The traditional pre-event press conference at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar saw last year’s World Championship top five Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow joined by the rider who impressed throughout the winter test period – Aleix Espargaro.

Unsurprisingly the first question would be about the fitness of reigning MotoGP World Champion – as he prepares to defend his premier class crown having recently broken his right leg in training.

The youngest ever MotoGP™ title winner Marquez explained, “It’s getting better but we won’t see my level until I get on the bike. It might take some time to get on the pace. It’s difficult because I’ve lost over a month of training and five days ago I couldn’t even walk. I can walk now and I think if I can do that I should be ok on the bike.”

He added, “It was difficult to be at home whilst everyone else was testing. Anyway I feel ok now and I’m looking forward to the start of the season. I’m not sure the objective is to fight for victory here, though I will need to see how my foot is over the course of the weekend.

An hour before the press conference had started Lorenzo and Rossi had ridden down the Losail Circuit’s start-finish straight in the new colours of the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team, as the factory squad unveiled their 2014 livery and showed off the logo of their new title sponsors.

Movistar have returned to the World Championship in a five year partnership with the Yamaha team and Lorenzo commented, “It’s great news that Movistar have joined our team and we are really excited to go racing.”

“Physically I am close to 100% but I have had three operations over the winter and I’ve had to work really hard to get my fitness back. The first race is crucial, you don’t want to make a mistake here and crash out, it’s so important to be on the podium at least.”

Pedrosa had a slightly different view about that, countering, “The first race is key of course but the championship is long and you have 18 rounds to prove you are the best. Of course I want to make the best start possible but so does everyone else!”

Rossi meanwhile, is looking forward to getting started on his 19th Grand Prix season. He said, “We need to try and see level this year once the races start as we have been more competitive in testing. I believe Aleix (Espargaro) and the Ducati riders will be strong both in terms of lap times and their race pace. The races could be different to last year especially at the start and in the first part of each race.”

Ahead of his Ducati debut Crutchlow was as honest as ever, telling the press, “I’m trying to learn a new bike and I’m having to adapt my riding style. I have to stop and turn more than carrying the corner speed and we’re making progress. Andrea Dovizioso showed the competitiveness of our bike over one lap in Sepang testing so let’s see if we can do it in a race.”

NGM Forward Racing’s new recruit Espargaro previewed the new season, having been impressively consistent towards the top of the timesheets in testing on his ‘Open’ entry Forward Yamaha.

“I have a very competitive package and I’m really excited to start racing,” stated the Spaniard. “The million dollar question is whether we can show our good pace in testing over race distance. Our race simulations have shown the we can. The end of last year was hard for me, I lost some focus and it was a hard decision to change team. But I’m very happy now with the decision I made!”

Regarding the new regulations relating to Factory and Open entries in MotoGP™ the riders each had their own opinions. Lorenzo asserted, “In an ideal world we would have 10 or 15 riders competing to win the title in one class and that is the goal.”

A revelation on his Open machine in the off-season Espargaro gave his view saying, “We are racing for the fans and we have to put on a good show. It would be great to see more bikes being competitive and hopefully that’s what we will see.”

The level of his evolving Ducati package is of key concern to Crutchlow, more so than being classified as a Factory or Open rider, and he commented, “Aleix (Espargaro) has shown how competitiveness he can be with the Open. I don’t think the softer tyre is an advantage at all, but let’s see what happens.”

Free practice for the MotoGP riders gets underway at the Commercial Bank Grand prix of Qatar at 7.55pm local time, with FP1 for Moto3 at 6pm and for Moto2 at 6.55pm.

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Yamaha Preview

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP kick started the Qatar MotoGP weekend this afternoon by taking the covers off the 2014 YZR-M1 in front of the world’s key motorcycle media.

Riders Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi were joined on the Losail circuit start grid by Kouichi Tsuji, General Manager of Yamaha Motor Co.’s Motorsports Division, Yamaha Motor Racing’s Managing Director Lin Jarvis and Telefónica Spain’s Director of Media, Luis Velo to reveal the new livery.

The first two months of the year have seen a flurry of activity for the team, highlighted by the recent ground breaking five-year title sponsorship agreement that launches the team Yamaha Movistar MotoGP ahead of the 2014 season.

