These just in from the desert:
First day of free practice for Ducati Team riders under the spotlights in Qatar
The first free practice session for the opening round of the 2014 MotoGP World Championship was held this evening at the Losail circuit in Qatar. As has now become tradition, the free practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself on Sunday all take place after dusk, on a track illuminated by floodlights.
In the first forty-five minutes of free practice action, which was briefly interrupted by the red flags following a crash by Pramac Racing Team's Yonny Hernandez, Crutchlow and Dovizioso completed sixteen and seventeen laps respectively. At the end of the session, the two Ducati Team riders had recorded thirteenth and fourteenth quickest times, and were separated by just a few hundredths of a second.
Tomorrow will see another day of free practice action, with the second and third sessions starting at 6 pm.
Cal Crutchlow (Ducati Team #35) - 13th (1m57.046s)
"Today was more or less what I expected, and it was difficult because of the track conditions. Obviously a lot of the other guys had already tested here at Losail, and it looks like this made a bit of a difference. We figured some things with the Ducati that we need to improve, but I'm happy with the way the guys worked. We worked in a methodical way, and we are taking baby steps at the moment with the bike, so I look forward to coming back tomorrow with two more free practice sessions. It's great to get back on track in Qatar, I like this circuit and I'm sure things will steadily improve over the weekend."
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team #04) - 14th (1m57.100s)
"It was a bit of a strange session today, you could see that coming to test at this circuit made a big difference for many riders, especially in this first free practice session. In fact, all those who did the test here at the start of March are ahead in the timesheets, and above all they managed to find the right rhythm to lap at a constant pace. The Losail circuit is a bit strange as well, it's hard to get dialled in at the start and in fact we struggled a bit. To be honest, I had hoped to begin a bit better than what I did, but in any case we will have time tomorrow to work to improve the bike and especially to get into a good rhythm on this track for Sunday's race."
Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar
Strong start at FP1 in Qatar for Tech3's Smith and Espargaro
Monster Yamaha Tech3's Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro both enjoyed a successful and competitive start today for the first practice session of the 2014 MotoGP World Championship at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar.
Smith and Espargaro with their 2014 specification Yamaha YZR-M1's both finished inside the top 5 and confidently set fast laps times on the opening day. The red flag was deployed mid-way through the session which delayed the free practice briefly; otherwise the track conditions were dry although lacking traction due to a dirty surface.
Bradley Smith produced a superb performance to outline his firm intentions for the 2014 season. The young British rider produced a best lap time of 1:55:816, and completed the first practice of 2014 in 3rd place and just over half a second from the leading time. Having spent the winter test period experimenting with varying aspects of his Yamaha YZR-M1 MotoGP bike, Smith opened his season very positively, with his free practice time today half a second quicker than his qualifying time from last year.
Pol Espargaro rode a strong first practice session to finish within the top 5 of the MotoGP grid. The young Spanish rider, who produced the fastest top speed of 346 Km/h at the Losail International Circuit, completed a best personal lap time of 1:56.020 which resulted in 5th position. Despite his rookie status and riding with a healing collarbone, the reigning Moto2 World Champion impressively completed the practice session less than a second off the fastest lap time.
Bradley Smith - 3rd - 1:55:816:
"Today was a really good start for us. The track conditions were different to when we tested here, probably due to a sandstorm which happened recently. However, the grip improved during the session and I was able to do 1:55 lap times again. As I could keep this rhythm quite easily I decided that it wasn't worth pushing to the absolute limit, as it was still a bit too risky with the conditions, so I will wait until tomorrow as the grip will improve for sure. Of course, I am happy with 3rd and we are close to Bautista who is on the same tyres. Anyway I'm confident that we will get closer to the top as the track gets better, but the 3 days of testing has definitely helped us. Our aim is to stay in front of the factory bikes, for as long as possible".
