The three Repsol Hondas have been the talk of the paddock throughout the pre-season testing. Dominating the time sheets with blistering laps, the only debate for the 2011 season seemingly was which rider’s name would be engraved on the MotoGP Championship trophy at the end of the season. The buzz surrounding the three-man squad reached a new peak in volume when stories of Honda’s new gearbox, allegedly a potentially illegal dual-clutch transmission, broke in the headlines of racing publications.
While subsequent reports later clarified that the gearbox was indeed very legal, and very quick in the way it changed gears and delivered power, the again superb performances in Qatar by Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa did little to sway opinions on the outcome of the 2011 season — that is until Jorge Lorenzo showed up on Sudnay night. Perhaps casting some doubt on the outright domination of the Repsol squad, the only pre-season chatter that seems to remain, is how impressive Casey Stoner has been at adapting to his new Honda RC212V. Like a maestro writing his opus, the MotoGP Championship seems to be Stoner’s for the taking, and all eyes will be on him as MotoGP heads to Jerez in two weeks.
The MotoGP season is underway in earnest now, as the premier class took to the desert’s night sky in Qatar for the inaugural race of the 2011 MotoGP Championship season. With the Repsol Hondas seemingly operating in a parallel universe, all eyes were on the rest of the field to see if they could touch the dynamic duo of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa.
With the pair joined by Jorge Lorenzo on the grid, the Spaniard was eight tenths of second slower in qualifying than the second-fastest Honda of Pedrosa. Some worried that the MotoGP fans of Qatar would be in for a follow-the-leader race, but those concerns were put to rest as multiple bouts between riders erupted on the night track. Spoilers on the Qatar GP after the jump.
Just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock this week, the 2011 MotoGP Championship is about to kick off today. Asphalt & Rubber has made the trek out to the Middle East, coming to you straight from the Losail International Circuit located just outside of Doha, Qatar. The weather has been favorable here in Qatar, with the heat down during the day, the skies clear but at times hazy, and the humidity staying down during the evening sessions. Hosting a two-day testing session before the Qatar GP, the riders have been here in Doha for almost 10 days now.
While you enjoy the return of MotoGP racing action to your online feeds and television screens, we’ve put together a cheat sheet to the Qatar GP to fill you in with the off-season happenings, as well as what’s been going on in the paddock while we’ve been here at Losail. Hold on race fans, prototype motorcycle racing is coming at you very, very, very soon.
If you’ve seen some of the photos from the Losail International Circuit, you’ll see that Nicky Hayden has been going out in some of the sessions with a piece of plastic affixed to his helmet. As the MotoGP paddock gets ready for the Qatar GP, the wind has been a factor here in Doha, fueled by the Arabian Gulf which is only two miles away from us and the desert the surrounds the area.
Originally we thought that Arai was perhaps experimenting with some sort of new aerodynamic package here in Qatar, but Carlos Checa ran a similar setup during the World Superbike races at Phillip Island with X-lite helmet. Talking to Arai Helmets about the odd clear piece of plastic, they disclosed that it’s something that Ducati has been experimenting with on its race package.
Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa put on a show for us tonight during the first Qualifying Practice of the 2011 MotoGP season being held at the Losail International Circuit. Cheers and groans could be heard in the media center as reporters from Spain, Italy, and other countries watched the session unfold…we’ll let you guess as to how each of those groups specifically reacted to the result. Throughout the MotoGP testing sessions and practices leading up to the Qatar GP, the Repsol Hondas, especially those of Stoner and Pedrosa, have been on an entirely different quantification of reality from the rest of the paddock.
For instance, fellow front row starter and 2010 MotoGP World Champion Jorge Lorenzo was eight tenths of second back from Stoner’s time. Disappointingly for Valentino Rossi fans, the Italian will grid tomorrow in the 9th spot, a full second and half back from Stoner. Teammate Nicky Hayden fared the worst out of the factory riders, 13th on the grid for Sunday’s race and a 1.75 seconds from the pole time. Rizla Suzuki did not field a bike for qualifying because of Alvaro Bautista’s injury, and will not participate in tomorrow night’s race.
No sooner did news of Álvaro Bautista’s broken femur hit the MotoGP paddock did speculation begin as to whom would/could replace the unfortunately injured Spanish rider. The list of racers capable of piloting a MotoGP machine is short and distinguished, and the majority of speculation turned to whether John Hopkins would have another go at the Suzuki GSV-R in Qatar. The other option banded-about, although with much less fervor, were MotoGP-turned-Moto2 riders Ant West, Alex de Angelis, & Aleix Espargaró.