Motorcycle Racing Online
Rossi wins and Stoner goes out in Qatar GP
By Dan Moakes
April 13 2010

Empics / PA Photos

MotoGP 2010 started with the floodlit night race at the seventh Qatar Grand Prix. The first event of the new season, like the floodlights themselves, would hopefully throw some light on what could be expected on track in the coming months. There would be a mix of familiar competitors and new faces, and if it lives up to the contest seen in 2009 there should be plenty of spectacle.

Who would be the favourites to emerge during the 2010 FIM MotoGP World Championship road racing series? Would Fiat Yamaha team-mates and rivals Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo continue their private battle with the works YZR-M1 800? Or would there perhaps be a renewed assault from Marboro Ducati star Casey Stoner? Could the Honda challenge, to be led by Repsol team man Dani Pedrosa, this year prove equal to those already mentioned? Or might one of the new boys to the MotoGP class, such as Ben Spies from Superbikes or one of the 250cc graduates, spring a surprise on the established front runners?

The perpetual support class to the big boys in Grand Prix racing has always been that provided by the two-stroke 250cc racers. The world championship began in 1949, and the 250s were there from the start. Second only to the premier class 500cc bikes from 1983 onwards, after the demise of the 350cc championship, for 2010 the 250cc series is no more. The 250s last ran as part of the European championship in 2007, but for domestic competition most countries had dropped them even earlier. The new ‘Moto2’ class will run production-based 600cc Honda engines in a variety of prototype chassis. Of course, this change prompted several of the leading 250 riders to step up to MotoGP.

The premier 800cc four-stroke MotoGP class loses six full-time 2009 riders: Chris Vermeulen, Toní Elías, Alex de Angelis, James Toseland, Niccolò Canepa and Gábor Talmácsi. Coming into the series are the top four 250 runners from last season. Marco Simoncelli and Hiroshi Aoyama are the last two 250 champions, and they are joined by fellow race winners Héctor Barberá and Álvaro Bautista, the last of whom won the 2006 125cc title. Ben Spies was a long term Suzuki rider in US racing, but switched to Yamaha and won the 2009 Superbike World Championship at his first attempt. With four MotoGP races under his belt, he has already made an impact at this level.

Also in MotoGP this year should be 37-year-old Garry McCoy, a former 125 and 500cc GP winner who has not had a full-time ride in the series since 2003 - although he was on the Ilmor at the end of 2006. Garry’s FB Corse team were not in Qatar, but hoped to join the series with their new motorcycle for the first European race at Jeréz. This meant only four makes would be competing, with the Kawasaki/Hayate effort having withdrawn the ZX-RR 800 Ninja.

Full biographical entry list details can be found here.

The modern Losail International Circuit is situated in the desert, a distance from Doha, and the Grand Prix of Qatar has been on the world championship calendar since 2004. After running the race in the middle of the day for a few years, and therefore in extreme heat conditions, MotoGP organisers pioneered the spectacle of a night GP under floodlights in 2008. Extreme rainfall at the moment of truth meant postponement, for a day, of the 2009 race, but in both cases the result was the same: victory in dominant fashion for the red Ducati of works team leader Casey Stoner, just as he’d achieved in daylight for the 2007 race.

The circuit is fairly flat, with a long main straight and a range of this-way that-way turns, more right-handers than left-handers. In the past, pole position at Losail has gone to Loris Capirossi, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo; and twice to current lap record holder Casey Stoner. Both Rossi and Lorenzo have won more than once at Losail, and also former winners are the two Spaniards up from 250s, Barberá and Bautista. Spies did the Superbike double at this venue in 2009. For 2010 the first measure of the latest specification bikes provided a familiar look - the same front row as last year.

In qualifying, pole went to Stoner again on the new Desmosedici, with second and third on the grid going to the Yamahas of Rossi and then Lorenzo. The Spaniard’s performance was despite a recent injury to his right hand. Honda had two representatives on the second row, with their leading man on the RC212V being non-works rider Randy de Puniet. He was fourth for the LCR team, with Repsol’s Andrea Dovizioso in sixth. Pedrosa’s RCV was seventh, an improvement on his starting position here in 2009.

Like the leaders, also matching his qualifying position from last year was Capirossi, fifth on the first of the Rizla Suzukis. The Italian is a veteran of twenty years in Grand Prix racing, believe it or not, having begun in the 125 class just before his seventeenth birthday. Having non-started two or three times over the years, this race marked his 300th GP start, and he ran with the number 300 on this occasion, instead of his usual 65. His new team-mate Bautista would start from P13.

The Monster Tech 3 Yamahas of Colin Edwards and Spies were on the third and fourth rows, with Colin in eighth and his new partner in P11. Nicky Hayden would start ninth on the second Marlboro Ducati, which again was better than his 2009 performance. The first of the series rookies was tenth man Aoyama, on the Interwetten Honda. Between Spies and Bautista was Mika Kallio on the customer Pramac Ducati, with his team-mate Aleix Espargaró in P14. Simoncelli was next for San Carlo Gresini Honda, with the sister bike of Marco Melandri in P17. Between them was Barberá, for the Aspar team, new to this class after years on the GP scene, riding a Ducati in yellow.

