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MotoGP set for Middle East debut

MotoGP set for Middle East debut

MotoGP set for Middle East debut

The MotoGP World Championship heads to the Middle East for the first time in its 55-year history this weekend for the inaugural Marlboro Grand Prix of Qatar.

The fabulous Losail International Circuit, purpose-built on the outskirts of the capital city of Doha, has been constructed in little over a year but after an investment of some $58 million USD and round-the-clock dedication of up to 1,000 workers it is ready to host the thirteenth round of the world's premier motorcycle racing series.

The track itself is a flowing layout of 5.4 kilometres, featuring a main straight of 1100 metres, surrounded by artificial grass designed to prevent sand from the neighbouring desert from blowing onto the circuit.

Only one man has completed a lap of the track on a MotoGP machine, former 500cc racer Randy Mamola riding the two-seat Ducati Desmosedici at the opening ceremony in July, meaning it will be a completely new challenge for the riders and an interesting sub-plot to the World Championship title chase.

Valentino Rossi remains in pole position to retain his crown after extending his points advantage at the top of the standings in each of the last two rounds. Victory and second place respectively in Portugal and Japan, complimented by fourth and sixth for Sete Gibernau and two crashes for Max Biaggi, have seen Rossi establish a 39-point cushion with just four rounds remaining.

However, the unpredictability of MotoGP racing was never better illustrated than in the last round at Motegi, where Biaggi was one of six riders to go down in a first-corner pile-up caused by Loris Capirossi. Whilst Biaggi escaped uninjured, as did Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden, Capirossi broke two bones in his foot, John Hopkins snapped several ribs and Kenny Roberts dislocated his elbow.

This weekend both Capirossi and Hopkins have promised to ride through the pain barrier and compete at Qatar whilst Roberts has been ruled out for the next three races and will be replaced at Suzuki this weekend by Yukio Kagayama. Roberts' younger brother Kurtis is also out of action, missing his third race since fracturing his left elbow and wrist in a practice crash at Brno five weeks ago, and will be replaced at Proton Team KR by James Haydon.

Kagayama and Haydon will be joined on the grid by fellow British Superbike regular James Ellison, who rides in place of the departed Michel Fabrizio at WCM.

Fabrizio, meanwhile, could get a late call-up from Aprilia as a replacement for Shane Byrne, who has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after further tests on his injured wrist following a painful return to action at Motegi revealed ligament and tendon damage. Fabrizio previously rode as a substitute for Byrne at Estoril.

Tags:
MotoGP, 2004, MARLBORO GRAND PRIX OF QATAR

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