MotoGP circus returns to Qatar for season opener this weekend

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The first race of the 2015 MotoGP season runs Sunday in Qatar, and the teams are converging on Losail Circuit once again to prepare.

This year, the competition could much more fierce than it has been in previous seasons. While Honda and Yamaha’s factory teams are still atop the heap, Ducati appears to finally be back in the game; both their riders posted scorching-fast times at the last Qatar test. Cal Crutchlow also seems to be back in the podium hunt, and while the Suzuki factory team is farther back in the standings, it’s hard to see them failing to ramp up their game in the coming months.

“There are a lot of fast riders on fast bikes, as we saw during testing, so this first race weekend will be interesting for sure,” said last year’s champion, Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez.

The riders take to the track Thursday, with an extra free practice session scheduled.

Marquez’s closest competition is still likely to come from Jorge Lorenzo; after problems at the start of last season, Lorenzo was on fire in the second half, and was one of the top riders all through testing. Now, he needs to take that momentum into the season’s first race.

“I want to forget what happened there one year ago with the crash in the first lap of the race,” Lorenzo said. “Fortunately this year we‘ll arrive in a better shape and we can do even better in the first part of the season so we are quite positive for the starting race.”

Going into the weekend, other riders announced a wide range of feelings;. Marquez’s teammate Dani Pedrosa didn’t seem thrilled about the prospect of spending four days, instead of three, at the circuit, but other racers were excited for the resumption of on-track hostilities. Loris Baz (Forward Racing) was eager for his MotoGP race debut, saying he’d worked hard to get to this point.

“I had to learn everything about this bike: the carbon discs, the brakes, the new tires and strengthen my muscles to adapt my driving style to the Yamaha Forward,” said Baz. “The goal is to try to get close to my rivals in the Open class by summer. I am confident and at the same time anxious to get on track in Qatar.”

Tech3’s Bradley Smith also sounded full of anticipation, saying he was “Gritting my teeth with anticipation for Sunday’s race and I can’t wait to get going.” Smith, like Baz, said he’d worked hard in the off-season to prepare for this year’s racing, and was anxious to see that work pay off.

But while some riders have worked hard to prepare, other racers know they still have a long way to go. Marco Melandri has been battling illness this winter, and his Aprilia team is returning to the series ahead of schedule, meaning they may still have plenty of tweaking ahead of them as they refine their motorcycle.

“For me this weekend is the start of a new challenge: returning to MotoGP after several years of absence will not be a walk in the park and I am well aware that the first Grand Prix races will not be simple for me,” said Melandri.

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