There was no rain this time for race day, and a great start for the diminutive Pedrosa took him from seventh into the lead for the first corner. Rossi was second, and in an early right-hander he moved past the Honda man to lead, these two followed by the pair of Ducatis, Stoner from Hayden. Lorenzo was fifth, from Capirossi, Dovizioso, Spies, de Puniet, Simoncelli, Edwards, Espargaró, Melandri, Aoyama, Bautista and Barberá. Somewhere a touch with one of his rivals had put Kallio at the back of the field. Pushing to catch up, he soon lost the front and crashed out for good.

Lap two began with Pedrosa recovering his first position from Rossi, passing on the inside when braking for the initial right-hander. The Ducatis had swapped, but at this point Stoner repassed Hayden, and he was quickly through ahead of Rossi as well. Lorenzo maintained fifth, but Capirossi had soon lost out to Dovizioso, Spies and de Puniet, and behind the Italian a gap was opening up to Edwards, who was past Simoncelli, and the rest.

Stoner used the draft from Pedrosa’s Honda on the main straight to go to the inside and pass at turn one. The Australian set fastest lap more than once at this stage as he began to ease away from the rest in the lead. Pedrosa seemed to be able to go faster than Rossi in a straight line and so maintained second, as Hayden and Dovizioso ran next, after Lorenzo dropped back a place. Dani’s advantage over Valentino did not apply in the corners, and the Italian moved into second with an inside pass at one of the left-handers.

The race for third place saw Dovizioso get the draft from fourth man Hayden, only for the Ducati rider to fend this off by passing Pedrosa on the inside for turn one. Andrea soon also went past team-mate Dani to continue tracking the American. However, at this stage all the attention was on Stoner, as the 24-year-old Australian lost the front at turn four and crashed out of the race. This left Rossi as the leader, not far in front of Hayden, Dovizioso, Pedrosa and Lorenzo.

Early leader Pedrosa was dropped further back when Lorenzo went past for fourth in a left-hander. Dani was now just in front of Spies, and with de Puniet at the back of the group, which would soon see some battling. The first three seemed to be getting away now, with Rossi just in front and Dovizioso using the slipstream to take second from Hayden on the inside at turn one. The Pramac team’s race ended at this stage as Espargaró toured back to the pits after a crash.

With Lorenzo starting to stretch a bit of an advantage over his nearest pursuers, Pedrosa and Spies got into a tussle for the next position. The Tech 3 rider made a pass on the inside for a left-hander, but the Honda rider recovered the place on the power along the main straight, to the left, only for Ben to out-brake Dani for the first corner. He next lost a further slot to de Puniet with another move at one of the left-handers. From there Pedrosa dropped back from his rivals as he continued to run seventh.

Rossi had begun to pull open his margin of advantage at the front, but now Dovizioso and Hayden closed him down again. Even with their usual team leaders not contending for the victory, Honda and Ducati had reason to feel encouraged by having their riders threatening the leading Yamaha. Indeed, the speed of the RCV looked particularly handy, and now Andrea was able to draft Valentino and pull ahead on the inside line along the straight, only for ‘the Doctor’ to reverse the move going to the inside for the corner, on the brakes.

Dovizioso tried again to pass Rossi on the main straight, but the late stages of the race saw the multiple champion speed up through the bends and finally shake of the Honda by a second or so. Fifth man Spies had also found good pace as the race wore on, staying close to the leaders as de Puniet lost touch. But now Lorenzo was getting away from the 25-year-old as he looked to challenge for a podium result.

For the last couple of laps, Rossi had a lead of 1.5s or so, but the next three were together and each of them wanted to be second. Firstly, Lorenzo took third away from Hayden, on the inside for a right-hander. He then forced his way ahead of Dovizioso on the inside through a long right. Andrea tried to get back past on the main straight going into the final lap, but Jorge held him off. Then Nicky out-braked the Honda rider on the inside for a right-hander. The last chance for Dovizioso was right at the death, and he powered ahead of Hayden on the final straight to take third by 0.01s.

They had done it fives times in 2009, and this was another one-two for Fiat Yamaha - Rossi has won most of them. Behind Dovizioso and Hayden, Spies was a creditable fifth, with de Puniet and Pedrosa maintaining the next two places to the flag. Edwards was some way behind his new team-mate, but had got ahead of Capirossi to take eighth. From P14 early on, Aoyama had progressed through the field and was close behind Loris in tenth at the end. Simoncelli, Barberá and Melandri followed, but Bautista crashed at the final corner to lose a likely P12 finish.

Valentino Rossi showed how close it might have been when he ran out of fuel on the slowing down lap, but at the chequered flag he had been where it mattered. Jorge Lorenzo did enough in the late stages to be second to his team-mate and rival, but in the long run the Qatar race could prove costly to Casey Stoner, and to a lesser extent Dani Pedrosa. Despite Yamaha’s position at the finish, the Honda’s potential looked useful, and Nicky Hayden seemed to have proved that the new Ducati was rider friendly and therefore competitive for someone other than Stoner. Next race is in Japan.

Standings after one race: Rossi 25; Lorenzo 20; Dovizioso 16; Hayden 13; Spies 11; de Puniet 10; Pedrosa 9; Edwards 8; Capirossi 7; Aoyama 6; Simoncelli 5; Barberá 4; Melandri 3.
Yamaha 25; Honda 16; Ducati 13; Suzuki 7.