The floodlights will light up the desert night sky when the long awaited MotoGP™ season launches into 2017 at the Losail International circuit in Qatar on Sunday. Four British riders, all who have tasted grand prix success, line up at the 3.343 miles circuit just outside Doha for the opening round of the championship that produced nine separate winners last season.
Heading the list is Isle of Man – based Midlander Cal Crutchlow who re-wrote the history books last year with two MotoGP victories on the LCR Honda. The 31-year-old was the first British rider to win a premier class race for 35 years and in pre-season testing has impressed and has every chance in the next 18 grands prix of winning more races and even challenging for ultimate championship success.
It’s a big season for Gloucestershires Scott Redding who came strong in the final test at Qatar last week. Riding the Octo Pramac Ducati the 24-year-old was seventh fastest at the Losail International circuit. A repeat in the 22 lap race on Sunday would be the perfect start for Redding who is still the youngest ever grand prix winner.
Oxfordshire’s Bradley Smith faces a tough opening few races as he spearheads the new Red Bull KTM team’s maiden season in MotoGP. He has recovered from the serious knee injury sustained last August and will be looking for points scoring rides in the opening three flyaway grands prix starting on Sunday.
Lincolnshire’s Sam Lowes makes his MotoGP debut after two grands prix wins last year in the Moto2™ class. The 26-year-old, whose twin brother Alex competes in the World Superbike Championship, has joined Aleix Espargaro in the Gresini Aprilia team.
Former Moto3™ World Champion Danny Kent continues in the Moto2 class. The Wiltshire – based rider had a tough time last year after winning the Moto3 Championship the previous season. He continues with the Kiefer team but switches to a Suter frame
Twenty-two-year-old Scotsman John McPhee gives the new British Talent team their grand prix debut. McPhee returned to testing fully fit after missing the last two grands prix last season following a crash in the Australian Grand Prix, just a few weeks after a brilliant win at the wet Czech Republic Grand Prix.
– The four British riders in the MotoGP class in 2017 are all past grand prix winners. The last time that four British riders who are grand prix winners took part in a premier-class grand prix was at Silverstone in 1979 (Barry Sheene, John Newbold, Mick Grant and Tony Rutter).
– The six British riders across the three classes are all past grand prix winners. The last time that Britain had six or more grand prix winners take part in the opening grand prix event of the year was in 1970 at the Nurburgring.
DID YOU KNOW?
Fifteen of the riders on the full-time Moto2™ entry list have previously won grand prix races. Between them, these fifteen riders have scored seventy-one world championship race wins. Five of the riders competing in Moto2 in 2017 have won the 125cc/Moto3 World Championship: Thomas Luthi, Sandro Cortese, Alex Marquez, Danny Kent and Brad Binder.
As usual there are lots of changes in the full-time Moto3™ entry list for 2017, with a total of seven rookies on the grid. Six of the riders in the Moto3 entry list have grand prix victories to their name: Romano Fenati (7 GP wins), Nico Antonelli (3), Enea Bastianini (2), Livio Loi (1), Joan Mir (1) and John McPhee. (1).
Qatar Facts and Stats
– This will be the 14th occasion that a grand prix event has been held at the Losail circuit and the tenth under floodlights.
– This will be the 11th successive year that the Losail circuit has hosted the opening grand prix event of the year.
– After winning the final race of 2016 at Valencia on a Yamaha, Jorge Lorenzo has switched to the Ducati factory team for 2017 and will be aiming to become just the second rider ever to win back-to-back premier-class grand prix races on machine from two different manufacturers. The only rider to have previously achieved this was Valentino Rossi who won the opening race of 2004 in South Africa on a Yamaha having won the final race of 2003 at Valencia on a Honda.
– Yamaha have been the most successful manufacturer in the MotoGP™ class at the Losail circuit with seven wins, including four times in the last five years.
– Honda have had three MotoGP wins in Qatar, the last of which was in 2014 with Marc Marquez.
– Ducati won at Losail in three consecutive years, 2007 to 2009, with Casey Stoner riding.
– The best result for a Suzuki rider at the Losail circuit is the fourth place finish by John Hopkins in 2007.
– The riders with most GP victories at Losail is Jorge Lorenzo with six victories (3 x MotoGP, 2 x 250cc, 1 x 125cc).
– The second place finish by Marc Marquez at the final race of 2016 was the 51st time he has stood on the podium in the premier-class of grand prix racing, the same number of podium finishes as both Alex Criville and Kevin Schwantz achieved in their 500cc GP careers. If Marquez finishes in the top three in Qatar he will equal the number of premier-class podium finishes achieved by Wayne Gardner.
