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Sun down, lights out; The battle begins in Qatar

By Sajith B Warrier
Qatar MotoGP

Bengaluru/Doha, March 13: As the stage is set for the new FIM MotoGP World Championship season to start on Sunday (March 18) at the Losail circuit in Qatar, there is a sense of de ja vu all over again in the Middle East desert venue.

Ten years have passed since the Qatar's 5.3km Losail circuit hosted the first floodlit MotoGP race. In that time, much has changed but the core of the sport has remained the same. Foundations laid then and since have created one of the most spectacular eras of Grand Prix motorcycle racing since the Championship began in 1949.

As the Qatar MotoGP enters its 15th year another season of roller-coaster is about to begin. And when the sun goes down on Sunday, the lights will go all out at 7pm local time (9.30pm IST).

Hero Honda!

Hero Honda!

On the face of it, it's hard to bet against reigning champion Marc Marquez of the Repsol Honda Team. The rider from Cervera is now a six-time world champion and the Spaniard has won taken four premier class crowns in five years.

Qatar is usually a more difficult venue for Marquez and Honda, and although both will want to begin another title defence on the offensive and at the front, it may be a case of good things come to those who wait for the No 93 and team-mate Dani Pedrosa, who makes his 200th premier class start - as well as for HRC test rider and Independent Team challenger Cal Crutchlow of LCR Honda Castrol.

Power of Ducati

Power of Ducati

Ducati begin the season with the statistics stacked the opposite way. Losail is a venue that suits the red machines, and Andrea Dovizioso has proven that with a good number of podiums in recent Qatar GPs. But that was then, and this is now.

‘DesmoDovi' is a contender from the start in 2018, and it's not just the podium that Borgo Panigale have in their sights - it's the top step. That would make for a big opening statement from him on the Italian machine. His team-mate Jorge Lorenzo will be looking for similar headlines in his second year in red, too - and it's his pole record that still stands from 2008 when he was a rookie in the premier class.

With three wins to his name at the venue in MotoGP, Lorenzo is the second most successful rider at the track on the premier class grid this year - added to another three wins in the lower classes.

Can Rossi answer critics?

Can Rossi answer critics?

The ‘Doctor'. Movistar Yamaha MotoGP's Valentino Rossi has four MotoGP wins at Losail to Lorenzo's three, and the rider from Tavullia always has some serious form for race day pace in the desert.

But it's been a difficult pre-season and latter part of 2017 for the Iwata marque and questions remain - can Rossi answer them? And what of teammate Maverick Vinales? After an awesome preseason ahead of 2017 and two wins to begin the year, the battle became more uphill. Has that been turned around?

Dark horse

Dark horse

But MotoGP is not a tale penned solely by the hands of factory teams. Independent runners, who are now also competing for their own new Teams' and Riders' crowns from 2018, are integral to the sport, the competition and the show.

The dark horses, the outsiders - and in many cases, the front-running contenders. One such competitor is Johann Zarco: the 2017 Rookie of the Year, the top Independent Team rider last season, the multiple-time podium finisher...and the fastest man in the Qatar test.

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    Story first published: Tuesday, March 13, 2018, 10:39 [IST]
    Other articles published on Mar 13, 2018
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