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Michelin Ready For MotoGP's First Desert Race Michelin's secrets for tackling an-all new track in an all-new environment Randy Mamola, the only top rider who's ridden Losail, talks about the track This weekend's inaugural Qatar Grand Prix ...

Michelin Ready For MotoGP's First Desert Race
Michelin's secrets for tackling an-all new track in an all-new environment
Randy Mamola, the only top rider who's ridden Losail, talks about the track

This weekend's inaugural Qatar Grand Prix commences a quick-fire sequence of three GPs over three weekends that could decide the outcome of this year's MotoGP World Championship. Two weeks ago in Japan reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi (Gauloises For tuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) increased his series lead over main rival Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) to 39 points, while the only other title contender Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin) slipped further behind af ter getting knocked down in a turn-one pile-up. Of course, whichever one of these three men wins the 2004 title will give Michelin its 13th consecutive World Championship success in motorcycle racing's most demanding category.


Although none of the current MotoGP riders have ridden the all-new Losail racetrack, former 500 GP winner was able to evaluate the circuit during its official opening in early July. Riding the Michelin-equipped Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici GP4 two-seat er, Mamola was able to get a good idea of what the layout and weather conditions will mean to riders, teams and tyre engineers.

"It's sure going to be hot!" says the former factory Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Cagiva rider. "When I was there in July it was 48 degrees during the day, though by the time I rode the bike at 5.30pm it was 'only' 38 degrees. I think it should be mid to high thirties when we're there for the race. And it could be either dry or humid.

"The whole place is very impressive. The infrastructure is incredible and the circuit was born with safety in mind, so there's none of the little chicanes that have been added to other tracks to slow things down.

"People are talking about sand getting onto the track, but the surrounding desert is more rock than sand, and they're making double sure they won't have problems by adding 10-foot wide strips of artificial grass to the inside and outside of the track. The 'grass' doesn't tear up either, they've slid a rally car onto it with no worries.

"Overall the site is very flat, with a long main straight, like Catalunya, which will probably mean top speeds in the low 320s. In fact, it's got a lot of other bits of European tracks in it. Turn one is a bit like the first corner at Sepang, turn three is like the kink onto the back straight at Estoril, turns four and five are like the two rights into the stadium at Brno and there's a few turns that resemble corners at Welkom. I'd also say there's a bit of Assen in it - with a few 'follow-my-leader' high-s peed sweepers.

"Bike-wise, I think it'll need a fairly neutral set-up from front to rear. With all the twists and turns you'll need a bike that steers well, with geometry on the light side. It's a bit of a front-end circuit; like at turns four and five, you'll get into f our pretty hot but you'll need the bike to keep steering into turn five."


If conditions at Losail are hot for riders, they'll be even hotter for tyres, with higher-than-usual running temperatures expected during MotoGP's first Middle Eastern race. Tyre companies thus face a major challenge this weekend - to supply grippy tyres f or a circuit they've never even see before.

"As with any new circuit, we will use a different approach at Losail," explains Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "Obviously we don't know the track, so we don't know what the surface is like or how precisely the layout will a ffect tyres. That's why we will take a wider-than-usual range of tyres, from quite soft to quite hard, so that we will be ready whatever the conditions."

Although Michelin is used to racing at new tracks in new countries, there is one issue that does concern Goubert about Losail. He is worried about windblown sand reaching the track surface, even if the entire circuit has been surrounded by artificial grass "Losail is out in the desert, so my only concern is what will happen if sand gets on the track," he adds. "Obviously sand suddenly and dramatically reduces grip if it reaches the track surface. If the circuit is dirty on the first day and cleans up with use, that's not so bad, but if more sand gets blown onto the track on the Friday night before the race, it could be a nightmare.

"Obviously we know the weather will be hot, but we're ready for that. If the track temperature reaches 50 degrees that won't be anything new for us. We have contended happily with temperatures like that, both at Sepang in Malaysia and at the Suzuka Eight H ours race in Japan. The circuit layout doesn't look anything unusual, so that shouldn't present a problem. Neither should the straight, it's long but it's not like Monza or the old Hockenheim.

"The track is new which means it should be very smooth, which should make set-up easier. Overall, it will be a very challenging event for everyone - for us, for the riders and for the teams. And like any new track, whoever manages to find the best set-up s oonest will have a real advantage as they work towards choosing the best tyres for the race."


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Randy Mamola , Valentino Rossi , Sete Gibernau