Pre-season testing on track has been very positive. With the exception of a rear grip issues at Sepang, both Lorenzo, Rossi and the 2014 YZR-M1 have shown great promise and speed in the shakedown ahead of this season’s title challenge.

Now the wait is over and the riders will take to the track under the floodlights of the Losail circuit in Qatar in just 24hrs to begin practice for round one of the 2014 MotoGP World Championship, the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar.

The track has proved to be a great season starter for Lorenzo, the double premier class world champion having taken consecutive victories in the last two races. Lorenzo has always started from the front row and never finished off the podium in Qatar.

Nine-time world champion Rossi has an equally impressive record at the Losail circuit, claiming three wins and taking second last year after a fantastic battle with then rookie Marc Marquez in his first MotoGP race.

Built in the desert on the outskirts of Qatar’s capital city Doha, the Losail International Circuit has hosted a MotoGP round since 2004. The track celebrated the first ever night-time Grand Prix in 2008 and continues to be the only night race on the calendar. The 5.4km track is well suited to the YZR-M1 with a fast flowing nature. With a main straight over a kilometre in length and a combination of medium and high-speed corners the track is guaranteed to provide an exciting spectacle to start the season.

Unlike normal race weekends this weekend’s practice will be run from Thursday to Saturday, ensuring the riders get the optimum track conditions in the evening sessions.

Hiroyuki Yanagi – President, Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd – “In February, we held a press conference in Malaysia to discuss Yamaha’s close relationship with motor sports. Indeed, racing is in Yamaha’s DNA. Racing is even embodied in our brand message, “Revs your Heart”. Like the thrill people feel when they hear engine revs rise, Yamaha strives to inspire people with exciting moments and great experiences based on unique Yamaha initiatives spanning many racing forums. One of our most important missions is to succeed in MotoGP, the pinnacle of motorcycle racing. We are now preparing for this year’s campaign, when we hope to capture the MotoGP championship. I am very pleased to announce that the Yamaha Factory MotoGP Team has entered a five-year partnership with Movistar, the Spanish mobile phone operator owned by Telefonica España. From this year, they will race as the “Movistar Yamaha MotoGP” team. We are delighted to make this announcement, because we look forward to building a strong partnership with Movistar in MotoGP. Partnering with Movistar is a major step towards achieving our goals. With superstars Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi on board, we expect to enjoy many fine performances by Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, ultimately leading to the championship. With the racing season upon us, please look forward to big things from Yamaha!”

Jorge Lorenzo – “Finally we can start the engines! The forthcoming championship is about to kick off and that sounds great after a long winter. As we were able to improve our performance at Phillip Island with the new tyres I feel quite confident for the very first race. I undertook three surgeries during the wintertime to take out some plates and metal pieces from the collarbone and the hand so I returned to full fitness quite late. In general I feel nearly at 100% and I guess in Qatar we won’t have any problems to push to the maximum. Concerning the track needless to say this is a good layout for both my Yamaha and me. I won here the past two races in a row and this is a circuit that suits in a good way the M1. The only thing we have to wait and see is the behaviour of the new tyres; especially on this surface; there is usually plenty of sand because it’s surround by the desert. The championship is going to be even tighter than last season was and at the beginning just Márquez begins as the favorite contender. Afterwards I guess Dani or me are in a good position but also Valentino who is even hungrier than in 2013. Regarding Marc’s pace we should wait before saying anything about it. He is so strong and quick. Maybe he won’t start at a perfect level but I’m pretty sure he is going to be close to 100%. This 2014 season is going to be exciting and thrilling. I start in a very good position, filled with positive energy and optimism. The bike with the new changes is working really well and we solved the little problem of the engine, fixing the electronics in order to mitigate the aggressive behavior on the starts. Now it’s response is softer than at the beginning of the season in Malaysia and also we can count on a “complete” seamless gearbox, that is also a good news for us. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, following the unveiling of the new Movistar Yamaha MotoGP livery. I love the new bike and the new colours. Posing with the new bike today has been the best incentive to kick-off the season!”

