Now established as the curtain-raiser for the MotoGP season, Qatar’s Losail International Circuit again heralds a return to action on March 20 for motorcycle racing’s top category and for Bridgestone, which returns as the Official Tire Supplier to the premier class for the third year.
Following the Tohoku earthquake last week, Bridgestone has pledged support to the relief and recovery of its home nation and to those affected by the events of last Friday. At the moment Bridgestone is doing its best in this difficult situation to ensure that MotoGP tire supply will be uninterrupted.
The Qatar Grand Prix, MotoGP season’s only night race, presents unique and unusual challenges for Bridgestone’s tyres. Night-time temperatures are relatively cool at below 25 degrees Celsius, meaning that softer tire compounds are required to generate good grip and feeling for the MotoGP riders, however tire wear is relatively high because of the nature of the tarmac.
Being located in the desert outside Qatar’s capital Doha, sand blown onto the circuit makes it very abrasive, demanding harder tire compounds in order to provide sufficient durability.
Bridgestone’s approach to these challenges remains unchanged from last year when tire performance and MotoGP rider feedback was good. This means the medium and extra hard compound slick tyres have been selected alongside the medium and hard rear slicks to provide a balance of cool-weather performance and good wear resistance.
The MotoGP circuit conditions also change throughout the course of each evening as the temperature starts to drop and the track becomes more slippery. The temperature differential can be sufficient to create high humidity and damp patches on track, and this is one of the main reasons that the race this year will start one hour earlier than in 2010 MotoGP, at 2200hrs local time.
This year the MotoGP schedule has returned to three 45minute free practice sessions and one hour of qualifying, and at Losail the first practice session gets underway on Thursday March 17 at 1955hrs local time.
Mikio Masunaga (Vice President and Official Member of the Board, Bridgestone Corporation) says: "We send our deepest condolences to the people suffering from last week’s terrible Pacific Coast of Tohoku Earthquake Disaster. We sincerely hope that quality of life and a sense of normality can be restored for all those affected by this tragedy and Bridgestone group promise to help with the all-out relief and recovery effort.
"At this moment in the current situation we are working hard to ensure our MotoGP tire supply is unaffected and I am confident that we will achieve this. Many Japanese manufacturers and personnel are involved in MotoGP and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this time. We will continue to provide our best support to all MotoGP teams and riders throughout 2011."
Hiroshi Yamada (Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport Department) says: "This is perhaps the most publicised start to a season in recent times because of all the rider and team changes and I think we are in for a very exciting opening race and whole year. Last year our tire allocation process worked fairly and was well supported by everyone so we will keep it the same this year, and pre-season testing has gone well so I am confident of another strong season as the Official Tire Supplier to MotoGP in which we hope to continue playing our part in making the racing exciting and giving the riders safe and predictable tyres."
Hirohide Hamashima (Director, Bridgestone Motorsport Tire Development) says: "The Qatar GP is a totally different challenge for us because it is the only race of the year to be run at night and in the desert. By the time the bikes are on track under the spotlights, the track temperature is around the lowest of the year in dry conditions but the desert sand often blows across the circuit.
"The sand is not like you’d find on a beach but more closely resembles a powder which makes the surface slippery yet very abrasive which is a difficult situation to deal with. It is very tough for our tires as they have to be soft enough to provide grip with the low track temperature but hard enough to resist wear and graining and have sufficient strength to cope with the heavy braking points.
"This is the reason that we have selected the medium and extra hard compound front slick tyres for Losail instead of the usual consecutive pair of compounds. The medium compound gives good grip in the cool conditions when the track is clean, but when the track gets sandy the additional hardness of the extra hard compound provides the necessary durability and wear resistance to consistently cover race distance without graining."
Bridgestone slick compounds available: Front: Medium, Extra Hard. Rear: Medium, Hard