Thrilling start to MotoGP season at Qatar

Qatar podium with L_R Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso and British star Cal Crutchlow
Qatar podium with L_R Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso and British star Cal Crutchlow

The opening MotoGP of 2019 exceeded all pre season expectation with unbelievable action in every class.

The 22-lap VisitQatar MotoGP race was just brilliant.

Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez wheel to wheel in Qatar MotoGP

Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez wheel to wheel in Qatar MotoGP

Right from the lights going out at the start of the race in Qatar we knew that were in for something special and we weren’t disappointed. At one stage it resembled a moto3 race with a nine bike freight train powering it’s way around the 3.3-mile Losail International circuit. At the flag Andrea Dovizioso on the Mission Winnow Ducati and Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez were separated by a mere 0.023 seconds with British LCR Castrol Honda rider Cal Crutchlow less than half a second behind in third.

At the start it was Dovizioso who got the hole shot with Australian Jack Miller on the Alma Pramac Racing Ducati second and the reigning world champion Marc Marquez third Maverick Viñales on the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP slotted into fourth with the two LCR Hondas of Takaaki Nagagami and Cal Crutchlow completing the top six. Miller’s removed a broken part of his seat on lap two and the Ducati man’s race was all but over as he dropped to 11th and then retired from the race. At the front Dovizioso was managing everything in his usual calm fashion until Alex Rins on the Team Suzuki Ecstar decided he wanted a piece of the action coming through to take the lead on lap five. Dovizioso and Rins swapped the lead over the next few laps with the new Suzuki showing that the winter testing had made the bike a genuine race winner again as Rins was able to pass the Ducati in the middle of the lap before the Ducati showed that it had the top speed on the start/finish straight. With seven laps remaining the top eight riders were covered by 1.2 seconds. Valentino Rossi, who had a nightmare qualifying on the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP starting from 14th on the grid, had worked his way into 6th and was looking good as the race neared it conclusion. With three laps to go the battle for the win was a five-way scrap between Dovizioso, Marquez, Crutchlow, Rins, and Rossi. Heading on to the final lap Marquez was in front but not for long as Dovizioso used the Ducati’s speed to edge ahead into turn 1. The Spaniard dived up the inside of his Italian rival at turn 10 but the Ducati rider was able to cut back into the lead on the exit. Like last year Marquez dived through at the final corner but the Dovizioso was able to get the drive and power past the Honda to take the win by 0.023 seconds. Crutchlow held off Rins for third and Rossi crossed the line for fifth. Ducati’s new factory rider Danilo Petrucci was disappointed with sixth but no more than Yamaha’s pole setter Viñales who could only manage seventh.

“I am really happy as I didn’t expect to make this kind of race.” Said Dovizioso. “I managed the tyre in a perfect way and did a perfect strategy. At the end it was the correct strategy as I had a bit more grip than Marc to be able to answer his overtakes. The track was on the limit today, but I managed my tyres so that I had that bit extra at the end of the race.“ Said Dovizioso.

Marquez added. “It was exactly the same as last year! I tried to push hard but here when you overtake you just run wide and you can’t keep the line. I tried to be there, to push a little and just be there until the end. I’m very happy with these 20 points because normally we struggle here and this weekend especially we worked a lot. We changed some things that meant I couldn’t push like I normally do in braking. But we finished the race and take good points.”

British hero Cal Crutchlow had a horrific ankle-break just four months ago and only started walking again in January so his performance in Qatar was nothing short of super human. “It’s great to even be back racing in MotoGP, let alone come away with a podium finish, but my LCR Honda Castrol Team did a great job. We worked hard this weekend because the tests were a bit of a waste of time for me. This weekend has been difficult, and if you had asked me after warm-up if I’d finish on the podium I would have laughed!”

“I played my cards in the race, I felt good and once we started the race myself and Marc Marquez had similar tactics, saving the rear tyre and managing things a little bit more. It’s a dream to be honest. At one point we didn’t know if I was going to be coming back at all.” Said Crutchlow.

At the end of the race the FIM MotoGP Stewards Panel received various protests concerning aerodynamic devices on the rear swing arm of Ducati machinery ridden by Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati Team), Danilo Petrucci (Mission Winnow Ducati Team) and Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing).

The protests were made by Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Repsol Honda Team and Team Suzuki Ecstar, who presented their concerns to the FIM MotoGP Stewards Panel. Based on guidelines and regulations currently in force, the FIM MotoGP Stewards Panel rejected their protests.

An appeals process then began and the appeals panel has subsequently decided to refer the case to the MotoGP Court of Appeals.

The Moto2 race was the first season with the new Triumph engines and it served up yet another classic with Flexbox HP 40’s Lorenzo Baldassarri fighting off huge last lap challenge from the returning Tom Lüthi on the Dynavolt Intact GP to take the victory. The Italian led from Lap 2 but had to withstand some serious pressure in the final sector of the last lap to hold off Lüthi, eventually taking the chequered flag just 0.026 clear of the Swiss rider. Dynavolt Intact GP’s Marcel Schrötter completed the podium from pole. British hopeful Sam Lowes had to settle for sixth in the end on the Federal Oil Gresini Moto2.

Scotland’s John McPhee on the Petronas Sprinta Racing Honda started from 4th on the grid for the Moto3 race but in the end it was a disappointing 13th for the 24 year-old. “The bike was fantastic but a small technical issue meant I lost a little speed on the straight. I made a few mistakes on the opening lap and lost a lot of places but once I got back up to the leading group I just hadn’t the speed. In the end it was damage limitation and points on the board as we head to Argentina”

Kaito Toba became the first Japanese winner in Moto3 and the first in the lightweight class since Tomoyoshi Koyama took victory in the 125cc race at the 2007 Catalan GP after a stunning performance in Sundays race on the Honda Team Asia bike. Lorenzo Dalla Porta on the Leopard Racing Honda was second with pole setter Aron Canet on the Sterilgarda Max Racing Team KTM completing the podium.

MotoGP now heads to Argentina for round two on March 29–31 at the Termas de Rio Hondo Circuit.