Valentino Rossi – “I’m so happy because we are finally here at the start of the first race weekend of the year. We have worked very hard in the testing to make some of my issues from last year better and we have found some really good speed. I have been able to be very competitive and been with the fastest riders during testing. I’m very happy with the work done to my M1 over the winter that has helped me to be fast; we have a competitive bike to fight for the podium this weekend. I have a great feeling with the bike and I can’t wait to start the season tomorrow. Our competitors are also quite fast and so I think there are going to be some very exciting races. I am really looking forward to some great battles and fighting for the podium! When I received the news of the arrival of Movistar, I was very happy. It is a great thing to start the year with such a fantastic sponsorship announcement. We must all be very happy for that. Yamaha are very excited, and I am as well. I hope that Movistar will enjoy the journey with us this year and bring luck and podiums! Surely it is a greater incentive to do even better. As for the bike and the new livery, I like it a lot. It’s really nice, really “racing!”. We start the season in the best possible way, showing our fans a beautiful livery. Now we must do our best to collect good results on track!”

Lin Jarvis – Managing Director, Yamaha Motor Racing – “This is one of the most exciting starts to a season that I can remember. This winter has been very intense behind the scenes. Our engineers have been working tirelessly to improve every aspect of the bike’s performance and our riders have been preparing themselves physically and mentally for this very important new season. Our management team have also been working non-stop to conclude all discussions and negotiations back in the office, and our Team staff and Marketing and Communications staff have been working frantically, burning the midnight oil to get the Team ready today with our new Movistar Yamaha MotoGP branding. It is great to welcome Movistar back in the world of MotoGP and I am delighted to have so many passionate sponsors and partners on board with us for this new campaign. We will do our maximum to get the results everybody craves for. We are ready, we are hungry and we are excited to go racing!”

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HRC Preview

As is fast becoming a new tradition, the 2014 MotoGP World Championship begins under floodlights at Qatar this weekend, with Repsol Honda RC213V rider Marc Marquez poised to begin the defence of his classic Rookie World Championship, and team-mate Dani Pedrosa prepared for his own assault on the ultimate crown in motorcycle racing.

The factory pair head a total of four Honda RC213V riders, but for 2014 there is a new MotoGP category, the “Open” class, and four new Honda RCV1000R customer machines make a total of eight Hondas on the 23-strong grid.

The first race of the year is always keenly anticipated, and the Losail circuit’s unique desert location and unique after-dark timing lend a special atmosphere to the event.

Here one year ago reigning Moto2 champion Marquez made his stunning debut in the MotoGP class, qualifying sixth but fighting his way to third in a dazzling first-race rostrum. He won the second round, and – but for one crash and one black flag – finished on the top-three podium at every race, including six race wins.

Still only 20 years old and with 125cc and Moto2 titles already in his cabinet, his blazing maiden season made him the youngest-ever premier-class World Champion. He did it with almost a year to spare: should he secure the title before this year’s Japanese GP in October, he will again beat the previous (1983) record holder, Honda’s Freddie Spencer.

Marquez dominated the first round of pre-season tests at Sepang in Malaysia, but then suffered a leg fracture in a crash while training. He missed the next tests under doctors’ orders, to ensure recovery for the start of the new season.

Team-mate Pedrosa’s 2013 title challenge was blunted by injury and misfortune, but the former 125cc and double 250cc World Champion still added three more race wins (bringing his career total to 48), as well as ten other top-three scores to secure third overall.

The 28-year-old Spaniard returns for his ninth year in the official Repsol Honda team. After devoting pre-season testing to selecting the best possible setting combinations to exploit the power and handling of the awesomely fast Honda RC213V, he is ready for another campaign to achieve overall victory in the premier class, to add to his earlier titles.

HRC Vice-President Shuhei Nakamoto shared the feeling of eager anticipation.

“We’ve had a positive winter testing period with Dani. He has had an incredibly busy test schedule, completing over 500 laps in the nine days of testing, which has been vital. He is happy with the bike, and ready for the start of the season.

“Unfortunately Marc was unable to take part in two out of three tests. Anyway in the only test he did, Marc was very fast and completed many laps gathering a lot of data for the HRC engineers. Now we must wait and see his physical condition when he arrives in Qatar. It will be an interesting season, and we look forward to starting it.”

