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MotoGP 2018 Preview: Not Just the Usual Suspects

MD expects last year’s top riders to be at the front again in 2018. That includes Andrea Dovizioso (left) and Marc Marquez (right).

The 2018 MotoGP Championship Series gets underway this weekend under the lights at the Losail Circuit in Qatar. After an interesting series of off-season tests, here are MD’s thoughts on the upcoming championship, followed by press releases from three of the major teams competing.

Not so long ago, there were four “aliens” competing in the MotoGP championship, who won nearly every race and occupied most podium positions. Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo were the aliens until Stoner retired, and the alien ranks were joined by Marc Marquez. Now, however, potential winners come from a much larger pool.

Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso is no youngster, and has competed in MotoGP for several years. Last year, however, he emerged as a frequent race winner and genuine challenger for the title. Off-season testing indicates this will still be the case in 2018. Meanwhile, Dovi’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo continued to struggle, despite flashes of brilliance during testing. Lorenzo simply lacked the consistency of his teammate.

The Yamahas to watch this year again include those beneath factory riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales, but a different Yamaha was consistently quick during testing. That was the satellite bike beneath Johann Zarco. We expect Zarco to win at least one race this year and, who knows, perhaps challenge for the title. Although entering his second MotoGP season, Zarco displays the maturity, and race-craft of a wily veteran.

Zarco has stuck with the sweet handling 2016 M1 chassis, while Rossi and Viñales are still experimenting with changes … often unsuccessfully. Perhaps Michelin’s decision to stick with the same tires from race-to-race this year will help Yamaha, and other teams, sort out handling issues.

Suzuki emerged during testing as a genuine threat for podiums this year with both Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone, at times, very quick … even over race distance. Iannone was accused of lackluster motivation last year, at times, but the emergence of a quick teammate (Rins is healthy this year, so far) seems to have lit a fire beneath him.

The KTM Factory Team returns from its rookie season with the same two riders, Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith. KTM was inconsistent during off-season testing, but has ambitions to move up the leader board, and post frequent top-ten results. KTM has discovered just how tough the MotoGP category is, but you can count on the Austrian factory to push hard throughout the season for improvement.

Repsol Honda returns with its powerful rider line-up intact, including four-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa. Marquez is already considered one of the greatest riders in history, and may finally be getting a handle on his problem with DNFs. If Marquez allows himself to take the occasional fourth or fifth place, and abandons the “win or crash” mentality he has frequently employed in the past, with his inevitable race wins he could quickly build an insurmountable points lead this year. Meanwhile, Pedrosa is likely to be found in the top 5 at the end of most races.

The final factory team on the grid this year will be Aprilia. Aleix Espargaró and Scott Redding will do battle for the Italian team whose founder, Ivano Beggio, passed away just days prior to the opening race. Perhaps even more than KTM, Aprilia has made massive changes to its chassis and engine during the off-season. Both riders seem to like the basic package, but it could be several races before Aprilia dials things in.

Other riders to watch this year include Cal Crutchlow (Honda), Danilo Petrucci (Ducati), Jack Miller (Ducati) and rookie Franco Morbidelli (Honda). Crutchlow should have a factory-level Honda below him, and is certainly a threat to podium several rounds, if not take a win or two. Petrucci is similar to Crutchlow when it comes to the factory support he will receive from Ducati, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him on several podiums this year, if not taking at least one win. Miller, meanwhile, seems to love his satellite Ducati after struggling on a Honda in recent years. Miller is a huge talent who might finally put things together this year. Morbidelli is the rookie everyone is watching (including countryman and mentor Valentino Rossi) who has been quick despite the “curse” of riding a satellite Honda.

MD predictions? At the top, we see something similar to last year. Marquez will take a fifth crown this year, but Dovizioso will be even faster, and more consistent than he was last year. Following these two, Rossi will again find his way to the front group most race weekends, and take at least one win. Lorenzo may find his groove on the Ducati, in which case he could take multiple wins this year. Our big question is just how strong Zarco will be. At this point, we see Zarco slotting in behind Marquez and Dovizioso in the championship standings.

Having made these predictions, we must admit this will be another year full of surprises. Rins, who struggled with injuries last year, surprised us with his off-season speed. His teammate Iannone is a MotoGP race winner with great speed, as well. Viñales, of course, was the “next sure thing” just a year ago after dominating testing prior to the 2017 season. He has frequently struggled since that time, but is another rider who could put things together this year and win multiple races.

