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Ready for war: Zarco smashes the pole record in Qatar

Ready for war: Zarco smashes the pole record in Qatar

18/03/2018, International, Motorcycling, Moto GP, Article # 26114982

 Grand Prix of Qatar

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Ready for war: Zarco smashes the pole record in Qatar

Lorenzo's 2008 pole record fell to flying Frenchman Johann Zarco's 2018 stunner
Reigning Champion Marquez is second - but says Dovizioso has the best pace for the race...
Petrucci on the front row: all those who have great race pace, raise your hands
MotoGP Front Row
Let battle commence: a grid of gladiators ready for another season of record-breaking racing
Front row shines under the lap record at a floodlit Losail

A lot has changed in the ten years since Jorge Lorenzo set the world alight on his premier class debut, but the Qatar pole lap record hadn't. Set by the Majorcan in 2008, the Losail laptime remained steadfast in the record books for a decade and was the oldest of its kind until Saturday of the 2018 Qatar GP and a scorcher from Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3). The Frenchman, now heading into his second season, marked his return to the venue at which he first led a premier class race in serious style - uncatchable ahead of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) to set a 1:53.680. So the reigning Champion starts his title defence from two tenths behind in second, and top Ducati Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) completes the front row and the trio of those who broke the record.

With strong winds throughout the day and the track temperature cooling as night fell for qualifying, the session revealed another piece in the puzzle of the first race of the year. Behind the top three, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) was next up heading the second row to make it 75% Independent Team riders in the top four, with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) - the man on provisional pole after the first run - taking the middle of Row 2. But Marquez says the 2017 Championship runner up has the best race pace - something that will be revealed on Sunday.

Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), meanwhile, kept his great pace at Losail rolling for his best ever qualifying position to lock out the second row, after Suzuki mounted the biggest challenge to Ducati on Friday.

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) heads up an all-star Row 3 with some serious potential for fireworks, with 17 World Championships crammed into three grid places as the Spaniard heads Movistar Yamaha MotoGP's Valentino Rossi and Ducati Team's Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo, who suffered some technical trouble in FP4, says he is out of position - and Rossi says the battle at the front could be more than ten riders. And Lorenzo, as well as being the previous pole record holder, is also the most successful rider at Losail across all classes - but Rossi beats him in the premier class with four to Lorenzo's three wins.

Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) completed the top ten after moving through Q1, with Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) two tenths back in P11 to make it more than ten riders within a second of pole. Meanwhile,  2017 polesitter and winner Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) lines up in P12 - but also showed incredible consistency on a long run in FP4...

Valentino Rossi expects to fight it out for the #QatarGP with more than ten riders and Losail always serves up a desert storm. Don't miss the 2018 season opener, with the lights going out at 19:00 local time (GMT +3) as the battle well and truly commences.
MotoGP™ Qualifying Results
First Independent Team Rider
1 - Johann Zarco (FRA) YAMAHA  1'53.680
2- Marc Márquez (SPA) HONDA +0.202
3 - Danilo Petrucci (ITA) DUCATI + 0.207

Alex Marquez storms to pole in the desert

Alex Marquez remains in charge in Qatar
Moto2 Front Row
The Spaniard was unbeatable in the first qualifying session of 2018; looking strong for Sunday

It’s been a faultless weekend so far for Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) at the Qatar GP and that continued in qualifying, with the Spaniard setting an unbeatable time that took him to the top of the order midway through the session to stake an early claim on the first win of the year. He will be joined on the front row by a resurgent Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40), with his countryman Francesco Bagnaia (SKY Racing Team VR46) completing the front row - just over half-a-second adrift of pole.

Qualifying for the intermediate class was a drama-filled affair as ever, as the floodlights came on and the temperature dropped, creating perfect conditions in the battle for the top spot on the grid.

Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Miguel Oliveira is in good shape at a circuit where he battled for the podium last year and lines up heading the second row. He’s joined by rookie sensation Romano Fenati (Marinelli Snipers Team) who has shown incredible form on his first weekend, with returning 2015 lightweight class Champion Danny Kent (Beta Tools – Speed Up Racing) taking sixth and equally impressing.

Jorge Navarro (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) and Sam Lowes (Swiss Innovative Investors) complete the top ten, despite a crash for the Brit during qualifying – rider ok.

We’re ready to go racing on Sunday in Moto2™ and with 12 riders within a second of each other, it’s set to be very close. Watch the title contenders and key players kick off their campaigns on Sunday from 17:20 local time (GMT +3).

Moto2™ Qualifying Results
1 - Álex Márquez (SPA) KALEX 2'00.299
2 - Lorenzo Baldassarri (ITA) KALEX +0.308
3 -  Francesco Bagnaia (ITA) KALEX + 0.236

Antonelli snatches pole in #QatarGP qualifying

Antonelli showed more fantastic form at a venue where he's won before
Moto3 Front Row
SIC58 Squadra Corse rider takes his first pole in two years to head the grid in Losail

2016 Qatar GP winner Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) has taken pole for the first race of the 2018 season, setting a 2:06.364 after the chequered flag to take his first pole in two years to mark the first time ever that Paolo Simoncelli’s team will head the grid in Moto3™. But just 0.001 adrift of Antonelli was 2017 qualifying superstar Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) – who took pole for half of the races last year – with Argentine Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Skull Rider), completing the front row of the grid.

2017 Rookie of the Year Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) kicked off his season in style by heading the second row, with Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) putting in a stunner to make it two Japanese riders inside the top five. Marco Bezzechi (Redox PruestelGP) is looking very at home on his KTM too, lining up on the outside of the second row.

Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0), Philipp Oettl (Südmetall Schedl GP Racing) and the Leopard Racing duo of Lorenzo Dalla Porta and Enea Bastianini complete the top ten.

Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai) is the top rookie and lines up 13th, whilst all eyes were on the other Spanish newcomer Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0) after he suffered the only crash midway through the session at Turn 9 – rider OK.

The stage is set for the opening Moto3™ race of the season on Sunday and it kicks off at 16.00 local time (GMT+3).
Moto3™ Qualifying Results
1 - Niccolò Antonelli (ITA) HONDA 2'06.364
2 - Jorge Martín (SPA) HONDA + 0.001
3 - Gabriel Rodrigo (ARG) KTM + 0.484
Sparks fly: Dovizioso edges Petrucci and Rins

Sparks fly: Dovizioso edges Petrucci and Rins

17/03/2018, International, Motorcycling, Moto GP, Article # 26104905

 Grand Prix of Qatar

Friday, 16 March 2018

Sparks fly: Dovizioso edges Petrucci and Rins

'DesmoDovi' started 2018 in the driving seat
Petrucci - top Independent and CLOSE to the top
Preseason dark horse Rins completed the top three
Stunning Friday action as one second splits the top 14 under the floodlights
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) started his Grand Prix of Qatar in the best possible way as the Italian ended Friday at the top of the timing screens, stunning his rivals with a lap time of 1.54.361 to put him just 0.006s ahead. It was the perfect test for race pace in the second session of 2018 for MotoGP™, as bikes take to the track at the same time as the lights will go out for the race to put track conditions to the most realistic test.

Fellow Ducati rider Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) completed the day as top independent rider in second position, as he set his time with three minutes remaining and only beaten by his compatriot. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) broke the Ducati dominance in P3, sitting 0.097s behind Dovizioso after a strong session and leading the way in the final ten minutes. Rins was also the first rider to break into the 1:54bracket.

The most successful  rider at the venue, Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team), secured fourth position overall around Losail, and his time of 1.54.831 was set following a busy start to his session as his Ducati caused sparks to fly on the home straight. Italian Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) wasn’t far behind his teammate Rins in fifth with a lap of 1.54.841, with reigning World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) ending the day in sixth position just 0.001 ahead of his teammate Dani Pedrosa.

Honda’s Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) sits in eighth as the second of the Independent team runners to go just ahead of ninth placed Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), who was unable to blast in a fast lap at the end of the session. Frenchman and 2017 Rookie of the Year Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) rounds out the top ten on Friday in Qatar, with just half a second splitting the men provisionally into Q2 on Saturday. As yet, 2017 Qatar GP winner Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) is in eleventh on the combined timesheets.

The fastest rookie was Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), with the Japanese rider taking back that honour after impressing in testing but getting edged out in the #QatarTest.

Don’t miss a minute of the #QatarGP as the Championship builds up to the much-anticipated first race of the 2018 season. FP3 kicks off at 12.40 local time (GMT +3) ahead of the fight for pole at 19:20, with the lights going out for the race on Sundayat 19:00.

Alex Marquez quickest under the lights in Losail

Alex Marquez - man on a mission
Game on: EG 0,0 Marc VDS rider concludes Day 1 on top ahead of Lowes and Bagnaia

2014 Moto3™ Champion Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) started his season in perfect form by ending Day 1 in Qatar on top of the timesheets,  just 0.038 in front of the returning Sam Lowes (Swiss Innovative Investors) and 0.053 ahead of Francesco Bagnaia (SKY Racing Team VR46), with all three gunning for the title this year. That made it Kalex-KTM-Kalex, with the battle hotting up already.

Following a more difficult campaign last season for Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) - including mid-season injury - 2018 has started far better for the German as he concluded the day fourth quickest, with the fastest man in Free Practice 1, Lorenzo Baldassari (Pons HP40), close behind to complete the top five. 

Expected title contender and three-in-a-row 2017 winner Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) took P6, ahead of Isaac Viñales (SAG Team), Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46), Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and fastest rookie Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers). Reigning Moto3™ World Champion and fellow rookie Joan Mir (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) took P13 after missing the final preseason test through injury.

Moto2™ go qualifying at 17:40 local time (GMT +3).


Martin breaks lap record to go fastest on Friday

Jorge Martín: nine poles in 2017 and on top to begin the new year
Del Conca Gresini Moto3 rider begins the year how he means to go on

Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) started his season in much the same way as he finished in 2017: on top. The Spaniard’s Friday at Losail International Circuit saw him breaking the Moto3™ lap record in the second Free Practice session after setting a 2:05.590, over six-tenths in front of a promising first day for 2016 Qatar winner Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse). It was a closer battle for second, however, as Antonelli ended the day just over a tenth clear of countryman Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing).

Argentina’s Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Skull Rider) got off to a good start, finishing fourth on the combined standings on his KTM. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) and Andrea Migno (Angel Nieto Team) completed the top six, with Tony Arbolino (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) on top form with his new team as he took P7. Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing), Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Philipp Oettl (Suedmetall Schedl GP Racing) locked out the fastest ten men on Day 1.

Unfortunately, it was a short weekend in Doha for Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) with the Japanese rider crashing in FP1 and fracturing his right forearm. He has been declared unfit for the remainder of the weekend.

The fastest rookie was Spaniard Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0) as he concluded the day in P21 despite riding at the track for the first time.