Two riders return in the same Honda satellite teams as last year. Alvaro Bautista, riding the GO&FUN Honda Gresini RC213V, finished sixth overall last year. Although the 29-year-old Spaniard never quite made the top three, a series of strong performances at year’s end proved how the team had got to grips with the rider’s exclusive use of Showa suspension and Nissin brakes. His secondary role is in race-development of these Japanese components, supplied by companies with strong links with Honda.

Germany’s only MotoGP rider Stefan Bradl, in his third season riding the LCR Honda RC213V, secured a first podium last season, finishing second at the US GP after claiming a maiden pole position at the challenging Laguna Seca circuit. The 24-year-old’s chances in the close secondary battle for fifth overall were spoiled with a freak injury in Malaysia. The former Moto2 World Champion finished up seventh.

Four riders will campaign the works-replica RCV1000R machines, including former Honda World Champions Nicky Hayden and Hiroshi Aoyama. Top US racer Hayden claimed the MotoGP crown in 2006; Japan’s Aoyama was the last ever 250cc World Champion in 2009. Now they are team-mates in the Spanish Drive M7 Aspar Honda team, spearheading the new Honda’s challenge.

Class rookie Scott Redding rides the GO&FUN Honda Gresini RCV1000R alongside Bautista. The Briton, still the youngest-ever GP winner, finished a strong second in the Moto2 championship last year, fighting to defend his lead until a rare crash left him injured with three races to go.

The final RCV1000R goes to Czech racer Karel Abraham, a former Moto2 race winner in his fourth season in the premier class. Abraham pulled out of the latter half of last season for reconstructive surgery to a shoulder injury, and was working his way to full fitness at pre-season tests.

The all-Honda-powered Moto2 World Championship can be relied on to produce nail-biting racing, and with last year’s championship top two moving up to MotoGP, the battle for supremacy will be all the more fierce.

With powerful and reliable race-tuned Honda CBR600 engines supplied by the organisers, close battles are guaranteed through the field; while rival teams use different racing chassis to look for the vital and in this class very narrow racing edge.

Last year’s third-place finisher Esteve “Tito” Rabat has switched teams, taking Redding’s place on the Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex, with Finn Mika Kallio as team-mate. The pair finished third and fourth last year.

The competitive nature of the class is clear from the ensuing positions: from Dominique Aegerter in fifth overall to Johann Zarco in ninth covered by less than 20 points.

Aegerter returns this year on the Technomag carXpert Suter. He was just two points ahead of fellow-Swiss racer, the former 125cc World Champion Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock Suter). Seventh-place went to another ex-125 Champion Nico Terol (Mapfre Aspar Suter), with the extra distinction of three race wins. He too returns with the same team. Likewise top Japanese rider Takaaki Nakagami (eighth, now on an Idemitsu Honda Team Asia Kalex); while French ace Zarco is on the new Caterham Moto Racing Suter.

The Pons HP40 Kalex team, victorious last year with the departed Pol Espargaro, fields two high-level rookies: Moto3 champion Maverick Vinales and his deadly rival from the same class Luis Salom. The pair were locked in close combat for the title all last season.

The entry-level Moto3 class pits rival manufacturers against one another, under tight rules governing the mandatory single-cylinder 250cc engines.

A six-strong Honda entry is spearheaded by two top-level recruits: multiple race winner Alex Rins and team-mate Alex Marquez. Rins was a strong title contender last year, finishing a close second; while Marquez made an even stronger rookie debut than his older brother Marc, finishing fourth overall with a debut-season win. They were riding rival KTM machines, but together with the Estrella Galicia 0,0 team have switched to Honda for 2014.

French Alexis Masbou returns on a Honda in the same Ongetta-Rivacold squad, with new Honda rider Zulfahmi Khairuddin from Malaysia in the colours of Ongetta-AirAsia.

Spanish veteran Efren Vazquez is new to Honda, and joins Briton John McPhee in the Saxoprint-RTG Honda squad; the Briton in his second full season.

The 5.38-km Losail circuit, with ten right hand corners and six lefts, is designed with a priority on motorcycle safety. Extensive run-off areas are surrounded by artificial grass, to reduce the sand blown onto the track by the desert winds, a constant problem at Qatar for traction and tyre wear.

