2013 MotoGP ChampionshipFor motorcycle-racing fans, April is the most anticipated month due to the beginning of MotoGP, the series that features the fastest motorcycles in existence piloted by the fastest riders in the world.And after close to 150 days since the final round of 2012 at Valencia, the 2013 MotoGP Championship, which begins its second year of the 1000cc era, gets underway with the first free practice sessions of the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit this Thursday, April 4. And like tradition in modern MotoGP, the 24-rider grid will began the season under the floodlights at the 3.343-mile Qatar track featuring 16 turns (six left, 10 right).The biggest news by far of 2013 is Valentino Rossi returning to Yamaha Factory Racing, the same team in which he took four premier-class titles. After two sour years with the Ducati Team where the nine-time World Champion could barely reach a top five finish, Rossi will be on a highly-competitive machine, the YZR-M1.This is the same machine that won last year’s MotoGP Championship with Rossi’s teammate and biggest rival at the controls, Jorge Lorenzo. And for Rossi, the 2013 preseason tests have gone well, Rossi leading one of the sessions at Jerez two weeks ago. During that three-day test, Lorenzo also led a day, and the fastest rider on the final day was piloting another YZR-M1 – Cal Crutchlow on the satellite Monster Tech 3 Yamaha.These three Yamaha YZR-M1 prototypes will be a huge threat to the grid, with Crutchlow’s teammate and fellow British countryman Bradley Smith also a future threat once confident on the M1.The other top riders throughout the preseason came from the Repsol Honda duo of Dani Pedrosa and the rookie Marc Marquez, both of Spain. Pedrosa, who finished second behind Lorenzo in the 2013 MotoGP Championship, and his Moto2 Championship-winning teammate Marquez have been a dominating force in preseason testing, both riders also leading some days in Sepang and Circuit of the Americas in Texas.LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl, last year’s Rookie of the Year recipient, was also showing promise aboard his RC213V, as was GO&FUN Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista. Unfortunately Bautista damaged his fingers in a crash at Jerez testing, but the Spaniard will be fine for the opening round at Qatar.The Ducati Team has made some progress on its Desmosedici GP13, which received a host of upgrades for 2013 MotoGP, including more optimal mass centralization. Its pilots for 2013 will be the returning Nicky Hayden and new teammate Andrea Dovizioso. Both could not quite keep up with the Honda and Yamaha prototypes during preseason testing, but will be working hard at further developing the GP13s.Ducati’s satellite riders, Ignite Pramac’s Ben Spies and Energy T.I.’s Andrea Iannone, will both receive factory backing for 2013 MotoGP. The American Spies has been suffering from a recent shoulder injury, but is expected to be back to full potential this weekend at Qatar.As the CRT class enters its second year, its collective performance has already improved drastically, and will be further aided by the use of the spec Magneti Marelli ECU by some. The Power Electronics Aspar duo of Aleix Espargaró and Randy de Puniet had seemed like the certain favourites, but with impressive showings from the likes of Avintia Blusens’ Héctor Barberá in testing, it will make an unpredictable spectacle. And with Barberá’s teammate Hiroshi Aoyama, NGM Mobile Forward Racing pair Claudio Corti and Colin Edwards, Came IodaRacing Project’s Danilo Petrucci and Lukas Pesek, Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham, GO&FUN Gresini’s Bryan Staring, as well as Paul Bird Motorsport’s Yonny Hernandez and Michael Laverty all in the mix, 2013 promises some fireworks. In addition to this, the class is strengthened by a softer-spec rear tyre option, which will solely be available to CRTs, MotoGP reports.The other huge change for 2013 MotoGP is the F1-style formatting. MotoGP says the time sheets of the three practice sessions will be combined, from which the ten quickest riders will immediately pass through to Q2. Prior to that, the rest of the field will contest Q1 in order to fill grid positions 13 and downwards; the best two riders in Q1 will be awarded an entrance to Q2, providing a top-12 showdown for the first pole position of the year.2013 Qatar MotoGP TV Schedule:SPEED TV will broadcast the opening round of the 2013 MotoGP Championship at Qatar at 3 p.m. EST Sunday, April 7.
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.