Qatar GP Moved to February, With Track Modifications

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The Losail International Circuit is to be resurfaced, with the aim of moving the opening race back to February.

The question of resurfacing came to a head after last week’s season-opener MotoGP round at Qatar, when light rain caused the start of the MotoGP race to be delayed, raising concern among the riders over the evening dew, which starts to form on the track surface at around 10pm.

There were serious concerns that the track would become too treacherous to race on, if the race were to be delayed for too much longer.

As such, the surface and condition of the Losail circuit was a talking point all weekend, which only compounds the issue that the asphalt itself is nearly fourteen years old, as the track has not been resurfaced since it was first built.

Because the MotoGP race runs at night, the evening dew makes the track slippery, but the dew patches are impossible to see. And the fact that the race runs at night means that the event is in peril if it rains.

Dorna had a possible solution in place for a rain race. If the track had been sufficiently wet during the course of the weekend, an extra session of testing was to be convened, to allow all three classes to ride on a wet track under the floodlights.

That would have given everyone a chance to assess how much of a problem glare from the floodlights would have been.

It did in fact rain on Saturday, but the rain was so torrential, and so much fell in such a short time that the track became flooded, and was unsafe to ride on. There was standing water in several corners, as well as in the gravel traps. Testing glare from the floodlights was impossible.

In a series of meetings about the track over the course of the weekend, the circuit reached agreement with Dorna about a radical solution, we have learned. One which would address both the issue with dew forming in the evening, and remove any concerns over running a race at night in the wet.

As such, the circuit is to be resurfaced, and in the process, it is to have a heated substrate fitted. The heating installation is to be fitted below the surface of the entire track, and used to keep the track at a steady 37°C any time the track is used.

By keeping the track surface at a constant temperature, the system, based on underfloor heating systems used in large scale industrial facilities where temperature control is critical, will give the Losail circuit a much wider range of use.

The biggest advantage for both MotoGP and WorldSBK is that it will prevent condensation forming on the track in the evening. This will give Dorna much greater freedom in the timing of events for both series.

Qatar has the rights to be the first race of the MotoGP season, and the last race of the WorldSBK season, and a heated track will allow both events to be moved earlier and later respectively.

The heated track is a key requirement for MotoGP, especially. With more races being added to the calendar, Dorna are keen to start the season earlier.

In 2018, when Thailand joins the calendar, one of the three preseason tests (most probably, Phillip Island) is to be dropped, and the season-opener at Qatar held several weeks earlier. That has always been a problem because of the evening condensation, but subsurface heating removes that element from the equation.

Likewise, the heated track also allows the WorldSBK season to be extended. New circuits in Asia can be added, and the season finale moved back to November, instead of October.

Sources indicate that Dorna would dearly like to hold the WorldSBK and MotoGP season finales on back-to-back weekends, with a grand awards gala to be held for both series together.

The subsurface heating offers several other benefits. With the evening dew no longer a factor, practice in Qatar can run longer at night.

The Qatar MotoGP race is the only event to be held over four days, and teams would welcome having the race weekend be just three days, like the others, as it means lower costs for accommodation, car rental, etc.

It might even be possible to cut the length of practice sessions, as constant conditions would allow teams to find a working setup much faster. Preliminary modeling had shown that a heated track would also help combat the rain.

If rain fell during the race weekend, circuit engineers are reportedly confident that the subsurface heating would be able to dissipate the water within approximately 20 minutes, greatly helped by the dry desert winds that constantly blow across the track. This would eliminate the need for a wet track test, and remove any concerns over glare.

Above all, a heated circuit would make it much easier for the official tire suppliers to all three Grand Prix classes. With a constant track temperature, both Michelin and Dunlop can bring tires tailored very precisely to the conditions at the circuit.

They could cut down on the number of tires transported, as they would not have changeable conditions to contend with, and be assured of circuit records being broken.

The only objection to a track with subsurface heating is one of cost. The amount of gas required to heat the track to a constant 37°C would be huge, and extremely costly. However, given the amount of money the circuit spends on the floodlight installation to allow the races to run at night, this is not believed to be an issue.

Though a preliminary agreement to fit subsurface heating has already been made between Dorna and the Losail International Circuit, there is still the matter of finding a supplier capable of handling such a complex operation.

We understand that a local engineering firm is the current front runner among interested parties. The most likely scenario is that the subsurface heating will be the work of Poor al-Ifl.

Photo: Yamaha Racing

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

David Emmett

One of MotoGP's most respected journalists, David Emmett is the proprietor of the esteemed MotoMatters. We are very grateful to republish David's work here on A&R...though dread the day we ever again get in a car with him.