The 1.068-km start-finish straight is one of the longest on the calendar, with speeds approaching 350 km/h – Marquez’s Repsol Honda RC213V recorded 344.7 km/h last year. Even the best riders sometimes over-run the first corner early in practice, as they adapt to the speed and occasional tailwinds. Races are often decided at the finish line, as riders slipstream rivals to make dramatic overtaking moves over the line.

The corners are predominantly right-handers, with several corner combinations requiring precise lines to avoid losing time.

The first grand prix was run in the blistering daytime heat in 2004, while the first race under the lights was in 2008. The 3,600 floodlighting fixtures made Losail the largest permanent venue sports-lighting project in the world, and at night the circuit is visible for miles in every direction.

Uniquely the Qatar GP is a four-day weekend. Moto3 practice begins at 6:00 p.m. (GMT +3) on Thursday evening, with the first MotoGP race of the season on Sunday night at 10:00 p.m.

From Qatar, the MotoGP circus crosses the Atlantic for two consecutive races in North and South America. Round two is at Austin, Texas on April 13, with the first race at Argentina’s new Termas de Rio Hondo circuit two weeks later.

Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez says: “Obviously it was very disappointing for me to miss the two tests but the good news is that I’m getting better and the bone is mending. I’ve been exercising more, so I’ll have to see how I am in Qatar – I don’t expect to be 100 percent, but I will try my hardest. The important thing is to take some valuable points and then get up to 100 percent by round two in Austin. Arriving in Qatar as World Champion is something new to me – to defend the Title – and I know that from the first session the eyes of the world will be on us. Taking my first podium here last year was special and I have good memories!”

Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa says: “It’s been a pretty positive pre-season and we’ve completed a lot of laps in both Sepang and Phillip Island. We’ve made a lot of progress but as always there is room to improve. Since we finished in Australia, I’ve been concentrating on my fitness and focusing on the start of the season, my days are pretty hectic with the various training regimes. The race weekend in Qatar is quite long, as it stretches over four days, and the grip level is always quite low the first practice. Now I’m looking forward to the start of the Championship!”

LCR Honda rider Stefan Bradl says: “I am very excited to be back on track, especially in Losail. Racing in the night time is very special for MotoGP fans but also for the riders. During the last test session in Qatar we mainly focused on the overall package of my machine to get a proper base for the first race. We struggled a bit on soft tyres but the pace on the long distance was quite good. We have done a good job in the winter break and I feel physically and mentally ready for this new season”

GO&FUN Honda Gresini rider Alvaro Bautista says: “During the three-day test in Qatar we made several changes to the bike: during the first day of practice I was not feeling very comfortable, but by the end of the test the situation had undoubtedly improved, so we are confident ahead the first Grand Prix. However, we must consider that the Losail International Circuit for us is one of the most difficult tracks of the season; unfortunately, here we are still not able to be as fast as we would like. Therefore I expect a tough weekend, in which we will need to work hard if we want to improve. But we will give 110 percent to try to be protagonists.”

GO&FUN Honda Gresini rider Scott Redding says: “Racing for the first time in MotoGP will be a great thrill, no doubt: after all, competing in the premier class is a dream for every rider. When I line up my bike on the starting grid, for sure I will feel a little nervous, but also very curious to begin this new adventure and finally see what we can get. Our goal right now is to stay with Nicky Hayden and try to be the best Honda rider in the Open category, although it must be recognized that I still have to learn many things, from tyre behaviour to the electronics. I like the Losail circuit a lot, as well as racing at night … not being able to see anything else around the track is a strange but pleasant feeling, because it helps me to stay focused. Finally, it is very cool to think that my first MotoGP race will be exactly my 100th World Championship Grand Prix.”

Drive M7 Aspar Honda rider Nicky Hayden says: “Even though the last test went well and we made some important progress I honestly hoped we would be better prepared for the season and closer to the front by now. Anyway, in terms of the level of communication and the relationships in the team we are getting stronger and stronger. This will be my first race back on a Honda and my feeling with the chassis definitely helps: it’s fun to ride. We are ready to start a new adventure and I am excited, looking forward to getting started. We know it won’t be easy because there is a lot of strong competition but the simple fact that I am back in MotoGP for another season is a source of satisfaction and also motivation to do a good job. As a team we are hoping to get more and more competitive as the season progresses. Losail is not one of my favourite tracks but I like the feeling of racing under the lights.”

