Old Dogs With New Tricks Give A Familiar Result At MotoGP Of Qatar.
The 2016 MotoGP World Championship was billed to be the great leveler with the introduction of a new standard electronics package and a change of tire supplier from Bridgestone to Michelin. So as I boarded the plane at LAX bound for Qatar I expected the unexpected and looked forward to my first race at the Losail International Circuit.As the racing started on the Thursday, many of the outliers had put in solid performances on the time sheets during the free practice sessions. Riders like Hector Barbera of Avintia Racing, Scott Redding aboard the Marc Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati and Frenchman Loris Baz riding the other Avintia Ducati each performed well coming out of FP3 with laps in the low 1.55’s. In fact, at the close of FP3 nary a second separated the top 12 riders.
If the composition of the time sheets looked like a refreshing rearrangement it would not last for long. As the riders went into the Qualifying sessions the front rows of the grid formed with familiar faces while Maverick Vinales charged to a front row third, with a qualifying time of 1.54.638.As the lights went out and the race began it was clear that many of the riders were struggling with their electronics packages. Cal Crutchlow came off on the 7th lap when his bike got “lost” and was reporting an incorrect track location resulting in the bike delivering power when it should be braking and failing to get up to speed when it should.
Casey Stoner also observed a lack of consistency in lap times which he attributed to the riders not yet coming to “grips” with the new Michelin rubber, but commending the new tires. “A lot of people made mistakes and ran wide too, but I think Michelin have shown how competitive they’re going to be – and they beat my bloody lap record from 2008!” commented Stoner.
The if the tires lacked grip, the race sure didn’t from a spectator’s perspective. The Ducati’s showed their brute force and horsepower with Iannone clocking 349.7 kmph, the only rider coming close to that speed was team mate Andrea Dovisioso at 344 kmph. The rest of the bikes were a good 10 kmph off those top speeds.
The dueling Ducati’s showed that team mates Iannone and Dovisioso were giving no quarter and there was some high risk overtakes which left the crowd gasping for breath. Unfortunately, Iannone lost the front end and crashed out. He was definitely on pace for a podium prior to the crash.
Jorge Lorenzo showed his master class as he took the lead and looked unwilling to surrender it, taking control of the race early on and keeping his distance. The Yamaha’s lack of top speed pace compared to the Ducati’s really underscores just how good Lorenzo is in the corners. His ability to brake late and maintain the highest possible top speeds in the corners is where he gained his edge.
Valentino Rossi, as ever the crowd favorite, did not disappoint. He remained ultra competitive in the fight for third with Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda. This battle was as thrilling as you would expect it to be after the shenanigans of 2015. Rossi refused to give up, while Marquez was challenging Dovisioso, swapping places with him for 2nd on a couple of occasions.Further back Pedrosa held off Vinales on the Suzuki while team mates Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith were separated by less than 0.02 of a second for 7th and 8th respectively.
The Desmosedici’s of Barbera, Redding and Laverty showed even the satellite Ducati’s mean business. Alvaro Bautista did well to keep the Aprilia up the order to finish in 13th while Jack Miller and Tito Rabat struggled coming home in the last to places. Given the two riders are new to their Marc VDS rides there is certainly room for improvement as the season progresses and they both finished in the points as the rest of the field had crashed out.
Qatar hosts a great Grand Prix. Under the lights it easy to focus on the track which is a good thing because aside from the people, there is not a living thing anywhere close to the track. It is surrounded by dirt and sand. Where I had initially thought the evening race was to avoid high temperatures, it was at times chilly in the desert night air. As it turns out the higher day time temperatures whip up quite a breeze and bring with it dust and grit which would be miserable and dangerous to race in.I flew into Qatar from Los Angeles on Emirates Airlines. The trip was long, in fact the leg between LA and Dubai was the longest single flight I have done at 16 hours. Even in economy the flight was comfortable, the entertainment fantastic and the multinational crew delightful and hospitable.
For the fans who appreciate the opportunity to get up close and personal with the racers and who are a bit sick of the crush in the European Paddocks, you would love this race. I have seen more people in the Paddock in Misano on a Thursday morning than there was on race day. This gives unprecedented access to the riders and a great opportunity to collect autographs and selfies.So if you feel like a bit of a trip in 2017, there are far worse things you could do than pencil in a visit to the Middle East and take in the culture and of course the 2017 Qatar MotoGP.
For information on MotoGP visit www.motogp.com
For flight prices to Qatar visit www.emirates.com