For those interested, immediately below you can read the pre-2018 season press releases just received by MD from Ducati, Movistar Yamaha and Suzuki ECSTAR:

PRESS RELEASE FROM THE DUCATI TEAM:

After three pre-season testing sessions in Malaysia, Thailand and ten days ago in Qatar, the Ducati Team is now arriving in the Gulf state again for the first round of the 2018 MotoGP World Championship, which takes place on Sunday at the Losail International Circuit on the outskirts of Doha.

Coming off the back of an extraordinary year in which he won six races and finished runner-up, Andrea Dovizioso begins his sixth successive season with the colours of the Borgo Panigale squad, becoming one of the ‘longest-lasting’ riders in the Italian manufacturer’s MotoGP history. 2018 will be Andrea’s eleventh consecutive season in the premier category, the Italian having commenced his MotoGP career exactly ten years ago, on 9th March 2008, right here in Qatar.

Jorge Lorenzo, who finished his debut season in 2017 with the Ducati Desmosedici GP in seventh place, also began his MotoGP career ten years ago like Dovizioso. The Spanish rider finished the 2008 GP of Qatar in second place, after setting pole position.

In their ten seasons in MotoGP, Andrea and Jorge have taken part respectively in 178 and 174 races.

Unlike the other races on the calendar, the GP of Qatar will be held under floodlights, but this year the race will start two hours earlier on Sunday evening than in previous years, at 19.00 local time (17.00 CET).

Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team #04)
“I’m actually very satisfied with the feeling that I have reached with the Desmosedici GP18 during the last three test sessions: we have always been very quick and I’m happy with the work done in Ducati over the winter. At Losail our bike has always worked well and this year it seems it’s going even better, so I’m very confident for the first GP of the season. We still have to improve some aspects for the race and a lot will depend on the conditions we will find during the weekend, because in Qatar things can change rapidly, but I believe I have the right experience to manage every situation. This year there are many very quick and competitive riders and I know the strong points of our bike as well as the aspects we still have to improve, but I’m very focussed and ready to start the season in a great way.”

Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team #99)
“Finally the championship is about to start! It’s the moment of truth, and as always the appointment in Qatar will be special because racing a MotoGP bike at night is something unique. During the last two tests, we have had some good and some difficult moments, but we must remain positive and follow the same direction as the Sepang tests. The bike has a lot of potential and we must concentrate on finding a setting that adapts better to my riding style, in order to be competitive right from the first practice sessions.”

The Losail International Circuit
The Losail Circuit, which extends for 5.4 km, is situated close to Doha, the capital city of Qatar. The main straight is more than one kilometre long and the rest of the track is a mixture of fast and medium-fast curves. The 2018 race will be the fifteenth edition of the GP of Qatar: the Losail circuit was in fact inaugurated in October 2004, and since 2008 the racing has taken place in the fascinating night-time scenario of artificial lighting, which has made the opening round of the championship one of the most spectacular of the entire MotoGP calendar.

Fastest Lap: Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1’53.927 (170.0 km/h) – 2008
Circuit Record: Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1’54.927 (168.5 km/h) – 2016
Best Pole: Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1’53.927 (170.0 km/h) – 2008
Top Speed: Iannone (Ducati) 351.2 km/h – 2016
Race Distance: 22 laps (118.4 km)
Curves: 16 (6 left, 10 right)
Race Start: 19.00 local time (17.00 CET)

2017 Results
Podium: 1. Viñales (Yamaha), 2. Dovizioso (Ducati), 3. Rossi (Yamaha)
Pole Position: Viñales (Yamaha) 1’54.316 (169.425 km/h)
Fastest Lap: Zarco (Yamaha) 1’55.990 (166.979 km/h)

Andrea Dovizioso
Bike: Ducati Desmosedici GP
Race Number: 04
Age: 31 (born on 23rd March in Forlimpopoli, Italy)
Residence: Forlì (Italy)
Races: 276 (178 x MotoGP, 49 x 250cc, 49 x 125cc)
First GP: 2001 Italian GP (125cc)
Wins: 17 (8 x MotoGP, 4 x 250cc, 5 x 125cc)
First Win: 2004 South African GP (125cc)
Poles: 18 (5 x MotoGP, 4 x 250cc, 9 x 125cc)
First Pole: 2003 French GP (125cc)
World Titles: 1 (1 x 125cc)

Jorge Lorenzo
Bike: Ducati Desmosedici GP
Race Number: 99
Age: 30 (born on 4th May 1987 in Palma di Mallorca, Spain)
Residence: Lugano (Switzerland)
Races: 268 (174 x MotoGP, 48 x 250cc, 46 x 125cc)
First GP: 2002 Spanish GP (125cc)
Wins: 65 (44 x MotoGP, 17 x 250cc, 4 x 125cc)
First Win: 2003 Brazilian GP (125cc)
Poles: 65 (39 x MotoGP, 23 x 250cc, 3 x 125cc)
First Pole: 2003 Malaysian GP (125cc)
World Titles: 5 (3 x MotoGP, 2 x 250cc)

PRESS RELEASE FROM MOVISTAR YAMAHA MOTOGP TEAM:

This weekend Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales get to fire up their YZR-M1’s engines again, signalling the start of the 2018 MotoGP season at the Grand Prix of Qatar.

