MotoGP Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar 2011

Stoner Wins in Qatar

Casey Stoner had a titanic tussle with his Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa at the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar in the first round of the 2011 MotoGP World Championship to take all 25 points on his debut ride with the factory team. Stoner eventually finished 3.440s ahead of defending World Champion Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing), with Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) completing the podium. It had been eight years since a Honda rider won the opening round of the MotoGP season, and Stoner claimed the 24th premier class win of his career under the Losail floodlights.

The riders observed a one-minute silence in honour of the victims of the Japan earthquake ahead of the start, and the 22-lap race was run in the best conditions of the weekend without the strong winds that had intermittently been present through the practice sessions, and the race produced a thrilling spectacle with close encounters throughout the pack.

Pedrosa took the lead from the start of the race and then it was the reigning World Champion, Lorenzo, who took up the mantle as race leader. What followed was fierce between the two Spaniards and Stoner, with the Repsol Hondas eventually pulling an advantage. Stoner and Pedrosa swapped position for the lead on several occasions, and at the midway point the pole sitter increased his pace and set off for the chequered flag. This left the two Championship rivals from 2010 battling for second place and it was the Yamaha rider who picked up the 20 points.

Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) and Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini Team) were involved in a close battle for fourth place throughout the race and it was the Repsol Honda man who came out on top. There was much anticipation surrounding the debut of Valentino Rossi with the Ducati Team. The Italian finished seventh after racing Ben Spies (Yamaha Factory Racing), and after swapping places with the American the Yamaha got the advantage over the Ducati to take sixth place.

Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) was eighth, with Nicky Hayden (Ducati Team) and Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) completing the top ten. Rookie Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) managed to take 11th place on the last lap ahead of Héctor Barberá (Mapfre Aspar Team). GP debutant Karel Abraham (Cardion ab Motoracing) was the final rider to pass the chequered flag and earned himself three points, with just 13 riders finishing the first race of the season. It was not the MotoGP return that Toni Elías (LCR Honda) had been hoping for as he crashed out towards the end, whilst the Pramac Racing team suffered bitter disappointment as Randy de Puniet fell on the opening lap, with his bike hitting that of team-mate Loris Capirossi and forcing the Italian to retire from the race.

Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing) opened his season in style by taking the second Moto2 win of his career, having started from pole position for the first time in his GP tenure. The German rider led from the start of the race and eventually won by a large margin of 4.330s.

Andrea Iannone (Speed Master) grabbed second spot on the rostrum and gained the 14th podium of his career. After starting from 16th on the grid, the Italian clawed his way up to ninth at the end of lap one and was up to second place by lap nine. Thomas Lüthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2) finished third after equalling his best ever qualifying start from third position. Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing) was overtaken by Alex de Angelis (JiR Moto2) on the last lap and dropped to fifth place.

After a poor start from the front row, 2010 125 World Champion Marc Márquez (Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol) found life more difficult in his Moto2 debut and crashed out in the first part of the 20-lap race. Simone Corsi (Ioda Racing Project) was sixth, beating Frenchman Jules Cluzel (Forward Racing) on the line in a close finish. Michele Pirro (Gresini Racing Moto2) was eighth, just behind the duo. Bradley Smith (Tech 3) was the best debutant recording a ninth placed finish, beating Julián Simón (Mapfre Aspar) inside the top ten.


Title favourite Nicolas Terol (Bankia Aspar) took the top spot in the 125 season opener having dominated every session this weekend. The Spaniard won at the Losail Circuit last season and his victory in the 2011 opening round was by a large margin of 7.710s. The fight for the podium was hotly contested amongst a group of four riders, but it was Sandro Cortese (Intact Racing Team Germany) making his 100th Grand Prix start, who clinched second place with the fierce fight for the final podium position going to the experienced Sergio Gadea (PEV-Blusens-SMX Paris Hilton). He edged out Efrén Vázquez (Avant AirAsia Ajo) and Jonas Folger (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) for third, who both followed close behind.

Frenchman Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) was next up in sixth position ahead of Alberto Moncayo (Team Andalucía Banca Cívica) and Luis Salom (RW Racing GP). The final two places in top ten went to rookies Maverick Viñales (PEV-Blusens-SMX Paris Hilton) and Miguel Oliveira (Team Andalucía Banca Cívica).

Héctor Faubel (Bankia Aspar) had been involved in the exciting tussle for the podium positions, but suffered mechanical problems with five laps to go, which dropped him outside of the top 10 at the end to finish 11th.