Now tomorrow it's qualifying day, and the session to decide the grid begins at 16:45local time (GMT +3).
#LetBattleCommence: Rossi renews, Losail looms and the grid get ready

#LetBattleCommence: Rossi renews, Losail looms and the grid get ready

16/03/2018, International, Motorcycling, Moto GP, Article # 26093144

 Grand Prix of Qatar

Thursday, 15 March 2018

#LetBattleCommence: Rossi renews, Losail looms and the grid get ready

L-R: Iannone, Rossi, Dovizioso, Marquez, Viñales, Zarco
Iannone looks on as the 'Doctor' talks contracts
Ahead of the 2018 Grand Prix of Qatar, it was time for the first Press Conference of the year – as well as all those ‘back-to-school’ activities that signal the start of another incredible season. At Losail, that was briefings and photoshoots, with the grid gathering on the start-finish straight for the 2018 class photo.
The class of 2018
The Moto2™ (L) and Moto3™ (R) grids
Bikes, camera, action!
Then it was Press Conference time as the riders faced the media for the first time in 2018, with reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) joined by 2017 runner up Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), recently re-signed Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), teammate Maverick Viñales, Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Johann Zarco and Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Andrea Iannone. Talk centered on the new season, debriefing testing and contract renewals – with Marquez signed up for another two seasons at Honda last week, and Rossi announcing during Thursday afternoon that he will race on to the end of 2020; making it an incredible 25 years overall.

The best soundbite from the ‘Doctor’ on that raised a laugh, with the rider from Tavullia explaining his decision with a smile: “I’ve seen a lot of drivers and riders retire at the top, like Schumacher, Biaggi, Bayliss…but then they always come back. So I decided to race on until the end!”

Back on testing and focusing on the race weekend ahead, morale was high ahead of the season opener and everyone is eager to get going, including the man now beginning the fight for his seventh crown.

“I’m happy to be here to start the season after a long winter, I think everyone is ready to start,” smiles Marquez. “We started more or less in the best way, with my future already decided. We agreed, I was happy with them and I was waiting a bit to see how preseason started but then I felt happy, and I feel important inside Honda. That’s important. So I’m happy and really grateful to them. It will help a bit this season because everything is sorted.

“In testing, we concentrated a lot on the engine, then throughout the season I think we can improve other things more. We start better than last year, we’ll see but we know there are some tracks where we’ll be able to attack and some more difficult.”

One of the more difficult could prove Losail – and it may be well ‘DesmoDovi’ holding the advantage as competition starts in the desert, with the Italian already having taken some impressive podiums at the venue.

“When I finish the season in a good way, the winter is wonderful,” begins Dovizioso, who fought for the title last year down to the wire. “It was a nice winter. I expect to be even more competitive this year, we’ve worked well over winter and we had a lot of new material to test. I think we tested it all well but only races can show that reality so we’ll have to see. In the race here, but especially in the races after.”

So Qatar may not reveal everyone’s hand – but one ace Dovizioso is sure he’s holding is the ability to fight at the front once again.

“In the past, when you race for a factory team, the Championship is the goal,” explains the Ducati rider on his chances of fighting for the title. “But you also have to be realistic. In the past it wasn’t real like this, this year I think we have the right situation. We have everything from my side, and from the bike side. It doesn’t mean we will fight for the Championship, but the approach is like this.”

The winner last year, meanwhile, was Maverick Viñales – and the Movistar Yamaha rider hasn’t had the same run in preseason this season, but his confidence remains high.

“I feel great, this year I feel really good,” affirms the rider from Roses. “Sometimes on the bike we’ve not been at the best level because we were testing many things, but I’m confident we can do things. We know where we have to improve but like last year, I start with good motivation and I feel good on the bike.”

When pressed more on what they’re working on improving, the Spaniard simple says it’s a matter of lots of little improvements. “During the season, you have to improve everything. You have to improve little by little, and race by race.”

The next man to talk – undoubtedly the talk of the day following his new two-year deal – was Rossi. Talking through the process and his thoughts, the ‘Doctor’ also added some big positives after preseason – saying he feels fast.

“I’m happy,” smiles Rossi. “Two years ago when I signed the this contract, I thought maybe it would be the last. I thought I would decide during these two seasons but in my mind it was always very clear, and I want to try and continue. The challenge is very high, to stay at the top it’s always difficult but I think I have enough strength and motivation to try!

“At the end of last season, I spoke with Yamaha and I said I would decide during the winter tests. If I was able to survive them, I would decide! The tests were quite good and everyone is very close, some days we suffered but I like the bike, I feel comfortable and quite fast. We have work to do but I feel quite fast.”

Fast was a word apt for Johann Zarco, too. The 2017 Rookie of the Year and top Independent Team rider topped the test at Losail, and the first question was a big one. Did he think people would be mentioning his name as a contender for the crown?

“No, I didn’t expect to be a title candidate,” smiles the Frenchman. “Leading the race last year gave me great confidence and the way I finished the season was good to understand a lot of things with the top guys. And after the three tests I was so happy to lead the classification. It’ only one laptime but it makes me and the team smile and makes me want to repeat it.”

Andrew Iannone was another of those who fought at the front last season in Qatar, and sadly also crashed out. But that pace is a constant for the ‘Maniac’ at Losail, and this preseason has seen some big improvements.

““The first part if 2017 was very difficult but at the end we recovered the gap and we were closer to the top,” says Iannone. “We continued to work very hard for the future and for the test. I think this year we’re starting in better conditions and from the beginning the bike has been a better base. During the tests the bike has been strong. I think specially here, the feeling with the bike is really good for me, but in any case, everybody is very close but we’ll try our best.” On Qatar as a superfast venue for him, the Italian says he’s not sure – but the number 29 is expected to be a big player on Sunday.