It was only about a week and a half ago that the riders were at the Losail International Circuit to complete the final pre-season test. Rossi and Viñales finished in second and fifth place respectively in the combined Day 1-2-3 results and find themselves in good shape for this season’s title challenge.

Nine-time World Champion Rossi is known for his love of close racing and he can’t wait to get the show started in Qatar. He holds an impressive record at the Losail circuit of four wins (2005, 2006, 2010 and 2015), four second places (2007, 2009, 2013 and 2014), and one third place (2017), but he feels there is room for more trophies. This weekend he will go all out to start the 2018 season fighting at the front of the pack.

After the intensive winter testing season, Viñales also arrives in Doha eager to fight for victory at the opening race. The young Spaniard knows his way around the track, not only due to the many laps he completed during the winter test at the Losail circuit, but also because of his previous racing experience and successes in Qatar. He added a Moto3 victory to his resume in 2012, he secured second place in the same class one year later, and he took a brilliant MotoGP win on his debut race with Yamaha last year.

The 5.4km-long Losail International Circuit is located on the outskirts of Doha and was added to the MotoGP calendar in 2004. Four years later the track became the first and only circuit in MotoGP to host a night-time Grand Prix, held under the floodlights. Besides the special mood of an evening-race, the Losail circuit also offers a mix of medium and high-speed corners (six left, ten right turns) and an over a kilometre long main straight, that are guaranteed to make for an exciting race, with many overtakes.

The Qatar GP time schedule for the upcoming race weekend slightly differs from the usual. The Free Practice 1 session will take place on Friday afternoon from 14:45 – 15:30 local track time (GMT+3) followed by FP2 at 19:05 – 19:50. On Saturday FP3 starts at 14:35 – 15:20 and FP4 is held at 18:40 – 19:10, before the qualifying sessions from 19:20 – 20:00. On Sunday the warm-up is held at 14:40 – 15:00 and the race starts at 19:00.

Valentino Rossi

“After a long winter, we’ve finally arrived at the first race of this new season, and after many tests, getting to the first race is always nice. The pre-season tests were important, we understood our weak points and the strong ones. We have to keep working, but everyone at Yamaha wants to improve, to do nice races and win. We prepared for this first race during the last tests, but we still have the free practice sessions to improve, to do another step. I feel good, I trained well this winter and I’m ready to start this new season together with my M1, my team and the Yamaha staff. This will be an interesting season, it seems that there are many fast riders, but we are ready to do our best!”

Maverick Viñales

“I’m so excited to come to Qatar and start the new season. I can’t wait! Last year was difficult for me with many ups and downs, but above all I learned a lot during the season with my M1, and now I feel that we can do great things this year and that we can fight throughout the championship to win the title. I’m sure that we’ll always be challenging at the top. The pre-season has helped us to try many things and finally we found a good set-up. We still have some small problems with the electronics, but I think we will reach our 100% at the first GP. Qatar is a track that I really like, I won my first GP with Yamaha there, so I have very special memories and I will do my best to be on the podium again this week.”

Massimo Meregalli
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP – Team Director

“After the three pre-season tests we’re finally kicking off the 2018 season this weekend. The team and the riders are just as excited as the fans, because we have been working hard towards this moment for months. Losail is a track that suits the Yamaha well, so we are looking forward to returning to this circuit for the opening round, especially since the floodlights have become a tradition – it adds a special atmosphere to an already intense event. On Friday we are going to pick up from where we left off at the end of the Qatar test. We had made some changes that gave Vale and Maverick a good feeling on the bike, and this will be our starting point. Both our riders have been preparing hard to be in great physical shape and the team is ready too, so let’s get started!”

PRESS RELEASE FROM TEAM SUZUKI ECSTAR:

Battle is about to commence at Losail circuit in Qatar for the opening round of the 2018 MotoGP World Championship. Team SUZUKI ECSTAR riders Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins arrived in Doha with a lot of enthusiasm following a productive winter season, where they found effective improvements in the technical package. Suzuki’s engineers worked hard to deliver a better performing GSX-RR; improved in terms of engine, chassis and electronics.

