On the evidence of qualifying at Qatar, we’re in for a cracking MotoGP season. A very tight battle for pole settled in the final minutes, a surprise front row sitter, and plenty of on-track action are the ingredients for a a great QP session, and the changes that the sport has undergone are overwhelmingly positive. The same was true in Moto2, where a smart strategy outwitted a late last lap, and Moto3 saw another battle that went down to the wire.
The return of MotoGP racing is finally upon us with the start of the Qatar GP. Qualifying was underway under the night’s sky at Losail International Circuit this Satursday, as the season-opener and only night race brought the MotoGP paddock together to begin the 2012 MotoGP Championship. With Losail’s long straightaway amplifying the slower pace of the CRTs, it is clear that two races will be run during the MotoGP race on Sunday. With the Yamahas showing a new speed in Qatar, the talk going into Saturday’s qualifying at Doha for once was not dominated by the work of HRC.
After the euphoria of the first day at Qatar, it was back to work on Friday, with riders, teams and even journalists turning their focus back to the task at hand. While most of the attention was focused on MotoGP, the premier class seeing fascinating stories start to develop in the two sessions of free practice the class had in the irregular and rather confusing schedule which the night race at Qatar forces on the paddock, a pattern is also starting to emerge in both Moto2 and Moto3.
Free Practice 2 for the Qatar GP has just finished at the Losail International Circuit, and the speed gap between the prototypes and the CRTs is abundantly clear. One of the faster tracks on the MotoGP calendar, everyone in the paddock knew going into the Qatar GP that the power advantage held by the Ducati, Honda, & Yamaha prototypes would be apparent down Losail’s .664 mile front straightaway. But now after getting to see how the two bike classifications stack up on the same course and on the same day, the results from FP1 & FP2 show a 13.6 mph gap between the tops CRTs to the top prototype GP bikes.
At the MotoGP test in Qatar, the week before the 2011 season opener, all eyes were on Rossi and the GP11. Naively we wondered if he would be able to recreate his magic at Welkom in 2004, and comparisons to Rossi’s move to Yamaha were inevitable. Some in the paddock thought he was in better shape going to Ducati than he had been when he left Honda, after all Casey Stoner had managed to win several times at the end of 2010 on the bike Rossi was taking over, while the pre-Rossi Yamaha was widely considered a mess on two wheels. Burgess’ remarks that he and Rossi would sort the Ducati straight away gave us the impression that the dream team could see what was wrong, and knew at least in theory what to do when they took over Stoner’s ride.
In spite of the problems that had been apparent since the first GP11 test in Valencia the previous November, our faith in the Rossi, Burgess, & Co.’s expertise still had many of us prepared for a strong finish at Losail — expecting Rossi to do at least as well on the GP11 as Stoner had managed on the GP10. “He’ll at least win a few races once he gets the Ducati sorted,” was a common attitude in Qatar.
At the MotoGP season opener in Qatar, Dani Pedrosa was the only rider who had anything for Casey Stoner. Qualifying second, two tenths behind the Australian, Pedrosa was six tenths ahead of third place qualifier, Jorge Lorenzo. Those of us who expected Stoner to find the front within a couple of laps and disappear were surprised to see Pedrosa pass Stoner with 17 laps to go. It was then the Pedrosa-Stoner show until, with 11 laps to go, Dani’s stuck-throttle crash at Motegi last season came back to haunt him.
He dropped to second, then fell back into Lorenzo’s clutches as his left arm went numb. In Motegi Pedrosa had broken his collarbone, and the nerves beneath the clavicle continue to be problematic when subjected to the pressure or fighting Casey Stoner on a MotoGP bike. Dani said he was basically unable to use the clutch for the second half of the race, and the fact that he managed to bring it home in third place is a testament to how tough a rider he is.