There is no way to start celebrating another wonderful weekend of MotoGP racing at Losail International Circuit without first speaking about the tragic loss of a local racer during the race weekend. Taoufik Gattouchi, a 49yr old Tunisian resident of Qatar lost his life in a racing incident during the Losail 600 Cup support race late on Friday evening. It lent the weekend a sombre moment and was a reminder how narrow is the margin between success and tragedy in this sport that we follow and admire. Our thoughts go to his family and friends.
With this month’s recent thunderstorms and rain in mind, the MotoGP teams, organisers, journalists and fans gathered at Losail International Circuit with one eye on the skies. Memories of the first night race in 2008 when rain on the Sunday night meant a postponement of the MotoGP race until Monday evening were ready to be brought out, dusted off and regaled to anyone who would listen.
But thankfully the weekend’s racing passed with near-perfect weather. Reigning MotoGP World Champion Jorge Lorenzo showed that the winter testing programme had not been wasted by him or his Movistar Yamaha team as he continued to dominate most of the sessions. Team-mate and MotoGP superstar Valentino Rossi attracted the usual frenzy of attention and also produced some fast times through the practises and qualifying.
Lorenzo sat on pole position for the race, the front row being completed by the Repsol Honda of Marc Marquez and Ecstar Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales. Rossi was in the centre of the second row in fifth place, sandwiched between the two Ducati Corsa bikes of Andrea Iannone in fourth and Andrea Dovizioso in sixth.
Earlier drama in the Moto2 race when six of the leading riders were penalised for jumping the starts may have caused some nerves amongst the MotoGP riders but it didn’t show; Lorenzo got away fastest but was quickly caught and passed by Ducati’s Iannone who would continue to lead across the line, using the Italian bike’s phenomenal top speed down Losail’s 1 kilometre straight, until on the sixth lap when he lost grip and slid off track, fortunately with only pride being hurt.
Fellow Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso took over at the front but was caught and passed by Lorenzo on the ninth lap, a lead he would maintain until the end, starting the 2016 season very much in the manner that he finished 2015. The drama, however, was far from over. Lorenzo only managed to break away from three chasing riders in the very last laps; Dovizioso, Honda’s Marc Marquez and Lorenzo’s team-mate, Valentino Rossi were nose-to-tail behind him for most of the race and although they were unable to pass the leader, Marquez managed to thrust past Dovizioso on the 19th lap and looked to have the second podium step in his grasp, only for the Italian to push back past two laps later.
At the final corner of the final lap, Marquez made a characteristic lunge to try and outbrake Dovizioso, something the Italian had clearly anticipated as he gave Marquez the room to sweep past, struggling to slow his HRC Honda to make the final corner as Dovizioso neatly tucked inside the wide-running Honda to power to the line and secure a great second place. Marquez recovered to capture third place with Valentino Rossi a creditable fourth just behind.
A dramatic start to the season with three exciting, close races in the three classes; in Moto3 (250cc single-cylinder bikes) the winner was decided by 7 thousands of a second which represents about the depth of a front tyre.
Away from the racing itself, Losail had several other attractions for the visiting and domestic fans. From hot-rod cars, motorcycle stands, merchandising and a wider range of food stalls than has previously been seen, there were also camel rides and various displays of Qatari culture with singing and dancing plus an Arabian Oryx, the national animal of Qatar, that stood patiently as it was admired and photographed.
Finally, it was good to see the stands continue to hold more fans year after year as MotoGP followers from around the world hear about the accessibility and facilities available at Losail International Circuit, not to mention the track’s growing reputation for producing close, exciting racing.
Report By Martin Darlington
Lüthi wins dramatic Moto2™ Race
A number of early penalties and crashes saw the Moto2™ race turned upside down, Luthi taking victory from Salom and Corsi.
Starting from pole position and having won the 2015 edition of the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar, many saw Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP) as the race favourite. The German got a great launch from the line and soared into the lead, unaware of the issues unfolding behind him.
Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) and Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) settled in behind Folger, but the German was off like a rocket and opened up a one second lead by the end of the first lap. Lowes and Nakagami were joined by Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) but disaster quickly struck for a number of riders behind.
Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport), Sam Lowes, Marcel Schrotter (AGR Team) and Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) were all handed ride through penalties for jumping the start. Zarco came into the pits first followed by Lowes, Schrotter and Rins on the following lap.
While this drama was unfolding, Folger continued to push at the front but the German quickly found he had exceeded the limit and fell at Turn 4, crashing out of a comfortable lead on the third lap. “I was pushing really hard to make a gap, it would have been the last lap of pushing hard. It was my fault, I expected a lot more,” he said after the incident.
This handed the race lead to Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), the Italian battling with Luthi out at the front. As Luthi took the lead Nakagami and Robin Mulhauser (CarXpert Interwetten) were also handed ride through penalties for jumping the race start. At this stage Nakagami was sat in third position.
The battle continued to rage between Luthi and Morbidelli at the front, the Italian living up to his reputation as one of the hardest men in the intermediate class, throwing himself up the inside of Luthi whenever a gap opened.
