Lorenzo Wins Race, Rossi Wins Hearts

2013 MotoGP Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar

story and photos courtesy of IMS and MotoGP

Jorge Lorenzo

Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo started his MotoGP™ title defence in the best possible way, winning Sunday’s Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar in dominant fashion as his teammate Valentino Rossi showed the world he was back on song as he and rookie sensation Marc Márquez fought it out for the final podium spots.

As the lights went out, a scorching start by Dani Pedrosa saw the Repsol Honda Team rider shoot up into second place by Turn 1, hoping to challenge Lorenzo, who began to pull away on his Yamaha Factory Racing bike. The same could not be said for Pedrosa’s teammate Márquez, who endured a slow getaway and dropped to eighth.

On lap two, Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham crashed out, whilst Márquez was making up positions, passing Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso and then Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow. At this point Lorenzo was already leading Pedrosa by 1.6 seconds, and would eventually stretch his advantage by half a second per lap as those behind him became engaged in a dramatic battle.

By the halfway point on lap 11, Márquez was very much involved in a duel with teammate Pedrosa, as Crutchlow looked to take advantage as he stalked the pair behind. Rossi, who had been a bit too eager at the start and run wide, loosing places, was at this point catching up to the battling trio, passing numerous riders on the way. Moves came on Dovizioso and LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl, who proceeded to crash while chasing down the seven-time premier class title winner. Also failing to make the finish were GO&FUN Honda Gresini’s Bryan Staring, Tech 3’s Bradley Smith, Came IodaRacing Project’s Danilo Petrucci and NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards.

Márquez overtook Pedrosa on lap 17, leaving the latter to deal with Crutchlow as Rossi had caught up to the group. The Italian stormed pasted the Englishman in a move between Crutchlow and the pit wall, only for the Tech 3 man to misjudge his braking point and run off-track at Turn 1. Rossi’s charge continued with manoeuvres on Pedrosa and Márquez on Laps 19 and 20 respectively, only for the debutant to fight back as the pair went head-to-head. Rossi would come out on top by just two tenths of a second, with Márquez becoming the first MotoGP™ rookie to seal a rostrum result in his first race since Lorenzo finished second at Losail five years ago. Lorenzo’s eventually winning margin was 5.9 seconds.

Rossi back on the podium!

Pedrosa and Crutchlow completed the top five from Gresini’s Álvaro Bautista, Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden on the pair of Ducati Team machines, Pramac Racing newcomer Andrea Iannone and his teammate Ben Spies. Power Electronics Aspar won CRT honours, with reigning class Champion Aleix Espargaró finishing 11th overall and leading home teammate Randy de Puniet by 6.6 seconds. Avintia Blusens’ Héctor Barberá rose from 22nd on the grid to 13th, in front of PBM’s Yonny Hernández, Avintia’s Hiroshi Aoyama, Forward’s Claudio Corti, PBM’s Michael Laverty and Ioda’s Lukáš Pešek who on Saturday had qualified 15th for his debut.

MotoGP™ Qualifying Practice Classification
1- Jorge Lorenzo SPA Yamaha Factory Racing 42:39.802
2- Valentino Rossi ITA Yamaha Factory Racing 42:45.792
3- Marc Márquez SPA Repsol Honda Team 42:46.003
1st CRT 11th- Aleix Espargaró SPA Power Electronics Aspar 43:29.611


Pol Espargaró

Tuenti HP 40’s Pol Espargaró converted pole position into the opening Moto2™ race victory of 2013 after a spirited battled with Marc VDS Racing Team’s Scott Redding, whilst Italtrans Racing Team’s Takaaki Nakagami led in the opening stages before going on to achieve a career-first podium finish.

Espargaró had delivered a last-gasp lap to grab pole on Saturday, but it was Nakagami who led Sunday’s race as the pack battled for the first time this year. Behind, Thai Honda PTT Gresini Moto2’s Ratthapark Wilairot jumped the start and was forced to take a ride-through penalty, whereas Tech 3’s Louis Rossi, Tuenti HP 40’s Axel Pons and QMMF Racing Team’s Anthony West were all early fallers.

More crashes came later into the race, with a coming together between JiR Moto2’s Mike de Meglio and NGM Mobile Racing’s Mattia Pasini, which left the latter out of the race. Pasini’s teammate Ricky Cardús was taken to the Medical Centre following an incident, as Wilairot became the sixth and final retirement.

Redding had settled in behind Nakagami at the front, but took his chance to shoot into the lead at the start of the ninth lap, narrowly avoiding contact with his rival’s left knee. Watching the battle unfold, Espargaró posted the fastest lap and quickly proceeded to dispatch with Nakagami, who was unable to maintain the pace of the pair in front but was still pleased with a his maiden podium finish.

Espargaró’s crucial move on Redding for the lead came with five laps to go, with the Englishman losing out on the start/finish straight but managing to keep up in the twisty infield section. There was almost contact between the duo as Redding strived to retake the lead on the final lap, but losing ground allowed the Spaniard to win in Qatar for the first time.

Fourth position went to Dominique Aegerter and Technomag carXpert, just edging ahead of second Marc VDS rider Mika Kallio and Italtrans’ Julián Simón. The top ten was completed by NGM Mobile pair Simone Corsi and Alex de Angelis plus Tuenti HP 40’s Esteve Rabat and Desguaces La Torre Maptaq’s Xavier Simeon.