Pol Espargaro - 5th - 1:56.020:
"I am happy with the performance I made today. My shoulder was still hurting a little but I can ride which I am pleased about. It was a bit painful on the straight when the bike is moving, and also in the long left corner when I had to lean down the outside of the fairing. The track conditions were also a bit different to the test we did here; it's colder and there is less grip. I didn't want to ride at 100% because of this as I think tomorrow will be better for traction after the track has been cleaned a bit more. The factory bikes will catch up, but I'm sure we can improve as well and I am just really pleased that the season finally started. At the end a top 5 result during my first ever MotoGP session is not bad at all".
2014 MotoGP season gets underway in Qatar
Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa have completed the first practice session of the 2014 season.
Dani, who struggled with grip in this first session, was anyway the fastest factory rider - with the satellite teams enjoying a clear advantage after testing here two weeks ago. He finished the 45 minute session in 6th place with a time of 1'56.332 recorded on lap 13 of 16.
2013 World Champion, Marc, who climbed back aboard his RC213V for the first time in 6 weeks after breaking his leg, chose not to have any painkillers and managed an impressive 15 laps. He finished 11th for the night with a time of 1'56.682 on lap 13.
The riders will be back on track tomorrow evening at 18h00 local time.
6th - 1'56.332
"We had a few problems today with grip, which is something that some of the riders who rode here at the test two weeks ago had commented about before. There isn't much grip on the track and that means we have to try to get the most out of the bike under these circumstances. We'll see if the track improves with a little more rubber laid down, giving us more traction. Today we just didn't really have any, even though the track was in good condition. We still hope to improve session-by-session"
11th - 1'56.682
"I am fairly happy with how the first session went, because I haven't been on the bike in a while. I didn't think my foot would bother me so much - especially on the right hand corners - although at the end of the session I felt better and this gives me hope of improving tomorrow. We are going to try to follow the same working strategy as today. In terms of the times, we aren't too far off Jorge, Valentino and Dani - and it's normal that the riders who were here for the test a fortnight ago are fast right from the get-go"
Movistar Yamaha Riders Fight for Grip in Qatar as MotoGP Begins
18:00 Local time GMT+3
Night Clear Air 23°C
Track 23°C Humidity 74%
Losail Circuit (Qatar), 20th March 2014
The 2014 MotoGP World Championship finally got underway this evening under the floodlights of the Losail circuit in Qatar. Having launched their new livery just yesterday, the newly named Movistar Yamaha MotoGP riders were out feeling their way on the night track for the first time this year.
With little rubber down on the circuit and some sand blowing across from the desert, grip issues became the number one problem to solve for both Valentino Rossi and teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Just 15 minutes in the session was red flagged to allow a clean up of some of the debris on track left by rider Jonny Hernandez's earlier crash.
Rossi returned to the track in thirteenth position after the clean up and began to work on his set up, gradually moving up the timesheets, running as high as fifth before dropping two places to seventh behind highest placed factory rider Dani Pedrosa in sixth at the end.
In true Lorenzo style, the Mallorcan was one of the first out of the pit lane as the session began, eager to get to work on his set up ahead of this weekend's opening round of the championship. Unlike the satellite and open class riders who had the fortune to test in Qatar two weeks ago, Lorenzo had no data to go on and struggled to find a way round the lack of grip he encountered on the track. He ended the first practice of the weekend in ninth position, just under 1.5 seconds from the front.
7th / 1'56.542 / 18 laps
"The track is in quite a bad condition but I think it's quite normal for a first practice. There is a lot of sand and not a lot of rubber down. Also a lot of riders except the factory riders have been here for three days and have done a lot more km and a lot more laps so it's normal they are stronger than us. Now the work for the weekend will be hard to reduce the gap. I have a lack of grip front and rear, on corner entry and also on acceleration the bike moves very much. I think the condition of the track is getting better and it will get easier."
9th / 1'56.668 / 15 laps
"I'm a little disappointed because hearing the comments of the riders that were here two weeks ago it seemed the tyres were working really well. Having arrived here it seems the track is a little worse, the feeling of the rear tyre is more or less the same as in Sepang, with little grip and traction. We didn't have three days to test here like the top five so our problems are bigger. We must hope that the tyre gets better and we can improve the grip on the rear."