– Jonas Folger is the only one of the four rookie in the MotoGP class this year to have previously won at Qatar in any of the smaller classes, having taken the Moto2™ victory there in 2015.
– The last three MotoGP races of 2016 were won by three different manufacturers: Honda, Ducati, Yamaha. Not since 1975 have four successive premier-class GP races been won by four different manufacturers; on that occasion it was Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, MV Agusta.
– Having taken his first victory in the MotoGP last year at Silverstone riding a Suzuki, if Maverick Viñales wins a race at any time in 2017 on the factory Yamaha he will be the second youngest rider of all-time, after Mike Hailwood (Norton & MV Agusta), to have won in the premier-class on bikes from two different manufacturers.
– If Valentino Rossi, at the age of 38, finished in the top three during 2017 he will be the oldest rider to take a premier-class podium since Jack Findlay won the Austrian GP in 1977 – a race that was boycotted by many of the top riders due to safety concerns.
– If Maverick Viñales takes a MotoGP win in 2017 he will be only the fourth rider in the history of grand prix racing to win premier-class races on both Suzuki and Yamaha machinery, along with Barry Sheene, Randy Mamola and Jack Middelburg.
VINALES LEADS THE DESERT CHARGE
Can Maverick Vinales turn his dazzling testing form into race wins after he has dominated MotoGP™ pre-season testing on the Movistar Yamaha? The 22-year-old Spaniard has made a sensational start to his Yamaha career leading all three pre-season test sessions including the Losail International circuit test last week. He joins 38-year-old nine times World Champion Valentino Rossi, with the departure of last year’s Qatar winner Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati. Last year Vinales, a former Moto3™ World Champion, took his maiden MotoGP victory at the Octo British Grand Prix riding for the Ecstar Suzuki team. He is replaced at Suzuki by Austrian Grand Prix winner Andrea Iannone who has rookie Moto2™ winner Alex Rins as his team-mate.
World Champion Marc Marquez crashed five times in the Qatar test as he struggled to tame the power of the Repsol Honda and it promises to be a season long fight for glory between the three times MotoGP Champion and Vinales. Lorenzo made good progress on the GP17 Ducati in Qatar but the 22 lap race on Sunday may just come a little early for a repeat of his victory last year. His Ducati team-mate Andrea Dovizioso has been fast and consistent throughout testing at a circuit where he has a good MotoGP form.
The surprises on Sunday could come from a fit Danny Pedrosa, a rejuvenated Alvaro Bautista on his return to the Pull and Bear Aspar Team Ducati, the Monster Tech3 Yamaha rookie duo of Moto2 World Champion Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger. The grand prix also marks the proper debut of the Red Bull KTM team of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro.
With four of the leading riders stepping up to MotoGP this year’s Moto2 Championship is wide open. Pre-season favourites must include Tom Luthi, Franco Morbidelli and Takaaki Nakagami but there is some big talent coming up from Moto3 including World Champion Brad Binder and grand prix winner Khairul Idham Pawi.
It’s the same story in Moto3 with the departure of the World Champion. Italian Romano Fenati returns after his problems and has looked impressive on the Marinelli Rivacold Snipers Honda and will face tough opposition from fellow Italian grand prix winners Enea Bastianini and Niccolo Antonelli.
MOTOGP HIGHLIGHTS ON CHANNEL 5
A new deal for 2017 sees the best of MotoGP™ free-to-air across the country
Dorna Sports is delighted to announce a new free-to-air home for highlights of the FIM MotoGP™ World Championship in the UK, as Channel 5 get ready to fire up new coverage for 2017. With the first Grand Prix just around the corner in Qatar, fans in the UK will now be able to watch the best of MotoGP™ every Monday following the race – with a prime-time slot assured.
The announcement comes as interest in the UK hits a new peak following Cal Crutchlow’s stunning victories in 2016, when a Brit got back on the top step of the premier class podium for the first time since the legendary Barry Sheene in 1981. There is also the new Dorna-backed British Talent Team lining up John McPhee in the Moto3™ category this year, as well as the debut of the British Talent Cup in 2018, meaning the timing could not be better for a new free-to-air home for MotoGP™ in the UK.
Thursday March 23 BT Sport 2 14.00 – 19.45
Friday March 24 BT Sport 2 14.45 – 18.45
Saturday March 25 BT Sport 2 14.30 – 18.30
Sunday March 26 BT Sport 2 13.45 -21.00
Radio – Sunday March 26 talkSport2
Monday March 27 Channel 5 19.00 Highlights.