2014 Qatar MotoGPIt’s been just over four months since the final round of 2013 MotoGP at Valencia. That race was historic for then 20-year-old Marc Marquez; the Repsol Honda pilot entered Valencia with a 13-point lead over two-time MotoGP Champion Jorge Lorenzo, and needed a fourth-place or better to take the title.
In his rookie season, the Spaniard Marquez displayed nothing but patience at that season finale, and finished third, enough to take the title. Lorenzo gave it all, and took the win, but would not garner enough points to earn a third title.Thus ended the 2013 battle of the Spaniards, but the war continues into 2014 MotoGP, which begins this week at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit.This will be the 11th time MotoGP has met at the desert-based circuit, which began opening the series in 2007. Also, every race since 2008 was held under the floodlights, which occurs again this season.Eleven years ago, Sete Gibernau was the first rider to win at Losail, but the modern king of Losail is Lorenzo. The Movistar Yamaha MotoGP YZR-M1 pilot has won the last two times out, and from the looks of preseason, he will be a top contender here once again.As will his teammate, nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, who has three wins at Qatar. Rossi also put up a fight last season with Lorenzo, finishing second.But it was the man who finished third at Qatar who impressed most – Marquez. It was the riders first podium in his first-ever premier class event.Marquez is hoping to repeat this kind of performance this week, but he is recovering from a broken right leg. He suffered the break during a dirt-track training crash exactly six weeks ahead of Wednesday – the opening day of Qatar practice.Due to the crash, Marquez was forced to miss the second Sepang II and Phillip Island preseason tests. But during Sepang I preseason test, Marquez was untouchable, and even broke Casey Stoner’s outright track record at the Malaysia circuitMarquez is already thinking of a title defense in the season, and knows the first race will be tough.“Obviously it was very disappointing for me to miss the two tests but the good news is that I’m getting better and the bone is mending. I’ve been exercising more, so I’ll have to see how I am in Qatar -I don’t expect to be 100 percent, but I will try my hardest,” Marquez says.“The important thing is to take some valuable points and then get up to 100 percent by round two in Austin. Arriving in Qatar as World Champion is something new to me -to defend the Title- and I know that from the first session the eyes of the World will be on us. Taking my first podium here last year was special and I have good memories!”As for the sophmore’s teammate, Dani Pedrosa will be seeking his first win at Losail.The other Factory-based team, the Ducati Team, received loads of press after it finalized its decision to switch to Open-class rules.From 2014, all bikes in the field are obliged to run the spec ECU hardware as supplied by Dorna Sports and Magneti Marelli. Furthermore, teams must select either “Factory Option” or “Open: as their bike specification.Factory Option machines drop from 21 liters of fuel in 2013 to 20 this year, but those running Open bikes are obliged to use the spec ECU software as well as the hardware. In-turn, Open runners will enjoy privileges such as a maximum of 24 liters of fuel across a race distance, 12 engines per season (as opposed to five for Factories) and no subjecting to the new engine freeze regulations – allowing work on the machines during the season. Open runners can also enjoy unlimited testing, MotoGP reports.Ducati will field Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso on the factory team, and both have much work ahead of them as they develop the GP14.As for other prototypes, Monster Yamaha Tec 3 will field the reigning Moto2 Champion Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith on the YZR-M1. The Spaniard Pol Espargaro is one of four rookies 2014 premier class, but unfortunately sustained a broken collarbone during the final minutes of the last pre-season test.The other three debutants come in the form of Frenchman Mike di Meglio (Avintia Racing), Moto2 runner-up Scott Redding of England (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) and Australian Broc Parkes (Paul Bird Motorsport, team-mate to Michael Laverty).However, it was Aleix Espargaro – elder brother of Pol – who was the revelation of the off-season thanks to his lap times with NGM Forward Racing. Making best use of a Yamaha lease deal, Aleix has been tipped by paddock insiders for some major surprises, as he and Pol look to become the first siblings to share a premier class podium since Nobuatsu and Takuma Aoki at Imola in 1997, MotoGP reports.In other open-class news, the American Nicky Hayden begins his first season aboard the Drive M7 Aspar Honda RCV1000R following five years with Ducati. The Kentuckian has expressed his thoughts of the low speed of the RCV1000R, but is optimistic about the season going forward.The action gets underway Thursday with the first of four free practices.2014 Qatar MotoGP Schedule:
Thursday, March 20: Free Practice 1, 7:55 p.m. – 8:40 p.m. (local time)
Friday, March 21: Free Practice 2, 6 p.m. – 6:45 p.m.; Free Practice 3, 8:55 p.m. – 9:40 p.m.
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!