"Since the beginning we were expecting that some of our competitors could be in front of us because they tested here ten days ago. For sure the condition of the circuit didn't help us either as we couldn't work properly on the bike because of the lack of grip and the dirt on the track. We have a lot of work to do but I'm optimistic that as the conditions improve we can get our speed back. We know what we have to do as both riders complained about the same issues. Both need more grip front and rear so we will work on this and let's see what happens next practice."
"The first practice is done so 2014 has officially started! It's very obvious that many guys have already been around the track because you can see how fast they are. For us there's some work to do before the race on Sunday. We are struggling for grip so we need to improve but it looks like we are not the only ones. We have some work to do!"
BRADL COMMENCES HIS 2014 CAMPAIGN AT THE DESERT TRACK
Losail, 20 March: following two busy months of preseason testing the opening round of 2014 MotoGP World Championship gets underway today at floodlit Losail circuit with teams and riders involved in the first practice session of 45 minutes. LCR Honda Stefan Bradl took the track aboard his RC213V for a first shakedown completing 19 laps and qualifying 12th with a 1'56.726 best lap time.
Stefan: "Today our plan was to save tyres for the next few days to have more options for tomorrow and the qualifying. It was important for us to lap on a hard tyre from the beginning to the end and, for this reason, we knew that we could not finish in the top of the timesheet. The track conditions were the same of two weeks ago and the grip was very poor. Let's say that today we got a first impression and tomorrow we will start to push harder and fine-tune the bike".
NICKY HAYDEN STARTS NEW SEASON INSIDE TOP TEN
DRIVE M7 Aspar rider benefits from gear ratio change whilst team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama suffers electronic issues
The first exchanges of the 2014 MotoGP World Championship took place under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit tonight, where a single free practice session for the premier class saw several surprises and a fast pace that was close to the lap record (1.55.153 - Stoner 2008). Having missed the test here last week there was no sign of Márquez, Rossi, Pedrosa or Lorenzo at the sharp end of the timesheets in the opening session as Aleix Espargaró, Álvaro Bautista and Bradley Smith benefitted from their preseason work and occupied the top three positions.
DRIVE M7 Aspar Team's new rider for 2014 Nicky Hayden is well known for his work ethic and it was in evidence today as he racked up more laps than any other rider (twenty) within the 45 minutes available. The American clocked his best effort on lap eighteen, stopping the clock at 1'56.670 to secure a place in the top ten overnight and almost match his fastest time from the preseason test at this track. Hayden reported improved performance from his machine thanks largely to some small changes to his gearing and chassis set-up but there were reverse fortunes for his team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama, whose evening was ruined by a series of electronic problems.
10th Nicky Hayden 1.56.670 (20 laps):
"At the start of the session I was struggling to get comfortable with the engine braking in corner entry but after a few laps and especially after the red flag we managed to slightly improve the situation. We have more or less got the same setting and feeling that we established by the end of the last test, with some changes to the gearbox setting that have helped us in the straights. That has helped us to close the gap to the guys at the top, the bike is working better in the higher gears and pulling harder down the straights. We also made a chassis set-up change that is helping me get the bike stopped. To be honest it feels better than expected, which is a nice way to start the first Grand Prix of the season. The test we had here was obviously very useful, we are making progress every day and the relationship with the team continues to get smoother and stronger."
17th Hiroshi Aoyama 1.58.182 (13 laps):
"It was good to get the first free practice session of the season under our belts. We started the session with a lot of motivation but unfortunately after just a few laps we had an electronic problems and had to change bikes. We had more problems though and had to come in three times for the electronics. It is a bit of a mystery because we didn't have anything like this in the test so now we need to work out what the source of this problem is. I am sure my crew will be able to fix it and we will have a good feeling tomorrow. Anyway, if you are going to have problems like this it is better that they happen on the first day!"