MotoGP 2014 roars into life under the floodlights in Qatar

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First free practice session throws up a lot of surprises at the front

The 2014 MotoGP championship is underway with the first free practice session of the season ahead of Sunday’s Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar has concluded and it was Aleix Espargaro on the Open class NGM Forward Racing machine of taking the top spot ahead of GO&Fun Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista and Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider, Bradley Smith.

I'm happy because I was able to be fast with both the hard rubber and with the soft.

Aleix Espargaro

Setting the scene for what is sure to be one of the most exciting starts to a MotoGP season in recent memory, the introduction of the Open class and its less restrictive rules that are designed to make it possible for smaller teams to be competitive against the likes of factory teams Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha, Espargaro has been at the front of all pre-season testing and his fastest time of 1m 55.201s was way ahead of Bautista and his 1m 55.667s lap time with Smith further back with a best time of 1m 55.816s.

Andrea Iannone sits in fourth place on the timing sheets with the Pramac Racing rider registering a best lap of 1m 55.996s while Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), was also nearing the sharp end with a best time of 1m 56.020s. Sitting in sixth place is Dani Pedrosa for the Repsol Honda team and his best lap time of 1m 56.332s was faster than Valentino Rossi’s best lap of 1m 56.542s for the Movistar Yamaha team.

Colin Edwards also made the best of day one on his NGM Forward Racing machine with the ‘Texas Tornado’ setting the eight best time of 1m 56.626s while Jorge Lorenzo had a day to forget on the second of the Movistar Yamaha Team with a best lap of 1m 56.668s and an uncharacteristic 9th place. Nicky Hayden performed well on the Drive M7 Aspar machine and his first day sees the American in 10th with a best lap of 1m 56.670s.

Alvaro Bautista, Go & Fun Honda Gresini
Alvaro Bautista, Go & Fun Honda Gresini

Photo by: Team Gresini

Reigning MotoGP Champion Marc Marquez returned to action today after a long lay following his pre season shoulder injury and the Repsol Honda rider took his time today and ended up in 11th with a best lap of 1m 56.682s while Stefan Bradl was close behind on the LCR Honda with the German rider’s best lap of 1m 56.726s and Cal Crutchlow on the first of the factory Ducati’s in 13th on a best time of 1m 57.046s while teammate Andrea Dovizioso was right behind his British teammate with a best time of 1m 57.100s.

Espargaro was delighted with his lightening-quick start to his race weekend saying, “It's really a great start: being at the top is a great feeling. We had an advantage over riders, having tried on this track two weeks ago, but I'm happy because I was able to be fast with both the hard rubber and with the soft. I am sure that tomorrow all will improve, but we also have margin. We will continue to work hard with the goal of fighting for the podium.”

Happy with his progress and his bike’s setup, Bautista is working hard to get the best from the new Bridgestone tire. He said, “This first free practice was positive: the bike is working well and the feelings are more or less the same as in the last the tests carried out recently here in Qatar. Today we didn’t change the bike set-up: we just wanted to start the weekend with a good feeling and we succeeded, despite the track tonight was not in the best condition.

I tried the harder option of the rear tire, which I had never tried before, and I was positively surprised because the grip level is not so bad compared to the softer option, but on the other hand it provides a more consistent performance over the race distance. Therefore tomorrow we will continue to try it, and maybe we can use it for the race. Tomorrow our rivals certainly will improve their lap times, so there is still a lot of work to do if we want to stay ahead. We will try especially to find more rear grip because the bike is still sliding a lot,” Bautista added.

Bradley Smith, Monster Yamaha Tech 3
Bradley Smith, Monster Yamaha Tech 3

Photo by: Bridgestone

The pre season test at the Losail International Circuit proved to be exactly what Smith needed and he was very happy with his start. “Today was a really good start for us,” he said while continuing, “The track conditions were different to when we tested here, probably due to a sandstorm, which happened recently. However, the grip improved during the session and I was able to do 1:55 lap times again.

As I could keep this rhythm quite easily I decided that it wasn’t worth pushing to the absolute limit, as it was still a bit too risky with the conditions, so I will wait until tomorrow as the grip will improve for sure. Of course, I am happy with 3rd and we are close to Bautista who is on the same tyres. Anyway I’m confident that we will get closer to the top as the track gets better, but the 3 days of testing has definitely helped us. Our aim is to stay in front of the factory bikes, for as long as possible,” Smith added.

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About this article
Series MOTOGP
Article type Practice report
Tags bautista, espargaro, featured, forward racing, gresini, hatch, qatar, smith, tech 3