The opening round of the 2009 MotoGP season gets underway at the Losail International Circuit on 10-12 April, and the sixth running of this Qatari grand prix marks the first race for Bridgestone as the series' official tyre supplier. Having...
The opening round of the 2009 MotoGP season gets underway at the Losail International Circuit on 10-12 April, and the sixth running of this Qatari grand prix marks the first race for Bridgestone as the series' official tyre supplier. Having worked with 12 riders and seven teams by the end of last year, the tyre manufacturer will now support all 18 riders and 11 teams.
The off-season has been punctuated by rider changes, with only four teams retaining their 2008 line-up. The rider pairings of Fiat Yamaha, Rizla Suzuki, Monster Yamaha Tech3 and LCR Honda remain unchanged, whilst there are four new entries. The Pramac pairing of Mika Kallio and Niccolo Canepa step up from the 250cc championship and Ducati testing duties respectively, grand prix veteran Sete Gibernau makes a return from retirement with the new Grupo Francisco Hernando team, and Yuki Takahashi also graduates from the 250cc class. Marco Melandri will make the newly-formed Hayate Racing Team's competitive debut.
Also notable for his fight to regain fitness in time for the season-opener is Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard crashed during the second evening of the pre-season night test at this circuit and aggravated a knee injury that sidelined him from the final pre-season test in Jerez.
The Qatar GP was the first ever MotoGP round to be run at night at the start of the 2008 season, and for a second year the MotoGP field will take to the track under the glow of floodlights. Ducati Team's Casey Stoner has won in Qatar for the last two years, and in 2008 was also the highest Bridgestone-shod qualifier. During March's pre-season night test the Australian once again set a dominating pace.
The grand prix last year was the scene of Jorge Lorenzo's stunning debut for Fiat Yamaha, snatching pole and finishing second in his first MotoGP race. It was also Valentino Rossi's first race since opting for Bridgestone tyres.
Despite being in the desert, the conditions during the test were anything but predictable as proceedings were interrupted by rain and high winds, leaving the riders to hope that the race will be free of such interruptions. The cool night-time temperatures, coupled with the venue's sand-strewn tarmac, make Losail a unique challenge for Bridgestone's engineers and a stern test for its tyres.
Hiroshi Yamada - Bridgestone Motorsport - Manager Motorcycle Sport Unit
"Now pre-season testing is over we are looking forward excitedly to the first race which is when we will really see how the title fight will develop throughout the year. Qatar has been a tricky event in the past for us because the whole race requires a different approach to deal with the cool night temperatures and the sand that litters the circuit, but Casey has taken the last two wins here on our tyres so we are confident of the experience we can draw upon.
"Last month'sthree-day test gave us more valuable data, although we expect slightly different conditions for the race, hopefully without the high winds and the rain. Nevertheless, we will bring the same soft and medium compounds to the race as we selected for the test, so all the riders who were there will already have experience of these tyres at the Losail circuit.
"Yes in the recent tests we have seen some gaps between the front-runners like last year, but I believe we need to wait until the first few races to see just how close the competition will be. As we continue to support all teams and riders fairly, I believe we can have very close racing this year.
"We're proud to be the series' official supplier at the start of a new era for MotoGP, and as we approach our first MotoGP round as single supplier, I'd like to thank everyone for all their support."