Qatar Sunday Race Notes

Official statistics compiled by Dr. Martin Raines

MotoGP
• Casey Stoner starts from pole for the third successive year at the opening race of the year in Qatar. This is the first MotoGP pole for Honda at the Losail circuit since Stoner was on pole on his non-factory Honda in 2006.
• Second on the grid is Dani Pedrosa; his first front row start in the MotoGP class at the Losail circuit.
• This is the first time that Honda riders have taken the top two qualifying places in the MotoGP class since the Grand Prix of Valencia in 2005 when Sete Gibernau was on pole and Marco Melandri was second on the grid.
• If a Honda rider wins here in Qatar it will be the first time that a Honda rider has led the MotoGP championship standings since Pedrosa after the Dutch TT in 2008. No Honda rider has won the opening race of the year since Valentino Rossi at Suzuka in 2003.
• Jorge Lorenzo starts from the front row for the MotoGP race in Qatar for the fourth successive year. He has finished on the podium in Qatar in all seven starts at the circuit across the three Grand Prix classes, but is still looking for his first MotoGP win in Losail.
• Marco Simoncelli has not finished in the top seven here in Qatar since he took the final podium place in the 125cc race in 2005.
• Ben Spies finished fifth last year in Qatar, after qualifying down in eleventh place on the grid.
• Hector Barbera has qualified as the fastest Ducati rider on the grid, taking the final place on the second row. This is the first time in the 800cc era of MotoGP that the fastest Ducati on the grid is non-factory machine.
• Andrea Dovizioso, who heads the third row of the grid, finished third last year in Qatar – the only Honda rider to finish in the top five.
• Cal Crutchlow has qualified in eighth place on the grid in his debut MotoGP race. This is the best qualifying result in the MotoGP class by a British rider since James Toseland was fifth on the grid in Valencia in 2008.
• Valentino Rossi starts from ninth place on the grid on his debut ride on the factory Ducati. This is his lowest grid position since he was tenth fastest qualifier at the final race of 2008 at Valencia.
• The last time that there was a premier-class race with no Suzuki lining up on the grid was at the 1974 German GP at the Nürburgring. This was a race boycotted by the leading riders on safety grounds and had just seven starters.

Moto2
• The pole position lap time is an improvement of 1.736 seconds on last year and the top sixteen riders on the grid have qualified faster than the pole time set last year by Toni Elias.
• Stefan Bradl starts from pole for the first time in his Grand Prix career. He is the youngest ever German rider to start from pole in the intermediate class of Grand Prix racing, taking the record from Martin Wimmer.
• Bradl is the first German rider to start from pole in the intermediate class of GP racing since Ralf Waldmann was on pole at the Dutch TT in 2000.
• Marc Márquez is the second fastest qualifier on his debut in the Moto2 class. He will be aiming to duplicate the achievement of Dani Pedrosa, of winning on his debut in the intermediate class as reigning 125cc world champion.
• Thomas Lüthi, who set the fastest lap of the Moto2 race last year in Qatar, is in third place on the grid which equals his best qualifying results of 2010 at Catalunya and Sepang.
• In fifth place on the grid is Jules Cluzel, who has finished on the podium in Qatar for the last two years; second in the 250cc race in 2009 and third in the Moto2 race last year.

125cc
• Nico Terol, the winner in Qatar one year ago, has qualified on pole for just the second time in his GP career; his other pole was at the French GP last year.
• Sandro Cortese, who will be starting from second place on the grid, was third in the 125cc race in Qatar in 2009 which was his first ever GP podium finish.
• This weekend Sandro Cortese will become the second youngest rider of all-time to reach the milestone of 100 Grand Prix starts – only Jorge Lorenzo has reached this milestone at a younger age.
• Efren Vázquez has qualified in third place on the grid, equalling his best ever qualifying result, which he achieved at Jerez last year.
• On his return to the 125cc class, Sergio Gadea is heading-up the second row of the grid. Gadea won the 125cc race at Qatar in 2008 – the first ever Grand Prix to be held under floodlights.
• Fifth on the grid, Hector Faubel won the 125cc GP in Qatar in 2007 which was the last year that he competed in the 125cc class.
• Jonas Folger will be starting from sixth place on the grid, his best qualifying result since his only front row start at the Catalunya GP in 2009.

Stoner Keeps Form with Pole in Qatar

After dominating all three practice sessions at Losail Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda) clinched the first pole of the 2011 season, the 27th of his career, for the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar with a fine display in qualifying on Saturday evening.

