It may be Daytona Bike week, but nobody outside of North America really cares, as the Moto GP season is set to start this weekend at the Losail circuit outside of Doha, in Qatar.
Not only that, the race is going to be run at night under a new lighting system — reasons stated for this vary and include avoiding the daytime heat, but much more likely is the timing of live broadcasts to the rest of the world.
The first race practice session under the lights (several of the teams had already tried the system using street bikes) happened last weekend, with some riders in favour, some not so much.
The consensus seemed to be that the lighting was adequate although the shadows were a little weird (Chris Vermeulen: "It was quite strange out there to begin with as it wasn’t as bright as I thought it would be, there were still quite a lot of shadows so it took a bit of getting used to").
Of more concern were lower track temperatures and gusty winds; the wind can upset the bikes, of course, but more dangerously can blow sand onto the track. The place IS in the middle of a sand desert, after all …
In the final test session, Yamahas were one-two with two Moto GP "rookies" (although both are already world champions) Jorge Lorenzo of the Fiat factory squad and the very impressive James Toseland on the Tech 3 customer bike up front.
Next up were Randy de Puniet on the LCR Honda, with Toseland’s team-mate Colin Edwards a tick back. Casey Stoner on the Marlboro Ducati completed the top five.
Two competitors are still riding hurt from pre-season crashes: Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa (13th quickest) is still getting over a broken right hand from Sepang, while John Hopkins (12th) says he’s "80%" after tearing a major groin muscle in a fast off at Philip Island.