Moto2™ Qualifying Practice Classification
1- Pol Espargaró SPA Tuenti HP 40 40:31.782
2- Scott Redding GBR Marc VDS Racing Team 40:32.626
3- Takaaki Nakagami JPN Italtrans Racing Team 40:43.880

Luis Salom leads the Moto3 pack at Losail

Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Luis Salom triumphed in an action-packed first Moto3™ race of 2013, winning the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar ahead of Maverick Viñales and Álex Rins.

As the red lights went out, it was Estrella Galicia 0,0’s Rins who stole the top spot as GO&FUN Gresini Moto3’s Niccolò Antonelli lost control and became the first retirement of the season. As the top five began to break away from the chasing pack, it was a tight affair between Salom, Rins, Team Calvo’s Viñales, Rins’ teammate Álex Márquez and Mapfre Aspar Team Moto3’s Jonas Folger. The lead would change on numerous occasions across the 18 laps.

Rins was in front by the halfway point, as Márquez shot ahead for the first time on lap 13. Over the remaining five laps, the Estrella Galicia duo would go head-to-head, but it was Viñales, having waited patiently, who looked to have seized the show at the start of the penultimate lap. But it was persistence that paid off for pole-sitter Salom at the start of the final lap, confidently taking the lead before opening out a gap.

He would cross the line four tenths of a second ahead of Viñales, who was involved in a photo finish with Rins, as Márquez completed the top four. Some 16 seconds behind fifth-placed Folger, Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Zulfahmi Khairuddin beat Mahindra Racing’s Miguel Oliveira to seventh as Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Arthur Sissis, Avant Tecno’s Niklas Ajo and Mahindra’s Efrén Vázquez rounded out the top ten. In 20th spot, female rider Ana Carrasco impressed on the second Team Calvo bike, passing several rivals despite a distinct lack of track time this weekend.

After Antonelli, a further three riders fell in the shape of CIP Moto3’s Alan Techer, Ongetta-Centro Seta’s Isaac Viñales and Caretta Technology – RTG’s John McPhee, whose retirement came on the final lap of the race.

Moto3™ Qualifying Practice Classification
1- Luis Salom SPARed Bull KTM Ajo 38:26.859
2- Maverick Viñales SPA Team Calvo 38:27.276
3- Alex Rins SPA Estrella Galicia 0,0 38:27.282

Lorenzo on Pole in Qatar

Jorge Lorenzo

In a dramatic qualifying session under the Losail floodlights, reigning MotoGP™ World Champion Jorge Lorenzo claimed pole position for the season-opening Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar ahead of Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow and Repsol Honda Team’s Dani Pedrosa.

Saturday marked the debut of MotoGP’s new-look qualifying format, whereby the top 12 riders go head-to-head in a 15-minute shootout for the top spot. Maintaining his 100 per cent front row record at the Losail International Circuit, Lorenzo sealed his seventh career pole at the track with a best effort of 1’54.714. Crutchlow, the leading British representative, started his campaign in strong fashion and missed out on pole by two tenths of a second, having abandoned his final run at Turn 1.

Cal Crutchlow

Pedrosa had had a quiet weekend up until qualifying, concentrating mainly on race pace, but sealed a front row placing as he pipped Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso by nine thousandths of a second. Dovizioso was the surprise of the session, showing just how far the Desmosedici has come since last year, and how well he is gelling with the machine at the track.

LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl and Repsol’s 20-year-old newcomer Marc Márquez will complete the second row, with the Spaniard lucky not to have run in the back of his teammate in the early stages. Valentino Rossi could manage no more than seventh position on his high-profile return to Yamaha, citing that he had made the wrong judgement on where to join the short session, leaving him in traffic on his final hot lap. Making up the rest of the third row will be GO&FUN Honda Gresini’s Álvaro Bautista and Tech 3’s Bradley Smith.

One of three rookies in the top ten, Energy T.I. Pramac Racing’s Andrea Iannone heads the fourth row from Ducati’s Nicky Hayden who is 11th. With Ben Spies having suffered a hard fall in the preceding fourth practice session, the opportunity was very much open for a CRT bike to head into Q2, with Power Electronics Aspar’s Aleix Espargaró taking full advantage. However he couldn’t beat the prototypes, yet starts from a very credible 12th. Spies, riding the Ignite Pramac Racing machine, could manage only third place in Q1, which translates to 13th on the grid.

Aspar’s Randy de Puniet, who pushed hard in an attempt to make Q2 but lost out in the second half of the lap, will be 14th, whilst impressing many was Czech newcomer Lukáš Pešek who will start his first MotoGP race from 15th on the grid for Came IodaRacing Project after finding good form with a soft front tyre – which most riders did not use.

The rest of the top 20 is made up by PBM’s Yonny Hernández, who has suffered two crashes this weekend, Avintia Blusens’ Hiroshi Aoyama, Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham, NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards and Ioda’s Danilo Petrucci. The 24-rider grid is completed by Forward’s Claudio Corti at the start of his first full MotoGP campaign, Avintia’s Héctor Barberá, who suffered technical problems at the start of Q1, Australian Gresini debutant Bryan Staring and PBM’s Michael Laverty on the team’s own-built bike.

MotoGP™ Qualifying Practice Classification
1- Jorge Lorenzo SPA Yamaha Factory Racing 1:54.714
2- Cal Crutchlow GBR Monster Yamaha Tech3 1:54.916
3- Dani Pedrosa SPA Repsol Honda Team 1:55.151
1st CRT 12th – Aleix Espargaró SPA Power Electronics Aspar 1:57.064

Tuenti HP 40’s Pol Espargaró collected the first Moto2™ pole position of 2013, coming back from a crash to deliver a remarkable final lap at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar, with Italtrans Racing Team’s Takaaki Nakagami and Marc VDS Racing Team’s Mika Kallio in tow.