The MotoGP class was presented with warmer temperatures and less wind compared to the two previous days during the hour-long qualifying session. Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) was the only man who could compete with Stoner’s brilliance and took provisional pole off him during the session, but ended up 0.205s behind when Stoner blitzed his lap time with a pole position lap of 1’54.137. Pedrosa will now make his first ever front row start at the Losail International Circuit.

The final place on the front row went to Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing) who finished 0.810s behind Stoner. Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini Team) was the surprise of the session with a great lap to finish fourth fastest, just four-hundredths slower than the current MotoGP World Champion. Ben Spies on the second factory Yamaha was fifth, with the top Ducati again Héctor Barberá (Mapfre Aspar Team) who was sixth fastest, 1.086s off the time set by Stoner.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3 again produced a good showing with the sole British representative Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech) managing eighth place on the grid for his first MotoGP race, despite the awkward injury to his finger. Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso heads up the second row after timing in seventh fastest, whilst Valentino Rossi will start from the third row on his Ducati debut after setting the ninth fastest lap, precisely 1.5s off Stoner’s time. Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards completed the top ten in QP, which Álvaro Bautista missed after undergoing surgery on a fractured left femur he suffered in a practice session crash on Friday.

In Moto2 Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing) converted his practice session pace into pole position for the intermediate category race. A lap of 2’00.168 secured the German rider the first pole of his World Championship career to date.

Reigning 125 World Champion Marc Márquez (Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol) will join the German on the front row after finishing 0.207s behind, with Thomas Lüthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2) completing the front row as the new three riders per row format comes into effect for the Moto2 and 125 classes.

Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing), Jules Cluzel (Forward Racing) and one of the title favourites for 2011 Julián Simón (Mapfre Aspar) took second-row spots, with Moto2 debutant Bradley Smith (Tech 3), Alex de Angelis (JiR Moto2), Michele Pirro (Gresini Racing Moto2) and Scott Redding (Marc VDS Racing) all inside the top ten.

Nico Terol (Bankia Aspar) achieved pole with a late lap in the 125 session, beating Sandro Cortese (Intact Racing Team Germany) to top spot by 0.090s in the dying moments of the 40-minute run with a lap of 2’06.605.

.Efrén Vázquez will occupy the third and final spot on the front row, with 125 returnees Sergio Gadea (PEV-Blusens-SMX Paris Hilton) and Héctor Faubel (Bankia Aspar) joined by Jonas Folger (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) on row two. Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) was seventh fastest and was the last rider to achieve a lap time within two seconds of the pole sitter, with Alberto Moncayo (Team Andalucía Banca Cívica), rookie Maverick Viñales (PEV-Blusens-SMX Paris Hilton) and Luis Salom (RW Racing GP) completing the top ten.

The Moto2 and 125 classes both completed their warm up sessions on Saturday evening. The MotoGP class will warm up at 6pm local time on Sunday, with the 125 race scheduled for 7pm, Moto2 at 8.15pm and MotoGP at 10pm..

Stoner Closes Practice on Top in Qatar

Casey Stoner topped the third and final practice session at the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar on Friday, continuing his dominance of the weekend to date having led both previous sessions. The Australian was fastest on Thursday and again in the earlier Friday session, rounding off the later 45-minute run with the best lap time of the weekend so far, an effort of 1’55.035.

It was an all-Repsol Honda top three on the timesheet, with Dani Pedrosa second and Italian Andrea Dovizioso third. The Spaniard was 0.158 off Stoner’s quickest lap, whilst Dovizioso was fractionally over seven-tenths off top position.

There was an improvement for the current World Champion, Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing) as he got the edge over his team-mate Ben Spies (Yamaha Factory Racing) and took fourth, with the top Ducati rider being Héctor Barberá (Mapfre Aspar Team) in sixth. Ducati Team rider Valentino Rossi was eighth quickest, 1.271s off top spot and with Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) ahead of him in the timings. Pramac Racing pair Randy de Puniet and Loris Capirossi completed the top ten.

Álvaro Bautista crashed inside the final ten minutes of the practice, and the Rizla Suzuki rider was stretchered off. A broken left femur was later confirmed, ruling the Spaniard out of the season-opener and with a decision on whether he will be operated on in Qatar or flown back to Spain still to be made. Read more about that here.