Drive M7 Aspar Honda rider Hiroshi Aoyama says: “Everything is new to me this year in terms of the bike and the team so we are still in a transitional stage but we were in Qatar just two weeks ago for a three day test and we gathered a lot of information that will be important this weekend. The aim is to put everything we learned in the test into practice. The first race of the season always has a special and unusual feel to it. I am looking forward to getting there and giving it my best. The level in this championship is very high and there are a lot of strong riders in the Open category this season. Our motivation couldn’t be higher and we are looking to make the strongest possible start to the season. I am looking forward to a new adventure with a new team and back with Honda.”

Cardion AB Motoracing Honda rider Karel Abraham says: “The start of the season has come a little too soon for me, because my shoulder is still not fully recovered – but during the tests I was constantly improving, gaining overall positions and closing the gap to Nicky Hayden, the fastest rider on the Honda RCV1000R. Of course I am still learning the new bike, but I will be giving it my best effort to gain points at Qatar.”

Moto2 Rider Quotes

Marc VDS Racing Team rider Esteve Rabat says: “Preseason testing has gone well. We’ve found a good setting with the bike and the lap times have been fast, but now we must carry that momentum into the first race. I’m going to Qatar to fight for the win, but I suspect the other 34 Moto2 riders are heading out there with exactly the same idea! Everyone arrives at the first race of the season with a lot of energy and high expectations, so it’s definitely a bit special. I like the Qatar track, but we will need to fight from the first practice to stay in front. We need to work hard, make our best and push every day.

Marc VDS Racing Team rider Mika Kallio says: “The results from the end of last year when combined with our preseason testing performance means we go into 2014 with some confidence. The first three races are the most important; if we can return to Europe at the end of April with three good results behind us then that only adds confidence and motivation. I really believe that this season I can fight for race wins and also the title. While Qatar doesn’t rate as one of my favourite tracks, I’ve had some good results there in the past and I find racing under floodlights quite interesting, as it’s a bit different to the other races on the calendar.”

Technomag carXpert rider Dominique Aegerter says: “At the last Jerez test I was faster than ever before. We have worked hard and have a lot of very valuable data, and the collaboration with the WP suspension specialist is getting better. Now the focus is on the first race … my goals are clear. I want to improve on my fifth championship place last year. I started 2013 very well. If I can do the same this year, I will be the happiest of the Moto2 pilots.”

Honda Moto3 Rider Quotes

Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda rider Alex Rins says: “Going to Qatar with a new project ahead, with a new bike and with HRC supporting us makes me very keen to get started. Qatar is a fast track, with some corners similar to Jerez and just the one slow corner. That’s why I think that our bike will be well suited to the circuit. There are riders who go fast when following others, so it will be interesting to see what happens when we are halfway through the race and the tyres start to go off.”

Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda rider Alex Marquez says: “After the final day of testing at Jerez I feel pretty good and very motivated for the new season. Losail is a track where I have already ridden last year. It is one of the more difficult tracks and rather long, but we will try to be as focused as possible from the start. We will be giving 100 percent whenever we are on track. I think that the circuit could work out well for us: There are medium speed and fast corners and the Honda is good at cornering quickly. We have to work on setting up the bike from the start, in order to be prepared for qualifying and the race.”

Ongetta-Rivacold Honda rider Alexis Masbou says: “At the beginning of the month I had a pin removed from my left wrist, which had been giving me problems, and although I had a lot of wrist pain over three days of testing at Jerez, I set a new personal best lap time. The latest engine has improved in the acceleration phase, and should be even better at Losail. I am looking forward to the first race … that is when the real fun begins.

Ducati Preview

After winter testing in Malaysia and Australia and the presentation of the Ducati Team in Germany last week in the Audi Forum at Munich Airport, the spotlights are now about to go on again for all the protagonists of the MotoGP World Championship, which kicks off this weekend with the opening round at Losail, in Qatar.

More than four months have gone by since the final round of the 2013 season at Valencia, and at Ducati headquarters in Borgo Panigale this period has been marked by a number of important changes, with the arrival of Luigi Dall’Igna as Ducati Corse General Manager, as well as the entry into the team of British rider Cal Crutchlow alongside Andrea Dovizioso, who starts his second season with Ducati.