Riders were challenged with much traffic and an extremely dusty track surface from the off. This was confirmed by an assortment of falls, not least for Espargaró himself who went down within the first five minutes. Adding to the early surprises, Nakagami, another pace-setter so far this weekend, was stuck in his garage with problems early on.

Amid the early dramas, the Marc VDS bike of Scott Redding headed the timesheets and appeared to be losing less ground on the start/finish straight than in previous sessions. He eventually settled for fourth place as Espargaró surprised many, including himself, to pick up a remarkable half a second in the final sector alone, sealing the top spot with 2’00.882. One and a half tenths cover the top three, with Nakagami, deprived of a career-first pole by just over a tenth, eventually managing 15 laps as Kallio improved his personal best in the last knockings.

Behind Redding, row two is completed by Technomag carXpert’s Dominique Aegerter and second Italtrans representative Julián Simón. Nico Terol will start seventh for the Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2, making up the third row with Tuenti’s Esteve Rabat and Desguaces La Torre SAG’s Marcel Schrotter. JiR Moto2’s Mike di Meglio was tenth, as less than a second covered the first 13 riders; that particular group was rounded out by reigning Moto3 Champion Sandro Cortese, who managed to re-join the session for Dynavolt Intact GP following an earlier highside from which he escaped unharmed.

Also falling during the 45 minutes were Interwetten Paddock’s Sergio Gadea, substituting for the injured Tom Lüthi, and NGM Mobile Racing’s Mattia Pasini.

Moto2™ Qualifying Practice Classification
1- Pol Espargaró SPA Tuenti HP 40 2:00.882
2- Takaaki Nakagami JAP Italtrans Racing Team 2:01.014
3- Mika Kallio FIN Marc VDS Racing Team 2:01.041

Luis Salom

Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Luis Salom will head an all-Spanish front row for the opening Moto3™ race of 2013 at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar, as the Mallorcan topped Saturday’s qualifying session from Team Calvo’s Maverick Viñales and Estrella Galicia 0,0’s Alex Rins.

Despite no less than 32 bikes in the field and plenty of sand remaining off the racing line at the desert circuit, times continued to tumble and fluctuate across the course of the 40 minutes, as the fight for pole quickly transpired to be between the eventual front row men plus Mapfre Aspar Team Moto3’s Jonas Folger and Mahindra Racing’s Miguel Oliveira.

Returning to the top with two minutes to go, Salom navigated his way around slower runners to go even quicker as the chequered flag flew, sealing pole with a lap time of 2’07.229. This edged out Viñales by a tenth of a second, as he fought through the pain following his testing accident at Jerez, from which the stitches had been removed only two days ago.

Rins had been fastest for much of the session and also sealed his front row spot with a last-gasp effort, moving ahead of Folger as Oliveira returned to the second row and fifth place. Sixth on the grid will be CIP Moto3’s Alan Techer, with the Frenchman having beaten Redox RW Racing GP’s Jakub Kornfeil who heads the third row. Efrén Vázquez and Alex Márquez complete Row 3 for Mahindra and Estrella Galicia respectively, with Australia’s Arthur Sissis rounding out the top ten for Red Bull KTM Ajo.

Further down the field female rider Ana Carrasco impressed by sealing 23rd spot for Team Calvo, despite having missed out on track time for much of the weekend so far due to technical issues.

Moto3™ Qualifying Practice Classification
1- Luis Salom SPA Red Bull KTM Ajo 2:07.229
2- Maverick Viñales SPA Team Calvo 2:07.337
3- Alex Rins SPA Estrella Galicia 0,0 2:07.596

EARLIER: Marquez tops Qatar Practice Charts

Marky Marc Márquez

Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Márquez beat Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo by one thousandth of a second to top the final day of MotoGP™ practice sessions at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar. It was also the first time the Free Practices were held under the new qualifying regulations, meaning the line-up for Saturday’s Q2 has now been established.

From 2013 onwards, the first three of four MotoGP practice sessions have a direct bearing on Qualifying. For this reason, there was much tension in the bottom half of the top ten as riders strived for a place in Saturday’s pole position Q2 shootout. The first session of the day did not see riders improve over yesterday due to the windy and dirty track conditions. As the second free practice session started there were worries in the paddock that rain, which had already affected earlier sessions, may return and break up the action. As it transpired, the showers stayed away and made for a dramatic climax to the night’s action.

Delivering a lap time of 1’56.084 in the last knockings, Márquez confirmed that he will be able to fight for pole position on his MotoGP debut. He demoted champion Jorge Lorenzo by just one thousandth of a second, who was trying out his new chassis, which is near identical to the current bike but with a different stiffness. Britain’s Cal Crutchlow comfortably sealed a Q2 placing with third spot for Monster Yamaha Tech 3, as Lorenzo’s teammate Valentino Rossi was fourth. Shooting into the top five in the late stages was Andrea Dovizioso on his first Ducati Team weekend, showing that the new Desmosedici is certainly competitive in Losail, with Repsol’s Dani Pedrosa having struggled for front end grip since the start of first practice, but still securing a Q2 effort with sixth.