“I don’t know what it is about here. When the feeling with the bike is good, I’m generally fast. But I always try my best and Qatar is a good track for me.”

So many contenders for the crown, the first 25 points and glory in the desert make mouthwatering reading ahead of the season opener. And after such a long countdown, it’s finally here – the #QatarGP begins on Sunday at 19:00 local time (GMT +3).
Riders visit Katara Cultural Village

Riders visit Katara Cultural Village

15/03/2018, International, Motorcycling, Moto GP, Article # 26081262

 Grand Prix of Qatar

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Riders visit Katara Cultural Village

L-R: Lüthi, Abraham, Syahrin, Smith, Rabat, Bastianini, and Baldassarri enjoy a day out in Katara before it's lights out in Losail
The first race weekend is in gear, with some of the grid checking out a photo exhibit and some local landmarks of the Qatari capital. 
Before the sun goes down and the lights go out on Sunday ahead of the first Grand Prix of the season, Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), Karel Abraham (Angel Nieto Team), Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing), Tom Lüthi (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Lorenzo Baldassari (Pons HP 40) and Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing) took a trip to the Katara Cultural Village in Doha to check out the “Speed & Rituals” photo exhibit by the highly esteemed MotoGP™  photographers Gigi Soldano and Mirco Lazzari. 
Upon arrival the riders had a photo opportunity with the creative minds behind the exhibition, Gigi and Mirco, and once formalities were out of the way the riders set off to find their pictures on the walls of the Youth Hobbies Centre. Bradley Smith was happy to spot a photo of himself, grinning, “There’s a picture of me here, that’s cool! It’s great  to be able to showcase the creativity of the photographers in MotoGP and to showcase MotoGP in a different light.”
Meanwhile, 2018 MotoGP™ rookie Tom Lüthi is determined to get his photo up there after his veteran career in the lower classes. “I’m a little bit sad but it’s ok, next year I will be up there..." The Swiss rider is a 125 World Champion and has multiple Grand Prix victories, but hasn't yet taken on the premier class.
After wandering through the exhibition, the riders then moved on for more photo and media opportunities in the Amphitheatre overlooking the Persian Gulf, before one last photo stop in front of Katara’s famous Pigeon Towers. The riders now look forward to preparations ahead of the Grand Prix of Qatar, with Free Practice scheduled for 14:45 local time (GMT +3) on Friday 16th March.
Sun down, lights out: battle commences in Qatar

Sun down, lights out: battle commences in Qatar

13/03/2018, International, Motorcycling, Moto GP, Article # 26059245
Monday, 12 March 2018

#QatarGP Preview

Sun down, lights out: battle commences in Qatar

Reigning Champion Marc Marquez is the man with the target on his back
Dark horse no more: Dovizioso is a contender from day one
Zarco, the rookie sensation turned seasoned threat
The 'Doctor' in the desert
It's what we've all been waiting for and it's nearly here - 2018 is about to hit the rev limiter for round one

Ten years have passed since the desert oasis of Losail International Circuit hosted the first floodlit MotoGP™ race. In that time, much has changed but the core of the sport has remained the same. Foundations laid then and since have created one of the most spectacular eras of Grand Prix motorcycle racing since the Championship began in 1949 and, lucky us, another season of that rollercoaster is about to begin. Who’s your money on?

On the face of it, it’s hard to bet against reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). The rider from Cervera is now a six-time World Champion and he’s taken four premier class crowns in five years. Qatar is usually a more difficult venue for Marquez and Honda, and although both will want to begin another title defence on the offensive and at the front, it may be a case of good things come to those who wait for the number 93 and teammate Dani Pedrosa, who makes his 200th premier class start – as well as for HRC test rider and Independent Team challenger Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol).

Ducati begin the season with the statistics stacked the opposite way. Losail is a venue that suits the red machines, and Andrea Dovizioso has proven that with a good number of podiums in recent Qatar GPs. But that was then, and this is now. ‘DesmoDovi’ is a contender from the start in 2018, and it’s not just the podium that Borgo Panigale have in their sights – it’s the top step. That would make for a big opening statement from the Italian on the Italian machine. His teammate Jorge Lorenzo will be looking for similar headlines in his second year in red, too – and it’s his pole record that still stands from 2008 when he was a rookie in the premier class. With three wins to his name at the venue in MotoGP™, Lorenzo is the second most successful rider at the track on the premier class grid this year - added to another three wins in the lower classes.

Who’s the first? The ‘Doctor’. Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi has four MotoGP™ wins at Losail to Lorenzo’s three, and the rider from Tavullia always has some serious form for race day pace in the desert. But it’s been a difficult preseason and latter part of 2017 for the Iwata marque and questions remain – can Rossi answer them? And what of teammate Maverick Viñales? After an awesome preseason ahead of 2017 and two wins to begin the year, the battle became more uphill. Has that been turned around?

Turnaround is an apt phrase for Team Suzuki Ecstar. Preseason in 2017 saw the Hamamatsu factory make some mistakes in direction, but they’re confident they’re rectified for this season. And testing form showed that may well be true – with Alex Rins a constant top presence and Andrea Iannone a dead cert as a player in the Qatar battle. They may well be joined in that fight by Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) as the Noale factory took their equal best ever result with the Spaniard in the desert last year, and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing will have their sights set on Aprilia and Suzuki as they enter their sophomore season. The Austrian factory leaped rather than stepped forward last season, and they don’t plan on slowing up on their incredible progress. In addition, Pol Espargaro should be back on better form after injury – and he’ll be grabbing the bull by the horns.

