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Riders impressed by track layout

Riders impressed by track layout

Riders impressed by track layout

The MotoGP World Championship paddock took shape in Qatar for the first time ever today, with the riders expressing positive first impressions of the Losail International Circuit.

The newly-built racetrack, which cost $58 million USD and took just over a year to construct, plays host to the inaugural Marlboro Grand Prix of Qatar this weekend, making Qatar the 27th country to host a round of motorcycle racing´s premier World Championship since it began at the Isle of Man back in 1949.

The opinion of the riders was that the impressive new venue, which rises almost mystically out of the flat desert surrounding the capital city of Doha, could become a major fixture on the MotoGP calendar and expressed their desire to take on the challenge with their 990cc prototype machines in Thursday morning´s first free practice session.

Current World Champion Valentino Rossi was here for the laying of the first stone last December and was taken aback by the work which has been completed since then.

`The last time I was here there was no asphalt, only gravel, but we went around the track for the first time in the car this afternoon and the track is very impressive´, said Rossi. `The surface is understandably a little dirty but it should clean over the course of the weekend. It will be interesting to see who learns the track the quickest´.

Despite the novelty of the new surroundings, however, the Italian was quick to stress that his focus for this weekend remains on the thirteenth round of a series which he leads by 39-points over closest chaser Sete Gibernau with just four races remaining.

`We have three races over the next three weekends and it will be hard for everybody involved in the championship, but especially the riders´, continued Rossi. `The main thing for me is to focus on the job at hand and keep my concentration to the very end´.

Whilst unfamiliarity with the circuit presents an extra complication for many of the riders, this weekend presents an ideal chance for rookies like d´Antin Ducati rider Ruben Xaus to make an impression.

`I´m happy because this is the first time this season that everybody has to learn the circuit´, said Xaus. `I´m not making excuses but usually the other guys have more experience than me at the circuits and the fact they don´t should make like a little easier for me´.

Xaus´ team-mate Neil Hodgson was one of three riders to check out the local form of transport today, swapping horsepower for camel power in a promotional event at the circuit. The British rider was joined on a short camel ride by Shinya Nakano and Loris Capirossi, who reported positive progress from the two broken bones in his foot sustained in a first-corner pile-up at Motegi.

John Hopkins, who broke three ribs in the same crash, will also ride this weekend although his Suzuki team-mate Kenny Roberts, another rider involved in the incident, confirmed today from his home in California that he is likely to be out for the rest of the season. Roberts is replaced by British Superbike regular Yukio Kagayama.

Roberts´ brother Kurtis also misses out through injury and is replaced at Proton Team KR by James Haydon, whilst Chris Burns has not travelled and will again be substituted by Youichi Ui, who rides alongside James Ellison at WCM. Meanwhile, Aprilia have decided not to substitute the injured Shane Byrne for this race, meaning Jeremy McWilliams will be their lone rider.

To hear more from Rossi, Xaus, Makoto Tamada, John Hopkins and Harald Eckl at Wednesday´s pre-event press conference, click the video link at the top of the page.

Tags:
MotoGP, 2004, MARLBORO GRAND PRIX OF QATAR

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