MotoGP™ 2013 all set to begin under lights

MotoGP preview Qatar
Monday, 1 April 2013

The desert is the scene for the tenth time as the 2013 MotoGP™ season kicks off at Losail this weekend. This year’s championship is one of the most eagerly anticipated in years, with Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi reuniting at Yamaha as Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez go head-to-head at Honda. The sport is all set for the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar.

One would perhaps be viewed as foolish to bet against Lorenzo for a third world crown, not least as – apart from a pair of race retirements – the Yamaha Factory Racing man never finished outside the top two in 2012. With Casey Stoner no longer around, is this a walk in the park waiting to happen?

Certainly not, if Dani Pedrosa has anything to say about it. The highly motivated Spaniard is arguably on the best available equipment at the moment and finished last season with six wins from eight races. He threatens to carry that form into the new campaign, has conducted a calm pre-season and felt comfortable enough to bring the curtain down on the final test one day early. On top of that, Honda is currently enjoying its longest run of consecutive race wins for almost a decade.

As each day passes, it appears less and less likely that 2013 will be a mere continuation of the Lorenzo-Pedrosa duel that raged over the second half of 2012. ‘The Doctor’ was never gone, but his pair of disappointing years with Ducati yielded only three rostrum placings. Now back on a Yamaha and keen to bank more happy memories before completing his career, the sparkle is back in Valentino Rossi’s eyes. He’s already enjoyed Twitter banter with Marc Márquez – perhaps a Rossi of the future – and the Spaniard could put in one of the most successful rookie seasons ever.

Optimism has been renewed from a British point of view. Cal Crutchlow took his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 to the top of the timesheets in the final test at Jerez, despite admitting that Pedrosa – absent on that day – would most likely have been quickest otherwise. Nonetheless, during the season in which he is joined for the first time by Oxford’s Bradley Smith, Crutchlow is striving to become the first British winner since the late Barry Sheene took the chequered flag in Sweden 32 years ago. He’ll be battling with the likes of LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl – generally the closest to the top teams over the course of testing – and Álvaro Bautista, who injured a hand and knee when crashing his GO&FUN Honda Gresini in Jerez last week.

Under the fresh leadership of Bernard Gobmeier, Ducati Team are looking for ‘evolution and not revolution’. Even so, this is the first full year in which Audi is at the helm and a low-key start to testing hopes to be a distant memory by the time the campaign ends in Valencia in November. Nicky Hayden is joined by Andrea Dovizioso: the man who replaced him at Repsol Honda four years ago.

Things are hotting up further down the order, too. Aleix Espargaró is well aware that defending the first ever CRT crown will take a lot of doing. Competition not only comes in the form of Power Electronics Aspar teammate Randy de Puniet, who is highly keen to make an impression, but also from Avintia Blusens’ Héctor Barberá who joins the CRT ranks for the first time, alongside Hiroshi Aoyama. Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham is another to have switched from a prototype bike, while PBM welcomes Michael Laverty on the team’s own machine while Yonny Hernández rides the more familiar ART chassis. Joined by new teammate Claudio Corti, Colin Edwards hopes to repeat history by setting the pace in Qatar for NGM Mobile Forward Racing. Italian policeman Danilo Petrucci returns for a second MotoGP campaign with Came IodaRacing Project while Australian Bryan Staring (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) and Czech Lukáš Pešek (Came IodaRacing Project) are two more of the eight newcomers in the 2013 line-up.

Another variable to throw into the mix is this year’s brand-new qualifying format. The timesheets of the three practice sessions will be combined, from which the ten quickest riders will immediately pass through to Q2 in order to fight for pole position. Prior to that, the rest of the field will contest Q1 in order to fill grid positions 13 and downwards; the best two riders in Q1 will be awarded an entrance to Q2, providing a top 12 shootout in the showdown for the first pole position of the year.

Practice for the 2013 Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar begins on Thursday and all sessions of all classes can be followed live on motogp.com.

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