More than five months since the end of the last season, the MotoGP riders are all set to return to action this weekend at the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar, preparations for which commence on Friday at the impressive floodlit Losail International Circuit.
The 2009 FIM MotoGP World Championship gets underway at the same venue as last year, with the opening round of the 2008 season seeing then-World Champion Casey Stoner commence his title defence with victory at the first ever night-time Grand Prix.
Returning to the scene of his consecutive 2007 and 2008 victories on Thursday, Ducati Marlboro rider Stoner was amongst those invited to the first pre-event press conference of the year, alongside current World Champion Valentino Rossi (Fiat Yamaha), Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda), Chris Vermeulen (Rizla Suzuki) and returning veteran Sete Gibernau (Grupo Francisco Hernando).
Previewing the weekend’s return to racing Rossi commented, “We are all wanting to understand our level in a real scenario, different to testing. We were not at 100% when we last tested here, but we have improved a bit from what was our worst race last year.”
The fastest rider of preseason, Stoner noted the technical improvements the Ducati factory have made over the winter, saying “I’m sure that we will be able to start this season at a reasonable level. With the bike, the new chassis has made a big difference, and the new swingarm makes the bike move around a lot less. It’s easier for me to ride.” The press conference ended with former arch rivals Rossi and Gibernau shaking hands.
Earlier in the afternoon MotoGP quartet Loris Capirossi, Toni Elías, Yuki Takahashi and Randy de Puniet were joined by 250cc rookie Gabor Talmacsi at the Al Shaqab facility, located near to the Losail track, to take in some equestrian action. They were introduced to the Arabian Horses that were chosen as the second most beautiful show horses in the world last year, and during the course of their visit the five riders learnt about how the animals are bred and trained.
Weather conditions at the Losail International Circuit were blustery winds with the lightest of spots of rain.
Friday evening sees the serious action commence with the first free practice sessions of 2009 for the three respective three FIM World Championship classes. The 125cc competitors are the first out on track at 8.30pm local time, followed by the 250cc class at 9.30pm and the MotoGP riders at 10.30pm.