In the Moto2 class Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing) was the fastest rider with a best lap of 2’00.882, leaving the German a sizeable 0.872s ahead of second-placed Marc Márquez (Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol), with Andrea Iannone (Speed Master) third in the session and the only other rider to get within a second of top spot.

Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing), Julián Simón (Mapfre Aspar) and Scott Redding (Marc VDS Racing) completed the top six in the session, with Takahashi and Redding remaining in the top three across the combined times from all sessions thanks to their times from FP2. Thomas Lüthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2), Jules Cluzel (Forward Racing), Simone Corsi (Ioda Racing Project) and Alex de Angelis (JiR Moto2) completed the FP3 top ten.


Nico Terol was fastest in the third and final 125 practice session as he improved his lap time once more to time in with a 2’06.957 and beat Efrén Vázquez (Avant AirAsia Ajo) to top spot by a clear 0.931s. German Sandro Cortese (Intact Racing Germany) completed the top three, with Sergio Gadea (PEV-Blusens-SMX Paris Hilton) and Jonas Folger (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) both inside the top five.

Miguel Oliveira (Team Andalucía Banca Cívica), Héctor Faubel (Bankia Aspar), Luis Salom (RW Racing GP), Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) and Alberto Moncayo (Team Andalucía Banca Cívica) set top-ten times in the final session before Saturday’s qualifying practice. The third day of the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar gets underway at 6pm local time on Saturday with the 125 qualifying practice, followed by the Moto2 and MotoGP classes.

Stoner Sets Pace in Qatar

Casey Stoner carried his hot form from pre-season into the opening practice session of the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar at the Losail International Circuit on Thursday, setting by far the best lap of the first practice session at Round 1 of the 2011 MotoGP World Championship.The Australian’s best effort of 1’55 752 made him the only rider under 1’56” in the 45-minute session under the floodlights, and he was over 0.610s quicker than nearest rival, team-mate Dani Pedrosa as the Repsol Honda duo repeated their one-two from the final Test just days earlier.

The surprise of the session was Héctor Barberá (Mapfre Aspar Team MotoGP), setting the third quickest lap, and of course all eyes were on the debut of Valentino Rossi (Ducati Team) riding on his Desmosedici GP11 for the first time in a competitive session. After some difficulties in pre-season testing, he finished fifth, just being edged out by fellow Italian, Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini Team).

Current World Champion, Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing) was 0.834 seconds off the fastest time set by Stoner and was one place behind fellow Yamaha Factory Racing team-mate, Ben Spies. The gap between second and eighth was just 0.230 seconds, showing how close the competition is throughout the field in MotoGP. Third Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso was eighth quickest and next, the Frenchman Randy de Puniet (Pramac Racing) in ninth position with the final place in the top ten going to American Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3).

Earlier in the afternoon, the pre-event press conference saw reigning World Champion Jorge Lorenzo joined by Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and rookie Karel Abraham as they addressed the media. “Everybody seems very strong and there are a lot of riders at a good level, who have been very fast and quick,” said Lorenzo of the lead-up to the 2011 campaign. “We are not at our best moment, with the setting. We need improvements in the bike to be competitive and I know we can be faster than in the test. The rivals have improved a lot and Yamaha hasn’t, not a lot. At the moment, we not only have a problem with the maximum potential, but with the set-up. I am sure we can improve and then be closer.”

Stoner, who went on to set the fastest time, had said: “I couldn’t have asked for any more from pre-season. The tests were very productive and at the moment everything is going very well. However, testing and racing are two very different things. Everyone has been more consistent with their lap times and I think riders will be up there who I didn’t expect to see before Christmas.” And ahead of his much-anticipated Ducati debut proper, Rossi had stated: “I’m very excited, it’s like the first day at school! It’s always a great emotion to change bike. In the testing we’ve not been so fast, but we have worked on the bike and my riding style and I do feel quite ready.”

In Moto2 Yuki Takahashi grabbed the quickest time of the second practice session in the dying moments, beating Scott Redding (Marc VDS Racing) by just 0.053 of a second as the intermediate class and the 125s ran two practices on Thursday, as opposed to the single one for MotoGP.

Redding looked set to claim top spot in the session, however a fall on his last lap cost him the chance of attempting to improve his time. Takahashi’s lap of 2’01.695 was faster than the best time of FP1 set by Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing). Bradl was still consistently quick though, recording the third fastest time of FP2. Andrea Iannone (Speed Master) and Thomas Lüthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2) were fourth and fifth respectively.