But MotoGP™ isn’t a tale penned solely by the hands of factory teams. Independent runners, who are now also competing for their own new Teams’ and Riders’ crowns from 2018, are integral to the sport, the competition and the show. The dark horses, the outsiders – and in many cases, the frontrunning contenders. One such competitor is Johann Zarco: the 2017 Rookie of the Year, the top Independent Team rider last season, the multiple-time podium finisher…and the fastest man in the Qatar test.

Marc Marquez, predicting his biggest rivals this season, picked Andrea Dovizioso and Johann Zarco. So can the Frenchman challenge for the title in an Independent Team? The one thing we can be sure of is that he’ll do anything to make that a yes. Fast, aggressive, consistent and with few crashes, Zarco is both hot property and hotly-tipped for glory.

Crutchlow’s two premier class race wins chalk in the Brit as key competition for the Independent Rider crown, however, and former teammate Jack Miller – now on a GP17 at Alma Pramac Racing – has hit the ground running this year. His stablemate Danilo Petrucci took multiple podiums in 2017, too – including some incredible fights for the win – and the ranks are full of those capable of spoiling the party.

Will any of those men be the rookies? It was reigning Moto2™ Champion Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) who left Qatar as the fastest debutant, but Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) had kept that honour for much of preseason previously. Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) was second rookie in the Qatar test, too – an incredible feat after joining the ranks since Buriram – and he could be one to watch as he settles in. Meanwhile Tom Lüthi (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Xavier Simeon (Reale Avintia Racing) will be looking to close in on their rivals for Rookie of the Year – knowing the points are only given out on Sunday.

Favourites, dark horses; thrills and spills and twists and turns: this is 2018. Get ready to be surprised.

MotoGP™ FP1 begins at 14:45 local time (GMT +3) on Friday. Then when the sun goes down on Sunday, the lights go out at 19:00.


The great contenders: a full Moto2™ field ready for action

Who's your title favourite? Heading into 2018, there are more than a few
Moto2™ is a notoriously difficult and competitive class of Grand Prix racing. And 2018, with a long list of riders who are expected title contenders, race winners and podium finishers, is going to be an incredible year. Reigning Champion Franco Morbidelli has moved up, title-contending stalwart Tom Lüthi too, and there are a host of challengers aiming to fill that power vacuum.

Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is one such candidate. After a stunning run of three wins in a row to conclude 2017, the Portuguese rider will want to begin the year where he left off – as will KTM in their second year in the intermediate class. Not right at the top in testing but a solid presence nevertheless, has Oliveira showed his hand? His teammate, 2016 Moto3™ World Champion Brad Binder, is another threat on Austrian machinery, getting his first Moto2™ podiums as Oliveira took to the top step. After a season that began with some serious injury struggles, Binder on full-power and fully healthy was a force to be reckoned with. And testing went well for the South African.

As well as Oliveira, another multiple race winner from last season has his sights set high: Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS). The 2014 Moto3™ World Champion was uncatchably fast at Jerez and Catalunya, and played his hand to perfection for a tactical win in Motegi. Mid-season injury affected his season, but if the rider from Cervera can unleash the pace of Jerez all year, it could prove a problem for his competitors. And Marquez is on a Kalex, a headliner in an interesting battle of the chassis manufacturers.
So, too, is 2017 Rookie of the Year Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46). Bagnaia took his first podium on the day Marquez took his first win at Jerez, and the Italian arrived to the intermediate class with a bang. The two have been key players in preseason – and Bagnaia has made some headlines off track, too. Now signed up to move to MotoGP™ in 2019, this is ‘Pecco’’s second and final Moto2™ campaign and he’ll want to head up wearing the crown.

Another key player at the front this season is another KTM, however. Sam Lowes (Swiss Innovative Investors) returns to Moto2™ following a year in the premier class, and is a proven race winner and contender in the category. A change of team and the bike to have won three in a row last year are good omens, and Lowes topped the third and final preseason test at Jerez after some time under the radar. His goal is loud and clear: the Moto2™ World Championship.

Of course, racing is never as simple as track records picked out of a hat to make predictions. There is more to it than numbers and favourites – there are always dark horses, surprises, riders who want to flip the form book – and rookies looking to make a point.

A dark horse candidate this season could be Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team), who took a stunning win at Mugello last year and was often at the front. Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP 40) has also won before, and Sky Racing Team VR46 newcomer Luca Marini had good pace in preseason. Danny Kent (Speed Up Racing) is back and now Fabio Quartararo on the other side of the garage, and Malaysian Zulfahmi Khairuddin returns to the Moto2™ ranks at Petronas Sprinta Racing. Xavi Vierge and Marcel Schrötter gun for glory at Intact Dynavolt GP, and another familiar name will be on the grid: Hector Barbera (Pons HP 40).

Barbera is back in the intermediate class after some impressive years in MotoGP™ - and despite being a former 250 title challenger, times have changed and the Spaniard has never ridden a Moto2™ bike before. How will he adapt? Will his incredible wealth of experience be a help or a hindrance?

The other newcomers have different stories, with the biggest headline act moving into the class undoubtedly Joan Mir (EG 0,0 Marc VDS). The record-breaking reigning lightweight class Champion moves into the team who defend the crown and alongside a real contender – and he’ll want to hit the ground running as well as recover quickly from a mototcross injury that saw him miss the final preseason test. At that test, Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) was the quickest debutant – so will their rivalry re-ignite in the fight for Rookie of the Year? And can Bo Bendsneyder (Tech 3 Racing) get in that mix?

