The first Grand Prix of the 2011 MotoGP season got underway today under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.
In a change to the usual timings, brought about by the night-time schedule, riders took to the circuit for 45minutes tonight for the first official free practice session of the Qatar MotoGP weekend.
Amid blustery conditions, Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner finished fastest using harder option front and rear slick tires, just ahead of MtooGP teammate Dani Pedrosa with a fine performance from Hector Barbera and the Mapfre Aspar MotoGP Team putting them third overall.
The Losail region has been hit by high winds and low temperatures since the MotoGP test on Sunday and Monday night and the circuit is dirty and sandy, making it slippery yet abrasive.
This is the main reason that most MotoGP riders favored the extra hard compound front tire as it has greater wear resistance and durability, although even the softer front was tried by many and worked well.
With the low track temperature which reached just 21 degrees Celsius, the softer option rear slicks offer greater traction but were more susceptible to graining because of the sand.
Last year, when the Qatar Grand Prix was held in April, the first MotoGP free practice was run from 2230hrs and the track temperature was 30 degrees Celsius, with 27 degrees ambient temperature. Today however, even though the session was run at 1955hrs, track and ambient temperatures were significantly cooler at just 21 degrees Celsius.
The next free MotoGP practice session will run tomorrow evening at 1800 hrs local time.
Hirohide Hamashima (Director, Bridgestone Motorsport Tyre Development) says: "Conditions this week in Qatar have been tricky with a lot of wind and cold temperatures, both of which make it more difficult for both the riders and our tyres.
"The area surrounding the circuit is desert so the winds bring a lot of powder-like sand onto the circuit, making it dirty and slippery. The temperature tonight was also markedly cooler than it was here last year, because it is run three weeks earlier in the year.
"Most riders favoured the softer rear tyre although we saw some graining today because of the sand. Usually a circuit cleans throughout the weekend and graining gets less but here, and because the wind is higher than usual, sand is continually blown onto the circuit so this will be a setup consideration for the teams. Some riders used both specs of front tyre during the session and I can say that both are working well and there were no problems."
Bridgestone slick compounds available: Front: Medium, Extra Hard. Rear: Medium, Hard