After the opening round in Jerez Loris Capirossi led the MotoGP™ World Championship for the first time. Ducati, who led the Constructors Championship for the first time, together with Bridgestone won their first race at the Spanish circuit. Capirossi for only the second time in his MotoGP™ career grabbed pole and won the race. Dani Pedrosa made his MotoGP™ debut and finished second. The late great Nicky Hayden was crowned World Champion at the end of the season and Italy won the World Cup.
The year was 2006. The last time the opening round of the MotoGP™ World Championship officially started in Europe. 17 long and eventful years later the curtain raises on the MotoGP™ stage back in Europe at Portimao in Portugal
That opening round is always long awaited and so special. For those 17 years it was the Losail International Circuit in Qatar that had the privilege to raise the curtain and switch on the lights although in 2020 the MotoGP™ class had to start in Jerez because of Covid restrictions. The season officially started in Qatar with just Moto3™ and Moto2™.
The 2020 season with those Covid restrictions was a nightmare and brought back memories of my first year as a Grand Prix reporter in 1980. Both opening rounds were cancelled for very different reasons. Lack of money brought the demise of the Venezuelan Grand Prix as I was about to book my tickets to San Carlos. I had booked my flights for the new opening round at the Salzburgring in Austria. Only a phone call from Barry Sheene telling me you could not even get into the snowbound paddock let alone race 500cc Grand Prix motorcycles kept me at home. We did get to Austria a year later for the opening round although the first day of practice was cancelled because of snow.
Then MotoGP™ spread its wings and took on the world with some incredible opening round venues. In 1982 Kenny Roberts won a classic battle with Barry Sheene and a young Freddie Spencer at Buenos Aires in Argentina just three days before the start of the Falkland’s war. A year later we pricked our conscience by going to Apartheid-ridden South Africa. We returned to Kyalami for the next two years happy that we had continually broken the Apartheid laws and restrictions. In 1986 Jarama was the last European circuit to host the opening round for 19 years as the spotlight settled on Suzuka in Japan. For many of us the 1987 Grand Prix was our first ever trip to Japan. We soon got used to it with the Suzuka circuit staging the opening round for the next six years. I think with Japanese bikes dominating, it was the perfect venue to start the proceedings.
The globetrotting continued at now-forgotten venues such as Eastern Creek in Australia and Shah Alam in Malaysia, plus brand new Sepang and Welkom in South Africa. Who will ever forget that opening round at Welkom in 2004 when Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi locked horns in such a personal Yamaha/Honda confrontation that set the tone for the season and beyond?
Qatar took over the mantle in 2007 and a year later produced the first ever Grand Prix to be staged under floodlights. It was a truly amazing spectacle that was a pioneer in World Championship motorsport racing under floodlights. I remember flying into Doha over the dark desert that was suddenly a blaze of light with 3600 bulbs illuminating an area the size of 70 football pitches below. What an introduction to the new season when the big red sun dropped beneath the desert skyline and the lights slowly came to life to illuminate the sky accompanied by the symphony of sound from a booming four-stroke engines orchestra
So, surely no snow in Portugal this weekend and no Covid restrictions or financial problems, as MotoGP starts its latest chapter in Europe where it all started on the Isle of Man 74 years ago.