The Repsol riders are ready for the nighttime challenge in Qatar Dani Pedrosa, Nicky Hayden, Julian Simon and Esteve Rabat face the first Grand Prix of the 2008 season, after an intense winter pre-season On Friday the 2008 World Motorcycling...
The Repsol riders are ready for the nighttime challenge in Qatar
Dani Pedrosa, Nicky Hayden, Julian Simon and Esteve Rabat face the first Grand Prix of the 2008 season, after an intense winter pre-season
On Friday the 2008 World Motorcycling Championship season will officially start with the first free training sessions of the Qatar Grand Prix. The Losail Circuit and the 1000+ floodlights installed along its 5.380 metres of track will be the unusual setting for the nocturnal event of the Continental Circus. The Repsol Honda riders are once again among the favourites this year to take the title; not in vain is the Repsol Honda Team currently home to the current World Runner-up and the de-throned champion from 2006.
On Sunday at eight in the evening - 18:00 in Spain -, when the red lights blink off and the 125cc race starts it shall be an historical moment, as a motorcycling Grand Prix has never before been disputed during the night. Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden are anxious to be there, though with caution, because the unlucky fall the Spanish rider suffered in Sepang, and problems with development on the engine of the Honda RC212V 2008 have affected these last few months of hard work.
One of the most repeated comments in the paddock over the last few weeks was "we'll see what happens when the World Championship starts". Now the time has come for the final showdown. The Repsol riders are aware of the tough path ahead of them and the hard work that is still to be done; however, their talent, continuous work and the potential of a brand like HRC places them among the favourites in the category.
In the 250cc category, if one word could describe the season that is approaching for Repsol rider Julian Simon, that is 'excitement'. This season the Spanish rider will be riding one of the powerful KTM 250 FRR's, a bike which after the hard work getting it adjusted, has already shown that it can run very fast. Simon has overcome the initial problems regarding his position on his new bike, and during the night training sessions in Qatar he has continued to improve, tackling the problems that have arisen. We should not forget KTM riders riders Hiroshi Aoyama and Mika Kallio, who both receive support from Repsol. After each winning one of the two last tests on the 2007 calendar, they start out on the list of favourites to fight for the world title in their category.
In 125cc, this season Esteve Rabat and rookie Marc Marquez will also be riding bikes from the Austrian brand. For the two young Repsol riders, the pre-season has not been altogether positive, as Rabat's fall one month and a half ago in Jerez, and another fall by Marquez on the same track two weeks ago has meant a visit to the surgery for both of them. Rabat is recovered and will be able to take part in the first race, but his young teammate, just 15 years old, will have to postpone his first taste of the World Championship until the fractures in his arm are totally healed.
Dani Pedrosa "This certainly isn't my favourite circuit. Most of the time it's quite windy and the sand from around the circuit blows on the track and makes it very dirty. The tarmac has a good grip, but as the track is dirty, there are always problems with grip here in Qatar. If you fail to take the line properly you lose a lot of time, because you have to be very careful not to fall. Fortunately there are no potholes and the security aspects are well covered. Technically this circuit requires a very precise setup of the bike, with good speed and agility; these two aspects are very important in Losail. When choosing tyres we usually go for intemediate tyres, neither too hard nor too soft. On this track you have to ride quite aggressively, though there is a stretch, the three fast curves approaching the one before the finish line, which require you to ride more carefully. Riding at night here is a new experience, but for my liking there is too much humidity as night falls, and you really notice it on the track."
Nicky Hayden "I'm happy to be competing again, because that's what it's all about. Qatar is going to be an interesting weekend: the first race of the year, and to top it off, it's at night. The track is very great, the course is incredible, the grip is good, it's a safe circuit, full of chances to escape ahead, and has everything you could possibly ask for. The only thing I miss are the 100.000 people cheering like mad for their favourite rider. I think that racing at night is going to change everything in a way, because it's going to be really interesting to see how the tyres perform, with the drop in temperature and the wind that's blowing. I think it's going to be good, and I'm really looking forward to it because I enjoyed the night training sessions. You need a lot of horsepower in the final straight because you're coming from a slow curve and you have to accelerate hard, because it's quite a long straight. I've ridden many times at night with artificial light, doing dirt-track back at my home, though until the training sessions here, the only other time I had raced a bike during the night was in the Suzuka Eight Hours training sessions in 2003, and that was brilliant."
Julian Simon "I'm glad the pre-season is over and that the races are starting. Now is when we are really going to find out what each rider on the track is capable of. For us it has been a pre-season of hard work on the new bike, both for me and the team, which had to gradually understand and get familiar with the KTM 250 FRR. My team is practically the same as last year's, and that is quite valuable. We are all together in this, and are aware that only through hard work can we be at the top. Our progress has been slow though constant with the new bike, so I hope to give a fine performance starting with the first race."
Esteve Rabat "I was looking forward to starting. It hasn't been an easy pre-season, because it was very short and there were some casualties. The new bike didn't arrive for the start, and I had to have an operation on my collarbone. We won't reach the first race with the bike performing 100%, but the idea is to struggle to be in the lead just the same. We still have some problems, but I'm looking forward to this race; we'll try to solve aspects that we are not satisfied with and fight to take the lead once and for all. Adjusting to this bike was complicated, because it's quite different to the one I had before; it requires finer riding, with no mistakes, because otherwise you can't run fast."