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12 days ago
By Nick Harris

Camels? Never!

Paddock legend and former MotoGP™ commentator Nick Harris sets the scene ahead of the #QatarGP

You will not believe me, but I promise you we did see camels on the way to the circuit. OK, it may have been over a decade ago, but camels were definitely out there in the Qatar desert. Today it’s a very different story.

We assembled in the hotel lobby for our first day back at school. The new shoes still a little tight, the new trousers, as always, too long and the crisp white MotoGP™ shirts still hiding a couple of painful pins after only being unpacked from their cellophane wrapping fifteen minutes earlier.

Anything more different to a trip down the A43 to Silverstone or the road between Cowes and Phillip Island could not be imagined. No Green Man pub on the left or signs to the Penguin Parade as the circuit signs give notice we are getting close. Central Doha and the road to Al Khor was more like a trip to Mars.

Massive - and I mean massive - glass towers filled the sky. You imagine you are in New York, Hong Kong or Dubai, but no, this is Doha and it’s growing before our very eyes. Extra floors seemed to be added every day, and in some cases overnight, to the plethora of new skyscrapers that filled the skyline. It was windy, it was dusty, with giant cranes swaying in the desert winds…and then there was the traffic.

In addition to those extra floors; new roads, roundabouts and routes appeared overnight. The army of four-wheel drive monsters that fight you for pole position at every traffic light, junction, and particularly roundabout, lapped up the challenge. It was a nightmare just surviving!

We passed a massive railway station that no doubt will feed tens of thousands who will flock to the concrete fortress-like stadiums that will host the World Cup in four years’ time. Again, they just appeared overnight where there used to be sand and more sand. We passed the Pearl, a millionaire’s playground of luxury apartments, before at last a diversion sign pointed to the Al Khor road and the Losail International Circuit. No sign anymore of the petrol station that used to fill our hire cars for less than a fiver, and the café and mosque.

Fourteen years ago, when MotoGP™ made its first visit to Qatar on a sweltering hot 40’ Saturday afternoon, this was the desert road to Losail. Today the landscape was unrecognisable. The new Losail city loomed in the right, cement lorries queued to be loaded from giant mountains of white sand and the obligatory new football stadium was under construction, surrounded by clouds of dust.

I will never forget my first glimpse of the magnificent Losail circuit glimmering in the piercing sunshine, surrounded by a sea of white sand 14 years ago. Once again it has all changed. Not only do the hundreds of floodlight poles signal its appearance a lot earlier, but a few years ago, a spaceship-style stadium appeared out of nowhere during the winter. It’s like a scene from Star Wars, with this enormous space ship landing in the desert. I’m told it’s no such thing and actually a handball stadium. You can but dream.

Over the redundant cattle/camel grid and turn right. The entrance beckoned and the MotoGP™ season was about to start – bring it on (but shame about the camels).

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