124 days since the curtain fell on the 2007 season in Valencia, MotoGP action resumes in earnest at the Losail International Circuit on Friday as Qatar gets the 18-race 2008 championship underway in style with the first ever MotoGP event to...
124 days since the curtain fell on the 2007 season in Valencia, MotoGP action resumes in earnest at the Losail International Circuit on Friday as Qatar gets the 18-race 2008 championship underway in style with the first ever MotoGP event to be held under floodlights.
This weekend's race marks the first anniversary of Casey Stoner's stunning debut victory aboard his Bridgestone-shod Ducati at the Losail track twelve months ago. The impressive win acted as a prelude for a hugely impressive championship-winning season in which the Australian rider tallied ten wins and an impressive string of consecutive top six results on his dominant march to a first MotoGP title for himself, Ducati and Bridgestone.
A total of 11 riders from six teams and five manufacturers comprise Bridgestone's portfolio this season with the addition of Fiat Yamaha's Valentino Rossi as a Bridgestone-shod rider for the first time arguably the highest profile change over the winter. Other new faces to Bridgestone tyres for 2008 include 250cc graduate Alex de Angelis for San Carlo Honda Gresini and Sylvain Guintoli for the newly-launched Alice Team.
Experienced Bridgestone riders Loris Capirossi, John Hopkins, Marco Melandri and Toni Elias have switched teams to Rizla Suzuki MotoGP, Kawasaki Racing Team, Ducati Corse and Alice respectively, while there is also a welcome return for Shinya Nakano, who rode on Bridgestone tyres from 2004-6, and this year rides for Honda Gresini. Champion Casey Stoner and his Australian compatriots Anthony West and Chris Vermeulen will be hoping to benefit from year-on-year stability, staying with their respective Ducati, Kawasaki and Suzuki teams this season.
In preparation for this weekend's landmark night race in Qatar, all teams and riders participated in a two-day dress rehearsal test at Losail last week, which permitted Bridgestone to better understand the track behaviour with the cooler night-time track temperatures that will likely be faced also during this weekend's challenging championship event.
Q+A with Hiroshi Yamada - Bridgestone Motorsport - Manager Motorcycle Sport Unit
How has Bridgestone prepared for this weekend's Qatar GP?
"After the long winter break and the many hundreds of laps completed in off-season test sessions, everyone is keen to return to race action this weekend. Since the first Qatar GP back in 2004, we have tried very hard to improve the performance of our tyres for the Losail track and we obtained a successful result last year because of the overall strength of the rider-bike-tyre package with Casey and Ducati. We will face a completely new challenge at this year's event mainly because of the night-time track temperatures, which are going to be over 20C lower than last year."
What has Bridgestone looked at specifically in terms of tyre development for this race?
"Based on our initial forecast and on last week's test, we expect track temperatures in the region of 15C this weekend, which means we will be using softer specification Qatar compounds compared to last year's event. However, last week's test was our first experience of such low track temperatures at Losail and the results from the test were not as positive as at other winter testing venues, such as Sepang or Phillip Island, so it is clear that we have a lot more work to do here."
Based on the winter tests, how confident are you ahead of this 18-race season?
"Our engineers have worked hard over the winter and we believe that the performance of our tyres has improved a lot in this time. Of course, the main point will be how competitive we are compared to our rivals but it is always difficult to know from winter testing who has an advantage because the parameters are always changing. Teams are evolving their machines and honing set-ups, while tyre manufacturers are evaluating different specification tyres; fronts, rears, qualifiers. Even this weekend in Qatar, I do not believe we will have a completely clear indication because Losail is quite a particular track and the night race is a unique event. However, I am sure that from a tyre performance point of view, our rivals have come back strongly from a difficult season and will be very competitive from the start."
How challenging is it for Bridgestone to supply five manufacturers, six teams and eleven riders?
"We are proud to have such a strong line-up of teams and riders, and to be supplying all five manufacturers in MotoGP. There will undoubtedly be more expectation on us to provide race-winning tyres now, because we proved last season that we could do it, and this is always our aim. However, with the competition being so close, nothing is guaranteed. Nobody can place more pressure on us than we place on ourselves, and it is this motivation to succeed that drives forward our development."