As track conditions improved towards the end of practice, a dramatic battled raged while riders continued to push rivals out of the top ten. Álvaro Bautista went seventh for GO&FUN Honda Gresini, as the times suddenly became the tightest they have been all weekend. In eighth spot was Nicky Hayden on the second Ducati Team bike, with British rookie Bradley Smith impressing on his first outing by achieving ninth for Tech 3. Stefan Bradl looked to have a challenge on his hands as the times came down, but snatched back tenth for LCR Honda MotoGP. Ninth tenths of a second separate the top ten – a group in which may of the riders are split up by margins of just thousandths of a second.

At the end of Q1 on Saturday, grid positions 13 and downward will be decided. However, the fastest two riders will be promoted to Q2, making for a final top-12 contest. Judging by the latest form, it looks as though that battle will be between Pramac pairing Andrea Iannone and Ben Spies, plus Power Electronics Aspar’s Aleix Espargaró on the leading CRT machine; the trio ended Friday in positions 11 to 13.

Behind, Héctor Barberá was the leading Avintia Blusens representative in 14th from PBM’s Yonny Hernández, Aspar’s Randy de Puniet and NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards. Karel Abraham and Cardion AB Motoracing were 18th as Hiroshi Aoyama and Danilo Petrucci completed the top 20 for Avintia and Came IodaRacing Project, respectively. 21st and 22nd places are split by less than a tenth, showing that the competition is just as tight at the back of the field between Bryan Staring, on Gresini’s CRT bike, and Ioda’s Czech newcomer Lukáš Pešek. PBM’s Michael Laverty continued to develop the team’s own-built bike en route to 23rd, whereas Forward’s Claudio Corti rounded off the timesheets after stopping on-track after his FTR-Kawasaki started smoking.

Takaaki Nakagami

Italtrans Racing Team’s Takaaki Nakagami again set the pace as the final Moto2™ practice session took place at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar today. Setup comparisons were all but impossible as sporadic light rain showers continued to break up the action.

Having already topped the timesheets 24 hours earlier, Nakagami this time led the way with a best lap of 2’01.480. This was to the frustration of Pol Espargaró, a general title favourite who has been unable to retake the top spot he sealed in opening practice on Thursday. The Tuenti HP 40 rider ended the night within a tenth of the quickest time, as he and teammate Esteve Rabat sandwich Marc VDS Racing Team’s Scott Redding.

The third and final Moto2 practice period of the race weekend was hoped to be one in which bike setups could be improved, although no direct comparisons could be made due to the changeable conditions. Various showers came over the course of the 45 minutes, leaving some greasy patches. Those who briefly headed off-track included Espargaró, who took a trip through the gravel with two minutes to go.

NGM Mobile Racing’s Simone Corsi ended the evening in fifth spot from Came IodaRacing Project’s Johann Zarco and Julián Simón, whose Italtrans machine was wheeled back down the pit lane as he was sent out too late at the end of the session; thankfully for the Spaniard, he noticed the red light in time and therefore avoids a penalty. The top ten was rounded out by NGM’s Alex de Angelis, Mapfre Aspar Team Moto3’s Nico Terol and Technomag carXpert’s Dominique Aegerter.

Luis Salom remained on top in the third and final Moto3™ practice session at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar today, although a brief rain shower effectively ended proceedings early. The showers were not heavy, but a further sprinkling prevented the majority from improving lap times as the Moto3 runners enjoying their final track time ahead of Saturday’s qualifying session.

Salom, who had already topped the timesheets on Thursday, this time led the way for the Red Bull KTM Ajo outfit with a 2’08.167. His closest challenger was Estrella Galicia 0,0’s Alex Rins, as Mapfre Aspar Team Moto3’s Jonas Folger, Caretta Technology – RTG’s Jack Miller and Mahindra Racing’s Efrén Vázquez completed the top five.

As the mechanics kept a close eye on the skies, no less than three incidents came in the early stages as GO&FUN Gresini Moto3’s Niccolò Antonelli, Miller’s teammate John McPhee and Aspar’s Eric Granado all suffered falls.

Further up the order, the second Estrella Galicia of Alex Márquez finished sixth from the still injured Maverick Viñales on board his Team Calvo KTM. Completing the first ten were San Carlo Team Italia’s Romano Fenati, Ambrogio Racing’s Danny Webb and Avant Tecno’s Niklas Ajo.

EARLIER: Lorenzo leads MotoGP practice in Qatar

Yamaha Factory Racing’s Reigning World Champion Jorge Lorenzo led the way in the first free practice session of the 2013 MotoGP™ season under floodlights at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar on Thursday ahead of Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow and Yamaha Factory teammate Valentino Rossi.

Thursday’s sole practice for the premier class not only launched the 2013 campaign, but also helped mark the tenth anniversary of the sport in Qatar. Also, for the first time ever, the session had a direct bearing on qualifying, as the new Qualifying format this year means the combined top ten from across the opening three practices will go on to make up the Q2 qualifying line-up this Saturday.

It looked as though Britain’s Crutchlow was to take top spot, having put the hammer down towards the end, but Lorenzo moved ahead with a last-gasp 1’56.685. This leaves the top three separated by just 71 thousandths of a second, with Rossi looking highly confident after leading the way halfway through. Reigning Moto2™ World Champion Marc Márquez came in fourth, whilst Andrea Dovizioso put in a terrific performance on his Ducati to come fifth.