There is also NTS RW Racing GP, a new chassis manufacturer and two new faces. Although Steven Odendaal – the 2016 European Moto2™ Champion – has raced in the class before, the South African is now back and ready to attack. But his teammate Joe Roberts managed to stay a tenth ahead in testing, and that’s after the American rider had impressed hugely on his brief debut at Brno in the wet. What can Roberts do as NTS take on this new adventure?

Moto2™ is one of the toughest competitions on earth, and every competitor impresses. But now the pack has shuffled, who will emerge wearing the crown?

The eye of the slipstream: Moto3™ ready to rumble

The season opener is just around the corner, and the lightweight class always serve up a storm

It has been only a few short months since the final race of 2017, but everything is reset and reloaded and raring to race once more. This is 2018, and it’s new year – new Champion.

For all intents and purposes, the throne is vacant in Moto3™. As is oft or always the case, the old King has moved on to pastures new in Moto2™ and the new field of hopefuls are certain to provide us with a new name on the trophy. So ahead of the first 25 points towards that goal being dished out, what are we expecting this season?

One of the key men tipped for glory is Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3). The Spaniard set a stunning nine pole positions in 2017 – half the year – and finally took his maiden win in Valencia. He arrives as the latest victor, and he’ll want to leave Qatar as the same. On the podium last year, he’ll be tough to beat but his teammate will be one hoping to do that – with Fabio Di Giannantonio also taking a solid result last year at Losail as he came home in P8.

The man who won was Joan Mir, now an intermediate class rookie. In his place at Leopard Racing is another name expected to be a title contender – Enea Bastianini. With wins and podiums already and a good amount of experience, the ‘Beast’ will be pushing to make it his year. Hot on his heels in the final preseason test, however, was former teammate Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) – a man who, like Martin, also showed top form at Qatar last year as he took P4. Race by race and points on the board is Canet’s approach – but will that change once the lights go out?

The Spaniard is now the veteran at Estrella Galicia 0,0 this season. Alongside him is Alonso Lopez, who left Jerez as fastest rookie and will be gunning for the title of Rookie of the Year come Valencia. But there are some interesting newcomers on the list – including former FIM CEV Repsol Moto3™ Junior World Championship contender Makar Yurchenko of Kazakhstan (CIP – Green Power). And reigning Red Bull Rookies Cup Champion Kazuki Masaki (RBA BOE Skull Rider) will have his sights set on the same prize, as will Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai), and the man they’ll be looking to to beat is reigning FIM CEV Repsol Moto3™ Junior World Champion Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46).

The rookies have a point to prove, but so does a deep field of veterans including Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46), Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse), Phillip Oettl (Südmetall Schedl GP Racing), Adam Norrodin (Petronas Sprinta Racing), John McPhee (CIP – Green Power), Darryn Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Andrea Migno (Angel Nieto Team)…and the sophomore likes of Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Marco Bezzechi (Pruestel GP). Soon the first wheels will turn in anger and it will be Moto3™ who rev 2018 into action, with FP1 at 12:50 (GMT +3) on Friday.

Then, come 16:00 local on Sunday, it’s straight into the eye of the slipstream storm down Qatar’s more-than-kilometer long main straight – and the first 25 points of the season will be given out.
Viñales, Dovizioso, Iannone: trio tight at the top on Day 1

Viñales, Dovizioso, Iannone: trio tight at the top on Day 1

02/03/2018, International, Motorcycling, Moto GP, Article # 25946094

Losail MotoGP Official Test - Day 1

Thursday, 01 March 2018

Viñales, Dovizioso, Iannone: trio tight at the top on Day 1

Viñales sliced back up the timesheets on Day 1 in Qatar
'DesmoDovi' was incredibly close to the top
Zarco was once again fastest Independent Team rider
Pedrosa: down but not out, and rider ok
KTM's Bradley Smith pushing on with their program
Nakagami - fast making a habit of being fastest rookie
Iannone: the 'Maniac' was back in the top three on Thursday
The #QatarTest is in gear as the final coutdown begins, with Yamaha back on top - but not by much...

Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) opened the #QatarTest on top of the timesheets, with last year’s victor at Losail putting in a 1:55.053 to narrowly beat Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) to the top by less than half a tenth. Even closer than that, Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) took third and was just 0.003 off Dovizioso ahead of him.

Action was a little sluggish to get in gear on Day 1 as some waited for conditions to become more similar to those that will prevail during the race weekend, but by the end of running the majority of the field had racked up half a century on the lapcounter. At this test, there are three choices of front and rear from Michelin, with the soft and medium front tyres the same as the allocation for the race last year and the harder front the one new for this season used at the Sepang and Thai tests. The rear allocation is the medium and hard from the race weekend at Losail in 2017, plus a new soft option to test.

That’s in addition to each individual agenda – with Qatar now proving final decision time ahead of lights out. For Viñales and the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team, it’s important track time after the Iwata marque struggled at Buriram, with much to test. One thing that is defined for Yamaha, however, is aero – with electronics and grip issues the key focus. Back on top on Day 1, Spaniard Viñales put in 64 laps, with teammate Valentino Rossi not far behind on lap count or laptime. The ‘Doctor’’s best was a 1:55.432 to put him in P7, but with exactly the same fastest lap as Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) ahead of him. Rossi was positive after Day 1, as was Viñales.