Two tests at Sepang and a third at Phillip Island saw the two Ducati Team riders make significant progress in lap times, but the main aim in this first part of the season will still be to develop the new Desmosedici GP14 in order to turn it into a competitive machine in the races.

Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team #04) – “I am very satisfied with how the winter tests went, because we managed to improve more than we expected. Now the GP14 is easier to handle and by making a few changes to the bike, we managed to set some interesting times. The Losail circuit is very strange, because of the wind that often blows sand onto the track, and in addition it’s a night race. The track is long and fast and it’ll be interesting to see how well we go there with the new bike. I’m sure I can be quick over one lap, especially because last year I managed to go well in qualifying. Maybe the race will be a bit more difficult than practice, but I think we can be quite competitive at Losail. For sure we have reduced the gap to the others we had last year.”

Cal Crutchlow (Ducati Team #35) – “I’m starting my fourth season in MotoGP and my first as a Ducati factory rider, so I’m really looking forward to getting on the bike in a few days’ time and begin this new chapter. I think Qatar is going to be quite good for us: the team have been working fantastically hard, and I think we’ve progressed a lot since I first got on the bike in November. I think we will be at a little disadvantage because we never tested there, but we will still be at 100%. I’ve been very busy these past three months and in January I got married to Lucy, but once we start the season we can settle down into a rhythm. I can’t wait to start the season.”

The Losail circuit can be found alongside the motorway that connects the capital Doha with the town of Al Khor. The track itself measures 5.380 km and contains sixteen corners (10 right, 6 left). At 1.068 km in length, the main straight is one of the longest on the calendar. The circuit was built in 2004, and this year’s edition will be the eleventh time a MotoGP race has been held there.

PBM Preview

The opening round of the 2014 MotoGP World Championship gets underway in Qatar this weekend whereby the night race at the Doha track will mark another historic chapter in the increasingly successful Paul Bird Motorsport portfolio.

Having retained Ulsterman Michael Laverty for a second successive season as well as signing the experienced Australian Broc Parkes, the pair will be aboard the team’s very own Rapid Solicitors and Silkolene-backed PBM machines to participate within the newly redefined rules which have come into play this season.

The Aprilia ART-powered machines will contest the Open class division and follows on two years of development work whereby the Penrith, Cumbria based team – the only British team in the premier MotoGP class – have perfected their own chassis and other fabrications to their bikes.

Laverty campaigned the machine for much of last season as part of the ongoing development programme, scoring a brilliant13th place at Jerez before the Toome, County Antrim rider rounded out the season with another 13 top 20 placings to end up 25th in the standings.

Those three points he scored in Spain were also the first historic ones for the bespoke PBM machine which resulted in the PBM team claiming eighth in the Constructors Championship and 12th in the Teams Championship in their debut season with their brand new British-built machine.

Both 32-year-old Laverty and Parkes, also 32 and from Hunter Valley, New South Wales, were in action at the recent tests at the Losail track and return hoping for a good showing in the only floodlit race of the season.

Michael Laverty:  “I’m looking forward to getting another season off and running under the lights in Qatar this weekend. We had good pre-season tests in Sepang and Qatar so I am looking towards the season with renewed vigour. The Open class bikes have taken quite a step up over the CRTs of last season and we are under no illusions as to how tough it will be to score points, however that remains our goal. Our main rivals will be Avintia Kawasaki and Ioda Aprilia, however we hope that on occasion we will be able to challenge the customer Hondas. I look forward to another season in the PBM stable with a great bunch of guys working towards the same goal.”

Broc Parkes:  “I’m delighted to be back with the team I raced for in World Superbikes a few years ago and we have a really good relationship which is important. It’s going to be tough for sure but I intend to make the most of this opportunity given to be by PBM. To continue the run of Australians racing in MotoGP is fantastic too and I’m really looking forward to going racing this weekend in Qatar.”