Due to the extremely dusty track surface and riders pushing to find the limits, an assortment of names veered onto the run-off area at Turn 1. PBM’s Yonny Hernández’s was the first rider in MotoGP to suffer an accident in the new year, as the Colombian lost the front end of his ART bike, fortunately walking away with solely scuffed leathers.

It was an encouraging start to the campaign for GO&FUN Honda Gresini’s Álvaro Bautista, completing the night in sixth spot from the LCR Honda MotoGP of Stefan Bradl. Bautista, who had mostly recovered from a finger injury obtained in Jerez testing, cited that it had been aggravated once more, and will have to assess his injury tomorrow. It was certainly a low-key start for expected title challenger Dani Pedrosa as the Repsol man ended up in eighth place, having run off the track twice. As Nicky Hayden confirmed a double top ten finish for the Ducati Team, Aleix Espargaró raised eyebrows by ending his evening ninth quickest on the leading CRT bike of the Power Electronics Aspar outfit, just 1.1 seconds off Lorenzo’s leading time.

British newcomer Bradley Smith in the Tech 3 team was just outside the top ten, but ahead of Pramac Racing duo Andrea Iannone and Ben Spies. The rest of the 24-bike field was filled by CRT representatives, with Héctor Barberá and Hiroshi Aoyama in respective 14th and 19th places for Avintia Blusens. Between them were Aspar’s Randy de Puniet, Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham, NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards and the aforementioned Hernández.

Forward rookie Claudio Corti was 20th and almost a second slower than teammate Edwards in these early stages, with Danilo Petrucci leading the Came IodaRacing Project attack from 21st. He and debuting Czech teammate Lukáš Pešek sandwiched Gresini newcomer Bryan Staring of Australia, as Britain’s Michael Laverty completed the field while continuing early development work on the in-house PBM machine.


•Rossi Back At The Front: Seven-time MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi will make his racing return to the Yamaha Factory Racing team this weekend after two lost seasons with the Ducati Team.

Rossi earned 46 of his 66 career victories and four of his seven world titles in the premier class with Yamaha from 2004-10 before leaving for Ducati to form an Italian dream team in 2011. But that dream quickly turned into a nightmare, as Rossi managed only three podium finishes and no victories in two seasons with Ducati.

But Rossi escaped Ducati after last season and is the prodigal son at Yamaha. He was among the top five at all three preseason tests on Yamaha’s M1 motorcycle and is expected to return to his usual spot on the podium this season, including challenging for his first MotoGP victory since October 2010 at Malaysia.

Still, there are lingering questions about Rossi, beloved by fans as one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time. He’s 34 – considered a senior citizen in motorcycle racing – and has raced in World Championship since making his 125cc debut in 1996.

Plus there’s the Lorenzo factor. One of the reasons Rossi left Yamaha after 2010 – besides baskets of Ducati money – was the frigid relationship with his teammate, Jorge Lorenzo. Rossi resented the threat posed by Lorenzo, who won his first World Championship in 2010, and insisted an actual wall be built between their garage stalls in 2009 and 2010.

Lorenzo only has become even faster in Rossi’s absence in 2011 and 2012, winning another world title last year. The two riders have enjoyed cordial relations during preseason and publicly claim they can co-exist. But funny things happen when riders drop their helmet visors and their eyes fill with the red mist of competition.

•The Golden Child: Reigning Moto2 World Champion Marc Marquez climbs into the powerful Repsol Honda Team this season as the most heralded rookie in MotoGP since fellow Spaniards Jorge Lorenzo in 2008 and Dani Pedrosa in 2006.

Marquez should threaten to win a Grand Prix this season and could challenge Yamaha’s Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi and Repsol Honda teammate Pedrosa for a World Championship. If Marquez, 20, wins one of the first 11 races of the season, he will become the youngest winner of a premier-class Grand Prix in history, beating the record held by American Freddie Spencer.

Fans, media and fellow riders buzz about Marquez because he combines a fast, fearless riding style, including lean angles so severe that his elbows drag on the asphalt, with a sunny insouciance about his talent and competitors.

Marquez proved his worth during preseason testing, finishing fourth, third and sixth overall in the three official tests. But he dominated a private test in March at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, leading all three days against Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Rossi.

•New Qualifying Format: Expect to see more excitement on Fridays and Saturdays as MotoGP adopts a two-stage qualifying system to replace the open, one-hour session to determine the starting grid.

The top 10 riders overall after the third practice will advance directly to the second round of qualifying, as practice times will play into the qualifying procedure unlike past years. The other riders will participate in the 15-minute first round of qualifying, with the top two advancing to the second qualifying round.

The top 12 positions on the grid will be set based on the results of the 15-minute second qualifying round.

Riders not among the top two in the first qualifying round will take grid positions 13 and above according to their placement in the first qualifying round.

The new system will be used just in the MotoGP class. Moto2 and Moto3 still will use one open, timed session to determine their respective starting grids.

•The Americans: This is a pivotal season for the three Americans racing in the premier MotoGP class.

2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden becomes the team leader at Ducati Team after supernova Valentino Rossi left to return to Ducati. Hayden enters his fifth consecutive season with the Italian team and looks to improve upon his ninth-place finish in the World Championship last season.

An improving Ducati GP13 machine could help “The Kentucky Kid” reach that goal. He was ninth overall in all three preseason tests, but the gap to the top of the time sheets was reduced to nine-tenths of a second at the final test, in Jerez, Spain.