Second quickest man from FP1 was newcomer Marc Márquez (Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol), who this time was sixth place. Michele Pirro (Gresini Racing Moto2) set the seventh fastest lap of the session, showing a good start to his 2011 campaign. He was ahead of more experienced riders, Aleix Espargaró (Pons Racing), Julián Simón (Mapfre Aspar) and Claudio Corti (Italtrans Racing) who were eighth, ninth and tenth. Pol Espargaró slid off into the gravel early on and had to return to the pits without his bike, missing a large portion of the session. His brother Aleix also had a minor off late on.

In the 125 class Nico Terol was a clear second ahead of Sandro Cortese (Intact Racing Team Germany) in the second session. The Bankia Aspar rider posted a 2’07.418, with his German competitor second ahead of second Aspar rider Héctor Faubel.

Luis Salom (RW Racing GP), Jonas Folger (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport), Efrén Vázquez (Avant-AirAsia-Ajo Motorsport), Johann Zarco (Avant-AirAsia-Ajo Motorsport), Danny Kent (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport), Alberto Moncayo (Team Andalucía Banca Cívica) and Sergio Gadea (PEV-Blusens-SMX Paris Hilton) completed the top ten.

The first ever Indian rider in the World Championship, Sarath Kumar (WTR-Ten10 Racing), also made his debut in a competitive session on Thursday.

Losail Lights Up 2011 MotoGP Start

The wait for MotoGP fans around the world will finally end on Thursday when the first round of the 2011 season commences under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit with the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar. With the pre-season done and dusted the 17 premier class riders will step back on track at the venue just three days after completing the final pre-season Test there, as the business of racing gets underway.

Defending World Champion Jorge Lorenzo is the man whose crown the remainder of the MotoGP field will be targeting, and a range of suitors have put their names forward as title candidates for 2011 during pre-season.

The Repsol Honda trio of Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso have all been strong in testing in the lead up to the new campaign, with the RC212V having been the fastest machine across the two Tests at Sepang and the Qatar meeting just passed. Stoner has a fearsome record at Losail having won for three years consecutively from 2007-2009, including on his Ducati debut, a feat he will be eager to repeat on the Honda and having topped the timesheet in the final pre-season Test there on Monday. Pedrosa has been fast and, importantly, fit in pre-season and will aim for a first podium finish at Losail since 2008, whilst Dovizioso opened his campaign last year with a closely fought third place at the track.

Lorenzo himself has never finished off the rostrum when riding at Losail in the premier class, and took an impressive second place last season despite carrying a hand injury. The Factory Yamaha Racing rider’s new team-mate Ben Spies will be another man expecting to fight at the front in what promises to be a thrilling curtain raiser.

No doubt a great deal of attention will centre around Valentino Rossi, whose pre-season travails have added to the anticipation surrounding his race debut on the Ducati Desmosedici. The Italian was victorious in Qatar last season but in the lead up to 2011 a recovering shoulder and continuous efforts to get comfortable on the GP11 have made his adaptation to the machine a subject of much interest, with team-mate Nicky Hayden heading into his third season on board with the factory Ducati team.

San Carlo Honda Gresini pair Marco Simoncelli and Hiroshi Aoyama have enjoyed promising pre-season tests and will hope to convert those into results at the first round as they both enter their second season in the premier class. Other riders embarking on their sophomore MotoGP campaigns will be Álvaro Bautista, the sole rider for Rizla Suzuki this year, and Héctor Barberá (Mapfre Aspar Team).

Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards has been in good form on the M1 whilst on the Desmosedici Randy de Puniet and Loris Capirossi commence new phases in their premier class tenures with the Pramac Racing team.

Toni Elías’ return to the MotoGP class will see the Moto2 World Champion tackling the 800cc RC212V of the LCR Honda team, and for MotoGP rookies Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Motoracing) and Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) an exciting new chapter in their respective careers begins. The latter will go into the opening round nursing a finger injury on his left hand however, which he picked up in a crash on the final day of the Test on Monday.

Moto2

After a thrilling inaugural season in 2010 the Moto2 category revs up for its second year in the World Championship in 2011, and on Thursday evening 38 ambitious riders will line up for the opening practice session.