Paul Bird, Team Owner:  “This is another historic chapter in the PBM journey and one which I’m incredibly proud of. When we talked a couple of years ago about building our own MotoGP bike, some people thought we were mad but here we are about to line up on the grid with not one, but two of our bikes built in the Lake District. The team has worked tremendously hard to get to where we are what with the rule changes and after the frustration and disappointment at times last year; hopefully we can achieve the results we know we are capable of. In Michael and Broc I have two riders I rate highly and believe in so it’s time to prove our potential now.”

Phil Borley, Technical Director:  “2014 will be PBM’s third year competing in the world’s premier motorcycle racing championship, MotoGP, and we are again looking forward to the big challenge of racing against the best riders, machines and teams in the world. With Michael’s year of experience and Broc’s rapid adaption to GP riding, we have two riders that are able to compete for points and help us continue to develop the PBM bike. Although our overall goals are realistic, our main target is to continue improving and reduce the gap to the top positions. We feel that we have made some progress during the pre-season testing we have completed and are now looking forward to the first race.”

Bridgestone Preview

Bridgestone slick compounds available: Front: Soft & Hard; Rear: Soft, Medium & Hard (Asymmetric)

The 2014 MotoGP™ season is set to start this weekend amidst a huge buzz of excitement at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit, as Bridgestone embarks on its sixth season as Official Tyre Supplier to the world’s premier class of motorcycle road racing.

Twenty-three riders will take part in MotoGP™ for the 2014 season, which will span eighteen races across thirteen countries. Adding to the anticipation for the 2014 season opener, Bridgestone’s new tyre classification system will make its debut in Qatar, with Green (Extra-soft), White (Soft), Black (Medium) and Red (Hard) coloured markings to be utilised throughout the season, making it easier for fans to see which tyre options the riders are using.

Three factors make the Losail circuit one of the most slippery on the MotoGP™ calendar; cool track temperatures, the potential for wind-blown sand on the track, and high humidity levels after the sun sets. The sand on track can also be quite abrasive, so Bridgestone’s tyre allocation must ensure high levels of grip and warm-up performance, together with good durability.

The circuit features ten right-hand corners and just six left-handers, so asymmetric rear slicks with harder rubber on the right shoulders are provided here. Open-class riders at Qatar will be allocated the soft and medium compound asymmetric rear slicks, while Factory-class riders will be able to use the medium and hard asymmetric rears. Front slick tyre options for the season opener are the soft and hard compounds to ensure the riders can manage the changeable grip and abrasion levels that occur at this circuit.

Hiroshi Yamada – Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport Department – “The 2014 season is Bridgestone’s sixth campaign as Official Tyre Supplier to MotoGP, and during this time Qatar has been the venue for the season opener. This weekend we will debut our new tyre colour marking system and I believe this will be a welcome change for fans, and will make the sport more attractive to the millions of people watching the action around the globe. After a busy pre-season, everyone at Bridgestone is excited to start the season, and I look forward to our range of 2014 specification tyres getting their first taste of competitive action this weekend. We’ve made a large effort to push the boundaries of motorcycle tyre development with our latest range of tyres, and it is thanks to the efforts of the riders and teams over the past couple months of testing that we arrive at the first race of Qatar fully prepared for the season ahead.

“This weekend also sees the first round of the Shell Advance Asia Talent Cup take place, and Bridgestone is proud to be supporting this series which gives young Asian riders a great opportunity to take their first steps towards a MotoGP ride. I’d like to extend my best wishes for a safe and successful campaign to all the riders competing in this year’s MotoGP and Asia Talent Cup championships.”

Shinji Aoki – Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport Tyre Development Division – “Qatar is the only night race on the calendar and as a result, track temperatures are usually quite low. These low temperatures would suggest using softer rubber compounds, but often there is abrasive sand on the track surface which makes durability a priority. This combination of low temperature and high abrasion makes it very tough for tyres, especially on the right shoulders, as they have to be soft enough to provide grip in the low track temperature but hard enough to resist wear. The front tyres also need sufficient stability for the heavy braking points at this circuit.

“Although the layout of the Losail circuit is only moderately severe on tyres, the combination of low temperatures, on-track sand and the elevated humidity levels that can occur mean that overall, this is quite a challenging circuit for tyre development. This weekend will be the first time our 2014 MotoGP tyres will be used in a race situation, and following a large development programme over the past few months I am confident that our 2014 specification slicks are well suited to the performance demands of both the factory and open-class machines.”

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