2010 Rookie of the Year Ben Spies moved to the Pramac Ducati team after a disappointing, injury-plagued 2012 season with Yamaha Factory Racing. Pramac is a satellite team to the Ducati factory team, but Spies and rookie teammate Andrea “Crazy Joe” Iannone both will race on factory-spec GP13 machines.

Spies had a sluggish preseason due to continued recovery from reconstructive surgery on his shoulder during the offseason. The speed of that recovery – and of his adjustment to a new team and bike – early in the season could determine the success of his 2013 campaign.

Colin Edwards continues to be MotoGP’s ageless wonder, entering his 11th MotoGP season at age 39. “The Texas Tornado” returns for a second season with NGM Forward Mobile Racing, which fields a bike under the production-based Claiming Rules Team formula.

Edwards struggled toward the back of the grid last season as the team never came to grips with the balky electronics of its Suter-BMW package. Many speculated Edwards might walk away from the sport after winning two World Superbike titles and enjoying a long MotoGP career, but a switch to a more proven FTR-Kawasaki package for 2013 helped to keep him in the premier class.

•Another Alien?: The riders on the two most competitive factory teams in MotoGP, Repsol Honda and Yamaha Factory Racing, are called “aliens” by many MotoGP fans, media and riders due to their otherworldly skill on superior machinery.

But it’s very possible a fifth rider could join the alien world this season, and he’s not on a top-line factory bike.

British veteran Cal Crutchlow turned heads by leading the last preseason test last month, in Jerez, Spain. His Tech 3 Yamaha is a “satellite” machine, not of the same state-of-the-art specification as a factory machine.

Crutchlow also was in the top five in the first two preseason tests, at Sepang, Malaysia, so his outstanding performance at Jerez was no fluke. He could become the first British rider to win a motorcycle Grand Prix since the legendary World Champion Barry Sheene in 1981 and could become the first satellite team rider to win a MotoGP race since Marco Melandri in 2006.


Race: Grand Prix of Qatar
Date: Sunday, April 7
Round: First of 18 races in 2013
Circuit: Losail International Circuit, Doha, Qatar
Distance: 22 laps on 16-turn, 3.343-mile circuit
2012 Winner: Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha
U.S. Riders: Nicky Hayden, Owensboro, Ky., Ducati Team; Ben Spies, Longview, Texas, Pramac Racing Team; Colin Edwards, Houston, NGM Mobile Forward Racing.
TV: MotoGP: 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday, April 7, SPEED. Moto2: 11 p.m. (ET), Sunday, April 7, SPEED. Moto3: Noon (ET) Tuesday, April 9, SPEED.

Italtrans Racing Team’s Takaaki Nakagami posted the fastest time of the day in the Bank Grand Prix of Qatar’s second Moto2™ practice session on Thursday evening ahead of Tuenti HP 40 pairing Esteve Rabat and Pol Espargaró.

After Espargaró had topped the first session, the later period kicked off in dramatic fashion as NGM Mobile Racing’s Mattia Pasini and Argiñano & Gines Racing’s Steven Odendaal were involved in an incident, with the Italian attempting an ambitious passing manoeuvre on the South African as both riders went down. Although the latter found himself briefly underneath his machine, both men escaped unharmed.

Nakagami’s best effort came in the shape of 2’00.924, making him the only rider to duck inside the 2’01.000 barrier tonight. Rabat, who led for much of the session, was less than a tenth slower, with Espargaró having made a mistake on his final run. Marc VDS Racing Team’s Scott Redding continuously challenged for top times, but was losing ground on the start/finish straight. He finished fourth from the second Italtrans Kalex of Julián Simón and NGM Mobile Racing’s Simone Corsi, doing well to end the day as fastest Speed Up rider.

The top-ten was rounded out by Technomag carXpert’s Dominique Aegerter, Marc VDS’ Mika Kallio, NGM’s Alex de Angelis and Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2’s Nico Terol. Technomag’s Randy Krummenacher ended his night in 16th place after suffering a fall as he lost control at penultimate corner Turn 15, but was able to walk away unhurt.

Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Luis Salom went quickest on day one in Qatar in the second Moto3™ practice session on the opening day ahead of Mapfre Aspar Team Moto3’s Jonas Folger and Estrella Galicia 0,0’s Alex Rins.

Under floodlights for the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar this weekend it was Salom who put in a best effort of 2’07.341 to displace Folger into second, after the German had topped the morning session.

Behind third-placed Rins, teammate Alex Márquez, brother of MotoGP™ rookie Marc Márquez, was fourth fastest, with Niccolò Antonelli and GO&FUN Gresini Moto3 rounding out the top five. In the case of Antonelli, the Italian was fortunate to re-join the action after a fall at Turn 10. Behind came Mahindra Racing’s Efrén Vázquez in sixth spot from Ambrogio Racing’s Brad Binder and Avant Techno’s Niklas Ajo.

It was a mixed session for Team Calvo, including for Maverick Viñales, the rider regarded by many as this year’s title favourite. Still recovering after a crash at the final pre-season test in which he lost a fingertip, the Spaniard ended his evening ninth, as newbie and first female Moto3™ rider Ana Carrasco frustratingly managed only ten minutes of track time. Jakub Kornfeil completed the top ten for Redox RE Racing GP.

EARLIER: MotoGP opens 2013 in Qatar

Rossi is back on the Yami!

This Thursday sees the long wait come to an end and one of the most eagerly awaited MotoGP™ Championship in years get underway at the 2013 season opener under the floodlights at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar.