Round 1 of the 2011 campaign commences just ten days after the conclusion of the final pre-season Test which took place at Jerez, and where the 600cc Honda engines were in full symphony for the first, and only, time prior to Qatar. The leading figures at the three-day meeting were Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing), 2010 125 World Champion Marc Márquez (Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol), Simone Corsi (Ioda Racing Project), Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing) and Thomas Lüthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2), who were the highest placing riders on the timesheet. The quintet will all be keen to carry that form into the opening round, but a host of other candidates will also be intent on making strong starts to 2011.

Last year’s Championship runner-up Julián Simón (Mapfre Aspar) and Andrea Iannone (Speed Master) who finished third will be amongst the expected challengers at the front, whilst Frenchman Jules Cluzel (Forward Racing) stood on the podium at Losail last year. Add to the mix names such as Mika Kallio (Marc VDS) and Aleix Espargaró (Pons Racing), both of whom have stepped down from MotoGP and will feel they have a point to prove, and riders who proved their progress last year in the category in Scott Redding (Marc VDS) and Alex de Angelis (JiR Moto2) and the first race promises another spectacular show.

Alongside the names of those who displayed their talents last year on a frequent basis will be those of some exciting newcomers to the stage on a full-time basis, when the field lines up for FP1 on Thursday. Kenan Sofuoglu gave a hint of his ability in the final two rounds last year when riding as a replacement for the Technomag-CIP team, and the Turkish rider is on board with the French squad in 2011. Michele Pirro (Gresini Racing) and Kev Coghlan (Team Aeroport de Castelló) will also embark on their debut Moto2 World Championship campaigns.

Also arriving in the Moto2 class as they graduate from the 125s are Pol Espargaró (HP Tuenti Speed Up), Bradley Smith (Tech 3), Randy Krummenacher (GP Team Switzerland Kiefer Racing) and Esteve Rabat (Blusens-STX), whilst the likes of Kenny Noyes (Avintia-STX), Anthony West (MZ Racing), Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda Singha-SAG), Mike di Meglio (Tech 3), Claudio Corti (Italtrans) and Yonny Hernández (Blusens-STX) will all attempt to build on last season with a strong start in Qatar.

Mashel Al Naimi will provide a home interest for Qatari fans as he starts his second season in the World Championship, and will be joined by wildcard compatriot Nasser Al Malki on the QMMF Racing Team for this round.

125cc

The final season of the 125cc two-stroke category will also kick off as the pursuit of the title sees 31 riders pit their wits against one another. With 2010 Champion Marc Márquez departed for the Moto2 class, the chase for the vacated title will play out amongst a group of riders hungry to make the best possible start at Losail. One man brimming with confidence will be last year’s race winner and Championship runner-up Nico Terol, one of the main title favourites in 2011.

The Spaniard’s primary threat is likely to come from within the same garage however, with Bankia Aspar team-mate and compatriot Héctor Faubel also holding winning experience at the circuit having taken victory in the 125 class in 2007. Faubel was also fastest at the Jerez Test ten days ago, where he finalised his preparations for his return to the category by finishing just ahead of Terol on the timesheet.

German duo Sandro Cortese (Intact Racing Team Germany) and Jonas Folger (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) have both enjoyed strong pre-seasons, the former now heading into his seventh campaign and with a Qatar podium from 2009 to his name, whilst other riders with enough experience to expect to challenge will be Ajo Motorsport pair Efrén Vázquez (who placed second in Qatar last year) and Johann Zarco. Sergio Gadea’s (PEV-Blusens-SMX Paris Hilton) readjustment to the class having returned from Moto2 has given the Spaniard some food for thought, but he will nevertheless be expectant at the opening round.

Aside from the more experienced heads there has also been a pre-season buzz surrounding the rookies who will initiate themselves on the World Championship scene this year. Spaniard Maverick Viñales (PEV-Blusens-SMX Paris Hilton) and Portuguese Miguel Oliveira (Team Andalucía Banca Cívica) have looked increasingly comfortable throughout the lead up to 2011, whilst Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup graduates Danny Kent (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) and Taylor Mackenzie (Phonica Racing) have also adapted well. All will hope that their progress continues under the floodlights in Qatar.

Other riders to look out for in the opening round will be 2010 Rookie of the Year Alberto Moncayo (Team Andalucía Banca Cívica), Mahindra Racing duo Danny Webb and Marcel Schrötter as the Indian team makes its World Championship debut, and the first Indian rider to compete in the World Championship Sarath Kumar (WTR-Ten10 Racing).

The Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar takes place across four days, starting on Thursday March 17th. The first practice session will be for the 125 category, and is scheduled to take place at 6pm local time.

courtesy of MotoGP