With 15 laps to go Nakagami came into the pits for his ride through penalty, promoting Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) to third with Sandro Cortese (Dynavolt Intact GP) right behind him. Luthi and Morbidelli remained locked in combat, two great battles for first and third lifting the crowd to their feet. The Swiss rider showed his experience, staying cool, calm and collected despite the constant assault from Morbidelli.
On lap ten Morbidelli regained the lead of the race and attempted to open up a gap ahead of Luthi. Behind the leading duo, Cortese latched onto Corsi like a rabid dog, doing everything he could to remain with the Italian as they raced for the final podium spot.
The battle for fifth was also thrilling, Luis Salom (SAG Team) leading a group of five riders including reigning Moto3™ World Champion Danny Kent (Leopard Racing). Little did they know this would quickly become a battle for the podium. On the 14th lap of the race it was announced that the race starts of Morbidelli and Cortese, who were at the time in first and fourth, were under investigation by race direction.
Unaware of what was going on, Morbidelli continued to push at the front with Luthi in tow, the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS man doing all he could to earn his first race victory in the World Championship.
In the closing laps Morbidelli was able to hold a steady lead of just over a tenth of a second from Luthi but midway through the penultimate lap the Swiss rider saw his chance and began to close in. Unfortunately for the Italian and his team it was announced on the final lap that Morbidelli would be handed a 20 second penalty after the race. Sandro Cortese was also given the same penalty.
This fact was unknown by the leading duo, Morbidelli and Luthi continuing to fight for the win as normal. Luthi just edged out the Italian as they dragged to the line, but it would be of little consequence as Morbidelli found himself pushed down to seventh.
There was a stunning fourth place finish for Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia) who ended ahead of experienced campaigner Dominique Aegerter (CarXpert Interwetten).
On his return to the Moto2™ class, Kent secured sixth ahead of Morbidelli. A great ride after his jump-start penalty saw Alex Rins end the race in eighth ahead of Lowes, who also received a penalty for the same incident.
Completing the top ten was Moto2™ rookie Luca Marini (Forward Team), Rossi’s half brother battling through the pain barrier for a top ten finish after a heavy crash in Qualifying on Saturday.
Antonelli Claims Thrilling First Victory of the Year
The Moto3™ World Championship kicked off the 2016 season with a classically close and hard fought race, Antonelli emerging victorious from Binder and Bagnaia.
Starting from pole position, Romano Fenati (Sky Racing Team VR46) charged off the line to lead during the opening corners with Livio Loi (RW Racing GP BV) and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) hot on his tail. Loi attempted to take the lead with 17 laps to go before running wide at Turn 1, dropping outside the top five.
Brad Binder and Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0) tried to break away but the great impact of the slipstream in Qatar saw all of the top 20 riders running together. Positions constantly changed as the top five slowly began to ease out an advantage with 15 laps remaining. The straight continued to see dramatic changes in position, the rider leading out of the final corner frequently finding themselves sucked back to fifth.
Throughout the race Francesco Bagnaia (Aspar Mahindra Team Moto3) was the strongest Mahindra, the Italian a stalwart of the top five. The Mahindra rider was able to dice with the likes of Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold), repeating his superb ride from the 2015 race.
As the laps ticked down, rookie Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) hunted the riders ahead, his aggressive style from the Moto3™ Junior World Championship going nowhere since stepping up. With 11 laps remaining the Italian cut the gap down to under three tenths, able to finally benefit from the leader’s slipstream.
With half race distance complete, Binder once again took the lead, benefiting from the frantic fighting behind. Try as he might to escape, the South African was caught by Fenati on the straight and the brawl resumed once more. The leading six continued to tussle, Binder able to stretch a small lead through the corners but caught each time down the straight.
Behind the leading six a large eight-rider battle rumbled along for tenth position, Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing) controlling the second group for much of the race.
With four laps to go rookie Bulega struck and took the lead, Binder responding immediately as the two KTM men sparred for supremacy. Bulega was able to retake the lead as his teammate Romano Fenati put in several hard moves to wrestle his way into second; meanwhile Enea ‘The Beast’ Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3) cut the gap with each lap.
In true Moto3™ style it all came down to the last lap, Binder beginning it in the lead as Romano Fenati ran wide at the first corner and dropped to sixth. The corners ticked down as Antonelli tucked in behind the South African, waiting for his chance to strike.
The drag to the line was where it all happened as Antonelli played the race to perfection, pulling out of Binder’s slipstream to steal the race by 0.007s. Binder was second with Bagnaia putting his Mahindra on the podium. This is Antonelli’s third career victory and his best ever start to a season. In similar fashion, Binder’s seventh career podium is by far the South Africans best opening round.
Fenati secured a solid fourth from pole while Bastianini rounded out the top five.
Bulega’s heroic charge saw him end sixth on his full time World Championship debut ahead of Jorge Navarro, Livio Loi, Philipp Oettl (Schedl GP Racing) and Jakub Kornfeil (Drive M7 SIC Racing Team) completing the top ten.