Rins was the fastest Suzuki machine at Buriram, but at Qatar, teammate Andrea Iannone turned the tables on Day 1. Iannone was third fastest and so close to Dovizioso ahead of him, with his best a 1:55.107 and Rins a couple of tenths further back. The ‘Maniac’ put in 58 laps, with Rins racking up 67 and a late mover up the timesheets. Team Manager Davide Brivio says the package for the Hamamatsu factory is largely now defined in terms of engine and chassis, with time now allocated to final confirmations - but mainly, it's mission: race day as they get set up for the first Grand Prix of the year.

Meanwhile at Ducati, ‘DesmoDovi’ showed more of his hand on Day 1 as he blasted up the timesheets and was top Borgo Panigale machine. And teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who set the fastest ever lap at Sepang and then struggled in Thailand, shot back into contention on Thursday at Losail as he ended the day in P5; a 1:55.423 his best effort and around half a second off his own race lap record.

Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) was the man who just beat Lorenzo to the top four, fastest Independent Team rider and once again a presence in the top echelons of the timesheets after going second fastest in Buriram. His new teammate Hafizh Syahrin also put in a good performance once more, going P22 and mixing it up with his fellow rookies. Of those, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) was the quickest once more – ending Day 1 in P14.

Nakagami’s teammate Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) was the fastest Honda overall on Day 1 as he took P9, with Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa just 0.009 and 0.010 further back respectively as the three men lined up in a row on the timesheets. Marquez concentrated on electronics on Thursday and was positive, with teammate Dani Pedrosa making some different headlines with two tumbles, but rider ok.

Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) slotted into eighth on the first day as the top Independent Team Ducati rider, with teammate Jack Miller not quite as far up the timesheets so far in Qatar on Day 1, taking P12. Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team) was only a tenth and a half of Miller in thirteenth, with Scott Redding (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) completing the fastest fifteen just behind quickest rookie Nakagami. Redding was the fastest Aprilia as another who, like Iannone at Suzuki, turned the tables on his teammate on Day 1 – with fellow Noale machinery rider Aleix Espargaro two positions further back.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, meanwhile, were glad to have Pol Espargaro back in action alongside Bradley Smith, working on smaller updates to the chassis and engine, as well as defining their aero package. Espargaro ended the day in P19 but only just over 1.2 seconds off the top, with Smith for close company just behind – and both riders put a combined total of more than 100 laps on the counter for the Austrian factory as their progress keeps rolling on. Sadly, however, Espargaro will definitely be sitting out Friday's track action as he continues his recovery.

But the preseason and the #QatarTest roll on, with more track action on Friday from 13:00 local time (GMT +3).

MotoGP Test Results - Day 1
1 - Maverick Viñales (SPA - Yamaha) 1'55.053
2 - Andrea Dovizioso (ITA - Ducati) +0.051
3 - Andrea Iannone (ITA - Suzuki) +0.054

1st Independent Team Rider:
4 - Johann Zarco (FRA - Yamaha) +0.133

For full results, click here
#QatarTest: the final shakedown

#QatarTest: the final shakedown

01/03/2018, International, Motorcycling, Moto GP, Article # 25935305
Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Losail MotoGP™ Official Test - Preview

#QatarTest: the final shakedown

It's time for one last test ahead of lights out - at the venue that hosts the first Grand Prix of the season, Losail
Losail International Circuit in Qatar will soon be hosting the first race of 2018, but before the lights go out and the points are in play, there’s one last test. Three days kick off at the venue from the 1st to 3rd of March – the final shakedown and chance to get in gear for the season. It’s decision time.

So far in testing, Honda have been on a roll, with Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) joined by Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) in the upper echelons of the timesheets at both Sepang and Buriram. Added to positive comments from the riders, it all seems to be going well for the Japanese factory – but Qatar can sometimes prove more difficult, and they’ll be wanting to get as set up as possible for the race to attack from the off. With a few things to double check at a different venue, too – such as aero – it will be a full workload.

Over at Ducati, Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) set the quickest ever lap of the track in Sepang in the first test, but then found Buriram much tougher going. He’ll be raring to get back on track on the GP18 at another different venue – and Andrea Dovizioso, his teammate, will too. Both Lorenzo and 2017 runner-up ‘DesmoDovi’ have great records at the track, and they’ll be working on the final details for 2018 – including, yep, more aero investigations – as well as setting up for the first Sunday of the season.

Team Suzuki Ecstar also had aero to test at Buriram and despite early crashes for both riders, it’s all largely positive for the Hamamatsu factory so far and they have their sights set on the top five. Alex Rins, starting his sophomore season at full power after injury troubles last year, especially shone in Buriram, but teammate Andrea Iannone is always a threat on race day. And Red Bull KTM Factory Racing once again showed their progress in preseason so far – looking to mix it up with their fellow factories more often from the off. In Buriram it was Bradley Smith and Mika Kallio on track, but the injured Pol Espargaro should be back in action at Qatar.

Meanwhile at Yamaha, the test is another opportunity for the Iwata marque to figure out their issues before there are 25 points on the board. After initial good reports at Sepang, Thailand was more difficult and both Movistar Yamaha MotoGP riders Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi left the venue needing more track time in Qatar to try and work on their problems. Grip issues remain – with the electronics a key focus.

Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), however, didn’t share the complaints of the factory riders. Second fastest in Buriram and happy with progress, the Frenchman’s form looks ominous. His teammate, meanwhile, Hafizh Syahrin – now confirmed as a full-time rider in 2018 – will be focused on more progress now the contract pressure is off. Impressing on his debut, the first ever Malaysian in MotoGP™ will have a unique focus: track time, track time, track time.

