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GP Week : Issue 1
n One bizarre possibility at the first-ever night GP was that of rain, which would have forced postponement or even cancellation, on safety grounds. According to Race Director Paul Butler: “We haven’t been able to test the effect of spray with the lights – it might make visibility dangerously bad. This was on the advice of Musco,” he said. n Suzuki went back to the future at Qatar, disinterring a 2007 fairing for new team man Loris Capirossi. He preferred the aerodynamics; team-mate Chris Vermeulen used the 2008 bike. n The first Chinese motorcycle to race in a GP made its debut at Qatar – the 125cc Loncin, ridden by French riders Jules Cluzel and Alexis Masbou. Under the skin, however, the Loncin is a Honda clone. They qualified 28th and 30th, but neither finished the race. n Rossi is on record that the new-generation electronics have made MotoGP bikes too easy to ride – but not everyone is finding this. While Stoner is regularly up front, the other three Ducati riders were all at sea. New factory team rider Marco Melandri, a former 250 champion and MotoGP winner, qualified 16th out of 18, almost three seconds off pole. Satellite- team riders Toni Elias and Sylvain Guintoli were just ahead of and just behind him. n Qatar will stay on the GP calendar until 2016 – the only GP with such a long contract, after a new eight- year deal with Dorna was struck in the week before the GP. HIGH SIDES 12 THE tyre war between Michelin and Bridgestone entered a new phase in qualifying at Qatar, with the French firm fighting back impressively after getting a severe kicking last year, and losing the services of Valentino Rossi as a result. Michelin race tyres had clearly improved over the winter, as proved by pre- season tests. The biggest difference is in qualifying tyres, where the French firm is streets ahead of Bridgestone. Michelin provides its riders with front and rear qualifying tyres, while Bridgestone only has a rear qualifier. The result at Qatar was an all-Michelin (and all-Yamaha) front row, with fourth-placed Ducati rider Casey Stoner the best on Bridgestones, and Rossi seventh. On race tyres, however, Stoner had led all three free practice sessions – and he dominated the race after a few laps. “We knew from testing that we would suffer at this track,” said Rossi. “We know that Bridgestone race tyres can go fast from the first lap, so maybe I can get with the front runners.” He was somewhat dismayed at the big step forward made by Michelin, which more than doubled its investment after last year’s crisis, which resulted in him jumping ship to become the only Yamaha rider on Bridgestones. “I feel Michelin took me for a ride last year,” he said. “I have a very strong motivation to beat them.” Michelin’s motorcycle racing director Jean-Philippe Weber described the success of the winter development programme. “During the winter we worked very hard on a new rear construction, that we introduced for the first time at Valencia last November,” he said. “The focus was to make our tyres work better at lower temperatures, and it seems the last two days here have confirmed our work, because the track temperature is only 18 degrees, and the moisture level quite high.” – MICHAEL SCOTT Tyre war intensif ies Michelin qualifiers made the Bridgestones look average in Qatar