Action with speed starts up in Qatar

The action at over 300km/h is ready to fire up another promising season of the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix (MotoGP). The most talented riders, powerful teams and quickest bikes in the world are set to fire up the the first of ...

The action at over 300km/h is ready to fire up another promising season of the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix (MotoGP). The most talented riders, powerful teams and quickest bikes in the world are set to fire up the the first of eighteen mouth-watering events across thirteen countries and four continents that will decide the destiny of the most coveted prize in motorcycle racing.

MotoGP will enter an exciting new era of racing at the Losail International Circuit of Doha this weekend as the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar opens the 2007 championship with the first race of this eagerly awaited season. It will see the brand new 800cc Grand Prix bikes meet in the heat of battle for the first time taking the place of the 990cc bikes that were protagonists from 2002 to 2006.

The revised rulebook also stipulates a reduced fuel capacity of 21 litres and a maximum of 31 tyres (14 front and 17 rear) per rider during a race weekend, piling extra pressure on the teams and adding even more intrigue for the fans as the season gets underway.

The current World Champion, Nicky Hayden, starts the challenge to defend his title that cost him so much to take last season. The American knows the fight is going to be hard as he starts the opener round after a complicated pre-season tests.

After surgery on his injured shoulder, Hayden hasn`t showed really quick in the final Winter tests and has been beaten by his teammate, Dani Pedrosa, many times.

But having the number "1" painted in his Repsol Honda and being the only man capable of defeating Valentino Rossi in five years gives him some credit to start the battle.

"Well the waiting is over and I'm fired up to go racing again. It's going to be a proud moment lining up with that number one plate on the front of my bike - it's something I've dreamed of since I was a kid," said Hayden.

"But really that's last year's story and we've got to come out of the gate fast and fight to defend this title right from the first session because the competition in MotoGP is so intense," continued the American. "There's no time to take the glory and relax. We were quick in some of the tests over the winter and made some good progress with this new bike, though the test here at Qatar didn't go too smoothly! So I'm going to have to raise my game starting this weekend."

The set-up at the Losail International Circuit is complicated by a host of slow corners that are preceded by fast changes of direction. The tight hairpin at turn six, for example, comes with a quick right-left change under braking, calling for a delicate balance between stability and agility. The most important section is the three fast rights at the end of the lap because this is where the rider can make up the most time, making stability at maximum lean angle an absolute must so that he has confidence to open the throttle with the bike still on its side.

In last year's Grand Prix of Qatar, Hayden came within 0.9s of the win having dueled with Rossi for much of the 22-lap race and, despite a tricky test here in February, the World Champion will be confident of battling at the front once again.

For the first time since the turn of the millennium, Rossi starts out as a challenger to the throne. The Italian worked tirelessly alongside his engineers on development of Yamaha's all-new YZR-M1 trying to take out the best of the bike in his aim to recover his condition of World Champion.

'The Doctor' showed an outstanding performance in the final pre-season test at Jerez de la Frontera, in Spain, where he set the fastest lap in the televised 40-minute session and capped an excellent winter of development work that has taken in seventeen days at circuits in Spain, Malaysia and Qatar.

"After the great test in Jerez we're going to the first race feeling confident and happy," said Rossi. "Last year we had some problems at the final test that left us feeling worried going to the first race but more than anything Jerez proved that we're in a very different situation to last year and confirmed the great job we've done with the new M1 over the winter. Now it's finally time for the first race and it's time to see if all our hard work pays off. Everyone is very excited and very motivated after what happened last year and our aim is very simple - to win!"

Rossi's hopes of a winning start are substantiated by two victories from three previous visits to the Losail International Circuit since its inauguration in 2004.

About the Qatari circuit, Rossi commented: "I like Qatar a lot, it's fast and fun to ride and I have won there twice. Of course it's quite hot and dusty so tyre choice will be very important, especially with the new rules. The other key factor is going to be the fuel consumption - I think it is something everybody is worried about this season but we are all in the same boat. We know the bike should work well at the first two races but the championship is very long. Dani Pedrosa has looked the most consistent in testing but I think Nicky Hayden, Loris Capirossi and my own team-mate Colin Edwards will be in the fight for the title."

The Fiat Yamaha Team -- the new name of the Yamaha factory team -- will have once again Colin Edwards as Rossi's teammate trying to finally get fully involved in the dispute for the World Championship.

Edwards was close behind Rossi in third during last week's qualifying shootout in the final Winter test at Jerez and contributed greatly to the evolution of the 800cc version YZR- M1. The "Texan Tornado" is promising to whip up a storm in the desert and maintain a strong front throughout the year, as he looks to capitalize on a pre-season that has seen him side-by-side with Rossi at the top end of the time sheets at virtually every circuit they have visited.

Pedrosa enjoyed a highly promising pre-season on board the new 800cc RC212V. In the six MotoGP tests he has participated in since the last race of 2006, the 21-year-old Spaniard finished in the top two places in all but one of the tests, and was fastest at three of them.

"It seems like the start of the season has come round very quickly and I'm really looking forward to racing again after all the tests we've done over the winter," Pedrosa said. "It will be interesting to finally see how the new 800s feel during a race. I've enjoyed riding the RC212V in testing and the smaller size allows me to move around the bike more easily than the 990."

As well as impressive pace on one-lap qualifying tyres, the three-time world champion has been consistently quick during race-distance simulations, including a 24-lap run at the Losail test in mid-February. Pedrosa set the quickest time of that test on Michelin qualifiers, dipping 0.2s inside the existing pole position record set by Casey Stoner on the 990cc RC211V last year.

The third team that appeared behind Repsol Honda and Yamaha in the fight for the title is Ducati Marlboro, which brings its Desmosedici GP7 to this crucial first race of the 800 era following a fruitful winter of development that has seen the Bologna-based squad covers thousands of track kilometres during test sessions with both riders. Loris Capirossi, of course remains with the team but he has a the new teammate in Australian rider Casey Stoner.

Alongside but a step behind should be Kawasaki Racing and Rizla Suzuki trying to reach podiums and maybe a victory, although the challenge is quite big.

The race weekend begins tomorrow with practice, followed by qualifying on Friday and the 22-lap season opener on Saturday, starting at 15.00hrs local time (13.00 CET). Last year's race was moved in the calendar from October to April with the intention of reducing temperatures. It worked, with the 2006 event being held in 26 degrees rather than the wilting 39 degrees experienced in 2005. With this year's race taking place just under one month earlier still, temperatures should again be bearable.

Everything is set up for the start of another exciting season of MotoGP. The moment of words and speaking is over leaving the space for the accelerating feeling. Three, two, one.go!

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Nicky Hayden , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Colin Edwards , Casey Stoner , Dani Pedrosa