at 11pm.