2X world champion Jorge Lorenzo

Yamaha Factory Racing’s reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo will have a tough task ahead defending his title this year, not only in the face of tough competition from Repsol Honda Team rival Dani Pedrosa, but also from an on-form returning teammate Valentino Rossi. Throw exciting rookie Marc Márquez into the mix, who has already shown masses of potential on his Repsol Honda, and the season is set for some fantastic battles.

Cal Crutchlow and the Tech 3 Yamaha

The satellite Yamaha and Honda contingent is looking stronger than ever after some highly competitive pre-season testing, where in fact Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow ended the final Jerez test on top. His fellow countryman and rookie teammate Bradley Smith has already shown he is adapting well to his M1, whilst LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl, last season’s Rookie of the Year, looks set to be fighting for podium positions from the off. GO&FUN Honda Gresini’s Álvaro Bautista, who unfortunately damaged some fingers in a crash in Jerez, will also be one to watch in Qatar, as he looks to have found some favourable settings on his RC213V.

Nicky Hayden

The Ducati Team may not have lit up the pre-season after its management reshuffle, yet has arguably made some very big strides following a very tough first 2013 test. Factory riders Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso will line up on the new Desmosedici that features a greater mass centralization among other upgrades, and will both hope to build upon their increase in pace throughout the season. Their satellite riders, Ignite Pramac’s Ben Spies and Energy T.I.’s Andrea Iannone, both on factory bikes, could prove a threat, as the Italian has proven capable of some strong performances, whilst Spies is yet to show his full potential due to a recovering shoulder injury.

As the CRT class enters its second year, its collective performance has already improved drastically, and will be further aided by the use of the spec Magneti Marelli ECU by some. The Power Electronics Aspar duo of Aleix Espargaró and Randy de Puniet had seemed like the certain favourites, but with impressive showings from the likes of Avintia Blusens’ Héctor Barberá in testing, it will make an unpredictable spectacle. And with Barberá’s teammate Hiroshi Aoyama, NGM Mobile Forward Racing pair Claudio Corti and Colin Edwards, Came IodaRacing Project’s Danilo Petrucci and Lukas Pesek, Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham, GO&FUN Gresini’s Bryan Staring, as well as Paul Bird Motorsport’s Yonny Hernandez and Michael Laverty all in the mix, 2013 promises some fireworks. In addition to this, the class is strengthened by a softer-spec rear tyre option, which will solely be available to CRTs.

Another big change is this year’s brand-new qualifying format. The timesheets of the three practice sessions will be combined, from which the ten quickest riders will immediately pass through to Q2. Prior to that, the rest of the field will contest Q1 in order to fill grid positions 13 and downwards; the best two riders in Q1 will be awarded an entrance to Q2, providing a top-12 showdown for the first pole position of the year.

On the Wednesday evening before the Grand Prix of Qatar, Lorenzo, Rossi, Pedrosa, Márquez, Hayden and Bradl all gathered at the pre-race press conference to share their thoughts ahead of the first race.

Lorenzo, who will aim to defend his crown this year amid fierce competition, was a winner in Qatar last year after a hard-fought battle. Commenting on his chances this year he said: “It’s always very important to start in the best way possible in the first race, as it gives you confidence for the next races. But the competition will be very strong. Marc has come from Moto2 and Vale is again in the Yamaha team. We are four or five riders that are favourites for the title. But there are three of four others that can also stay with us.”

After having his best ever MotoGP season in 2012 and pushing Lorenzo all the way until the final race, Pedrosa will look to carry through his momentum into the season opener and start on the right foot: “We did some good tests during the winter and I’m really exited for the first race. Really looking forward to the race. It looks like it’s going to be an exciting season. Fitness wise and general preparation – I’m ready to go!”

Having shown some glimpses of old form during pre-season, many eyes will be focussed on Rossi as he returns on his Yamaha. Speaking of his task ahead the Italian commented: “I’m happy about my performance in the winter tests, as I was quite strong in Sepang and Jerez; I had some problems in Austin. But for sure the races are quite different from the tests. I like to ride the M1, I’m quite fast, but the level is very high. It will be a great motivation trying to raise my level and speed and fight for the podium.”

Bradl, who was the 2012 MotoGP Rookie of the Year, hopes to take his career to the next step this season and secure his first ever premier-class podium: “I think every year in MotoGP is interesting and important. I have one year’s experience, which is not so bad. I hope it’s going to be positive. I’m ready for the first race here. Our priority is to be constant and fast, and not loose time when the tyre was older, which was my advantage last year. I think it’s possible yes [to fight with the factory riders]. It will be of course very, very, difficult. It will also be a challenge to be the best satellite rider. But we will try to play with the factory riders.”

Hayden, who remains with the Ducati Team for 2013 will be hoping that his hard work over the years will pay off as the Italian outfit continues to search for a turnaround in its fortunes. The American said: “It hasn’t been an easy off season, especially the first Sepang test. Since then we’ve improved, with weight balance and some things. The bike started to improve on corner entry. We know it’s not going to be easy, especially with these guys; and the level very high. But it takes time. I’m happy to start another season, and am starting to see some positives coming. There’s already been some big changes with personnel, but on the bike I’d say there haven’t been major changes. One little change doesn’t make the difference, it’s everything. Ducati’s built competitive bikes before – I have no doubt they can deliver.”