His fellow rookies, all with more miles under their belts, will also want more time on track as they prepare to go racing in the premier class for the first time, but refining setups and working towards the first race will be higher on their initial agendas. So far, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) has been leading the way – tenth in Thailand and off to a flier. But EG 0,0 Marc VDS rider and reigning Moto2™  Champion Franco Morbidelli got closer in Sepang, and he’ll want to do the same again – with his teammate Tom Lüthi also pushing hard as he plays catch up after missing Valencia last season and sitting out a good portion of winter training through injury. Xavier Simeon at Reale Avintia Racing will also want to make a big step forward.

His teammate Tito Rabat has been impressive so far on his switch to Ducati machinery, but the biggest mover up the timesheets in 2018 has been another moving to Borgo Panigale equipment: Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing). Miller was fast from the off in Valencia and has also improved upon that since – how much of his hand will he show as the grid start to get ready to race? And at a venue that’s traditionally a corker for Ducati?

Danilo Petrucci, Miller’s teammate, has also been a presence well felt – and after a number of podiums in 2017, will be wanting to attack from the first race of the year. Petrucci is on test duty for Ducati but will also be working on his own refinements ahead of the Qatar GP now – will he be able to mix it with his fellow top Independent Team riders like Zarco and Crutchlow?

Now Syahrin has been cast as the final player in 2018, the curtain will soon be going up. Three more days remain between testing and racing, so make sure to follow all the action from the #QatarTest on from the 1st March between 13:00 and 21:00 local time (GMT +3).

On Day 3 there will also be half an hour allocated to testing the track in the wet. At 20:00 local time, track activity will pause in order to wet the track - and 20:30 - 21:30will see bikes head out to test the conditions at the floodlit venue. If necessary, Race Direction can also extend this time by a further half hour.

Then testing is over, and racing will soon be underway.

2018 FIM MotoGP™ World Championship Entry Lists

2018 FIM MotoGP™ World Championship Entry Lists

22/02/2018, International, Motorcycling, Moto GP, Article # 25866415

Kork Ballington to become a MotoGP™ Legend

Kork Ballington to become a MotoGP™ Legend

21/02/2018, International, Motorcycling, Moto GP, Article # 25855792
Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Kork Ballington to become a MotoGP™ Legend

South African set to be inducted into the MotoGP Legends Hall of Fame at the Australian GP

Four-time World Champion Kork Ballington will become a MotoGP™ Legend this season, set to be inducted into the MotoGP™ Legends Hall of Fame at the Australian GP at Phillip Island. Ballington won double titles in 1978 and 1979, taking the crown in the 250 and 350 World Championships.

The South African took his first podium in 1976, in the 250 World Championship, when he came second in the West German Grand Prix. And at the next event, Ballington took his first win – this time in the 350 World Championship – in the Spanish Grand Prix. 1977 saw more podiums and wins – his first 250 victory coming at Silverstone – before the South African made his charge for the crowns.

Ballington began 1978 off the podium in both Championships, but then won the 350 Austrian GP at the Salzburgring as his first visit to the rostrum that year. Also on the podium next time out, the eventual Champion in both classes then took both the 250 and 350 wins at the Nations GP at Mugello, and that was something he repeated in Finland and at Brno. Overall Ballington took four 250 wins and six 350 wins on the way to winning both titles in 1978.

1979 was a similar story, as the South African on the Kawasaki dominated. Seven 250 wins – achieved three-in-a-row and then four-in-a-row – saw him defend that crown, and five wins in the 350 World Championship wrapped that up for the second year running, too.

For 1980 Ballington targeted the 250 and 500 Championships and was runner up in the lower category after another five wins; also taking some solid top ten results on the 500. His first podiums in the premier class came the year after with rostrum finishes in the Netherlands and Finalnd, before a final year of competition in 1980 prefaced the four-time World Champion’s retirement. Now, Ballington joins the ranks of MotoGP™ Legends.

“I am overwhelmed and spent the day reflecting on my journey since as a young boy I was gripped by the desire to become intimate with motorcycles and embarked on the incredible journey which still affects all aspects of my life to this day in such a positive way,” says Ballington. “To join the elite group already on the list is such an honour. I am deeply humbled that I am to become one of them. Throughout my career I never expected or made it a goal to become recognised. My focus was just on giving the best account of myself while honouring the true values of sportsmanship and respect for fellow competitors and those members of the GP fraternity who followed the values. Recognition became a by-product of success and this recognition of my achievements has followed me to this day.

“This induction as a MotoGP Legend is a new high for me. It will be a pleasure to attend the Australian GP. I will bring my wife, Bronwyn who was an integral part of the whole journey. We have been together for 50 years and married for 40. It’s a long time! Thank you very much. I am deeply touched.”

Ballington will join a long list of greats that have been made MotoGP™ Legends that includes Giacomo Agostini, Mick Doohan, Geoff Duke, Wayne Gardner, Mike Hailwood, Daijiro Kato, Eddie Lawson, Anton Mang, Angel Nieto, Wayne Rainey, Phil Read, Jim Redman, Kenny Roberts, Jarno Saarinen, Kevin Schwantz, Barry Sheene, Marco Simoncelli, Freddie Spencer, Casey Stoner, John Surtees, Carlo Ubbiali, Alex Crivillé, Franco Uncini, Marco Lucchinelli, Randy Mamola and the late Nicky Hayden.
Ballington with compatriot Brad Binder, the 2016 Moto3™ World Champion