Losail International Circuit in Qatar will soon be hosting the first race of 2018, but before the lights go out and the points are in play, there’s one last test. Three days kick off at the venue from the 1st to 3rd of March – the final shakedown and chance to get in gear for the season. It’s decision time.
So far in testing, Honda have been on a roll, with Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) joined by Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) in the upper echelons of the timesheets at both Sepang and Buriram. Added to positive comments from the riders, it all seems to be going well for the Japanese factory – but Qatar can sometimes prove more difficult, and they’ll be wanting to get as set up as possible for the race to attack from the off. With a few things to double check at a different venue, too – such as aero – it will be a full workload.
Over at Ducati, Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) set the quickest ever lap of the track in Sepang in the first test, but then found Buriram much tougher going. He’ll be raring to get back on track on the GP18 at another different venue – and Andrea Dovizioso, his teammate, will too. Both Lorenzo and 2017 runner-up ‘DesmoDovi’ have great records at the track, and they’ll be working on the final details for 2018 – including, yep, more aero investigations – as well as setting up for the first Sunday of the season.
Team Suzuki Ecstar also had aero to test at Buriram and despite early crashes for both riders, it’s all largely positive for the Hamamatsu factory so far and they have their sights set on the top five. Alex Rins, starting his sophomore season at full power after injury troubles last year, especially shone in Buriram, but teammate Andrea Iannone is always a threat on race day. And Red Bull KTM Factory Racing once again showed their progress in preseason so far – looking to mix it up with their fellow factories more often from the off. In Buriram it was Bradley Smith and Mika Kallio on track, but the injured Pol Espargaro should be back in action at Qatar.
Meanwhile at Yamaha, the test is another opportunity for the Iwata marque to figure out their issues before there are 25 points on the board. After initial good reports at Sepang, Thailand was more difficult and both Movistar Yamaha MotoGP riders Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi left the venue needing more track time in Qatar to try and work on their problems. Grip issues remain – with the electronics a key focus.
Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), however, didn’t share the complaints of the factory riders. Second fastest in Buriram and happy with progress, the Frenchman’s form looks ominous. His teammate, meanwhile, Hafizh Syahrin – now confirmed as a full-time rider in 2018 – will be focused on more progress now the contract pressure is off. Impressing on his debut, the first ever Malaysian in MotoGP™ will have a unique focus: track time, track time, track time.
His fellow rookies, all with more miles under their belts, will also want more time on track as they prepare to go racing in the premier class for the first time, but refining setups and working towards the first race will be higher on their initial agendas. So far, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) has been leading the way – tenth in Thailand and off to a flier. But EG 0,0 Marc VDS rider and reigning Moto2™ Champion Franco Morbidelli got closer in Sepang, and he’ll want to do the same again – with his teammate Tom Lüthi also pushing hard as he plays catch up after missing Valencia last season and sitting out a good portion of winter training through injury. Xavier Simeon at Reale Avintia Racing will also want to make a big step forward.
His teammate Tito Rabat has been impressive so far on his switch to Ducati machinery, but the biggest mover up the timesheets in 2018 has been another moving to Borgo Panigale equipment: Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing). Miller was fast from the off in Valencia and has also improved upon that since – how much of his hand will he show as the grid start to get ready to race? And at a venue that’s traditionally a corker for Ducati?
Danilo Petrucci, Miller’s teammate, has also been a presence well felt – and after a number of podiums in 2017, will be wanting to attack from the first race of the year. Petrucci is on test duty for Ducati but will also be working on his own refinements ahead of the Qatar GP now – will he be able to mix it with his fellow top Independent Team riders like Zarco and Crutchlow?
Now Syahrin has been cast as the final player in 2018, the curtain will soon be going up. Three more days remain between testing and racing, so make sure to follow all the action from the #QatarTest on motogp.com from the 1st March between 13:00 and 21:00 local time (GMT +3).
On Day 3 there will also be half an hour allocated to testing the track in the wet. At 20:00 local time, track activity will pause in order to wet the track – and 20:30 – 21:30 will see bikes head out to test the conditions at the floodlit venue. If necessary, Race Direction can also extend this time by a further half hour.
Then testing is over, and racing will soon be underway.