Hyped as the most exciting prospect to enter the MotoGP™ class for some time, Márquez will be looking for a successful debut under the floodlights. The youngster commented: “Sure I will be little bit nervous. Here will be the first time of many things. The first race in MotoGP! Tests are very different from a race in MotoGP. I don’t know how a MotoGP race is. I’ll try to enjoy it and do my best, and enjoy. From the beginning I felt good on the bike. I was a little bit surprised. From the team, Honda and Repsol I don’t have pressure, but the general expectation is quite big. With the experience Honda has it’s a big help for me.”

And about the possibility of him winning his maiden race, the youngster said: “Sure it will be so difficult. If you’re mentality is that [you can win the first one] it could be dangerous. But we don’t discard anything, as nothing’s impossible.”

Many stars and familiar faces from the paddock gathered on the Wednesday night to mark the 10th Anniversary of the race at the Losail circuit. Held at the St. Regis Hotel, MotoGP™ riders from all classes turned out to celebrate a decade of racing at the fast and flowing track in the desert alongside the Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation. Its President & Losail International Circuit General Manager Mr. Nasser Khalifa Al Attiya and Dorna Sports CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta both praised the long-running event, which has been held under the floodlights since 2008.

The nine world champions from previous years and feeder classes that currently occupy the MotoGP™ grid in the shape of Lorenzo, Rossi, Pedrosa, Hayden, Bautista, Dovizioso, Márquez, Bradl and Hiroshi Aoyama all handed Mr. Khalifa Al Attiya a signed helmet to mark the occasion. Ezpeleta also presented him with a replica of the MotoGP™ Championship Trophy, whilst in return was given a trophy of his own. All riders spoke about their joy at racing at the track at night, whilst some even recollected some famous races they had had.

Mr. Khalifa Al Attiya commented on the success the circuit has been over the years, and was moved with the turnout for the event: “To see all the big riders here is very emotional for us. I wish to thank everyone for their support.” He also spoke about the relationship between the circuit and MotoGP™, citing that it had been a journey of “learning together, and succeeding together”.

Ezpeleta gave a further insight into how far the circuit and race had come from its early days: “People were initially brought in from around the world [to run the Grand Prix], such as marshals. Now, all the staff are from here.” He also spoke about when Mr. Khalifa Al Attiya first approached him about the idea of a night race and the reception it got, citing it was a move that clearly paid off. And commenting of the future of MotoGP™ and the Qatar Circuit and the continual changes that have improved the spectacle, he joked: “Let’s see if they’ll come up with anything else!”.

As Moto2™ embarks on its fourth season once the red lights go out in Qatar for the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar there will be one favourite on people’s minds in the form of Tuenti HP 40’s Pol Espargaró.

And whilst pre-season testing has confirmed the hype, it has also shown a raft of new and old contenders that once again promise to be at the sharp end and challenge for a win in one of the tightest fought championships in the world. Compatriot Julián Simón on his Italtrans Racing Team Kalex, as well as Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2’s Nico Terol on his competitive 2013 Suter already look like contenders, whilst Marc VDS Racing Team’s Scott Redding and Italtrans’ Takaaki Nakagami will certainly be in the mix.

The NGM Mobile Forward Racing Team lines up with a strong package this year, as it fields four riders on a Speed Up chassis in the shape of Alex De Angelis, Simone Corsi, Mattia Pasini and Ricky Cardús. Having shown glimpses of good pace throughout testing and a raft of data to share, the team is one to watch as the championship gets underway. Interwetten-Paddock’s Tom Lüthi, who last year was leading the race for a period, has not recovered from his big crash in the Valencia test, and is replaced by returning Sergio Gadea.

The field also sports some promising rookie prospects, most notably 2012 Moto3™ World Champion Sandro Cortese, who lines up with his newly formed Dynavolt Intact GP team on-board a Kalex, and Tech 3 Racing pair Danny Kent and Louis Rossi. And with a newly enforced minimum combined bike and rider weigh of 215kg for 2013, the narrowly aligned class is only going to get even more exciting.

The hard-chargers in Moto3™ will descend on Qatar for only the second time since the class’ introduction last year, and will arrive with yet further promise and high expectations.

With some of the closest racing witnessed in 2012, and further improvements to the bikes across the class during pre-season, the 2013 season opener under the Losail floodlights in eagerly awaited. Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Luis Salom finished Jerez testing fastest, and with Estrella Galicia 0,0’s Alex Rins and Team Calvo’s Maverick Viñales close behind, the KTM has been confirmed as the package to beat. Viñales will start in Qatar with a slight handicap as he lost a fingertip during the final test, yet he will still be viewed as one of the season favourites.

Rins’ teammate Alex Márquez starts the season in from as well, and will be hoping to emulate the success of his older brother Marc in the lower classes. Fighting with the front runners will also be Mapfre Aspar Team Moto3’s Jonas Folger, who finished last season very strongly, whilst San Carlo Team Italia’s Romano Fenati will be hoping to repeat, or better, his second place at the Qatar circuit from last year. Throw into the mix a reshuffled Mahindra Racing team with Suter-developed technology and a strong rider line-up with Efrén Vázquez and Miguel Oliveira, and he list of potential winners is a long one.

Salom’s teammates Zulfahmi Khairuddin and Arthur Sissis or Racing Team Germany’s Jack Miller and John McPhee all have the possibility to be in the mix after impressing in testing, whilst with newbies such as Red Bull MotoGP Rookies champion Florian Alt on his Kiefer Racing bike or Marc VDS Racing Team’s Livio Loi, the season opener promises to be spectacular.