Losail International Circuit is a pearl in the desert, with thousands of floodlights illuminating the iconic track. As has been the case for the past 10 years, the race will take place in the evening. But this year it will be 2 hours earlier than usual, with the red lights going off at 17h00 GMT+3. Another novelty this year is that the rules now state that the race will be held under any weather conditions – even in case of rain. In fact, in order to be ready for this eventuality, the track was artificially flooded at the test two weeks ago, and all the MotoGP riders did a few test laps. These new rules were devised to avoid the situation which happened last year when both the FP4 and Qualifying sessions were cancelled due to rain.

Last year’s debut on the GSX-RR was a positive one for Andrea Iannone, who put together a strong run of practice sessions, being consistently fast and ending the combined classification after FP3 in 2nd place, which actually gave him 2nd place on the grid after the cancellation of Qualifying. But he then crashed out of the race.
The 2017 GP of Qatar marked the debut race in the top class for Spain’s Alex Rins, who was the youngest rider on the grid at the time – a record he continues to hold this year. His skills have hugely improved since last season and he shown very effective riding and strong lap times during the 2018 pre-season.

Davide Brivio – Team Manager
“Finally we go into the first race after a lot of work and testing we’ve done over the winter. Since last year, after the Valencia test, we did several tests and we could complete a big amount of work, selecting different parts. We are all curious now to see the results of our work in a real race. Tests are always hard to interpret, for sure our competitors did great steps forward but at the same time we feel we did improve as well. Both Alex and Andrea performed well here in Losail, Alex grew a lot during the winter and has been very consistent, also Andrea took the benefits of having more experience with the GSX-RR and is now more aware of the potential of the project. The first race will be interesting to understand where we are and see what else we need to do next. We are about to start a long Championship with 19 races, and I hope we’ll enjoy it.”

Andrea Iannone
“I’m happy that we are finally starting the season, the tests have been very long and I’m eager to get on the bike in a racing mode. The winter has been positive for me, I could work intensively on my physical condition but also the bike has had some important improvements. In the last test here in Qatar the feeling was positive, we still have some things we can improve and we will take time during the early sessions this weekend to do that. But the base is good and this is a very important thing.”

Alex Rins
“Finally we had a normal preseason. I could work on my physical condition, and I was feeling very good in every test. In Japan they did an awesome job and the bike is working pretty well. We’ve been in good shape, working day by day and focused on trying to get a good base set up to use during the season. I’m pretty confident and I feel ready for the first race in Qatar.”

Circuit info:
The Losail International Circuit lies on the outskirts of Doha, the capital city of Qatar. The track itself is a flowing layout of 5.4 kilometres, surrounded by artificial grass designed to prevent sand from the neighbouring desert from blowing onto the circuit. The main straight is over a kilometre in length and there is a good mix of medium and high-speed corners, including a couple of quick left-handers, which has proved particularly popular with the riders.

In 2008, Qatar celebrated the first night time Grand Prix in history, following the construction of permanent outdoor lighting. The switch to night time racing was a success and has continued to be so, with the Qatar event now established as one of the most spectacular on the MotoGP calendar.

2017 stats:
ANDREA IANNONE
Qualifying: 2nd – 1’54.848 (+0.532)
Race: DNF

ALEX RINS
Qualifying: 18th – 1’56.179 (+1.863)
Race: 9th – +14.788

12 Comments

  1. VLJ says:

    1. Marquez
    2. Dovi
    3. Vinales
    4. Rossi
    5. Dani
    6. Zarco
    7. Lorenzo
    8. Crutchlow
    9. Petrucci
    10. Rins

    Not a particularly suspenseful season, in other words. More of the same.

    Zarco is the obvious wildcard. While a lot of guys can and will pull surprises, Zarco is the one guy that could truly upset the applecart at the top of the points standings.

    Rossi and Vinales are also wildcards, simply due to the problems they’ve had with the M1 for so long now. If they can find happiness on that thing, either or both could overtake Dovi and Zarco as the main challengers to Marquez.

    Dani could be a factor, provided Marquez DNFs himself out of the picture, opening the door for The Caddie to assume the role of standard-bearer for all-powerful Honda.

    In the end, however, as long as Marquez’s Faustian fortunes remain intact and he continues to avoid injury despite crashing more than twice as often as any of the other contenders, he will win MotoGP championship number five.

    • mickey says:

      Sounds like Hot Dog has a great set up lol.

      I agree with VLJ’s thought process although I might have a slightly different prediction order. At least I hope so. Great list of names in that top 10 and every one of them capable of winning a race as well as Iannone and Miller too.

      • mickey says:

        This might be another season like 06 with being consistant more important than winning individual races.

        • VLJ says:

          We know we can pencil in Marquez for wins in America and Germany. Those are givens.

          So, with Marquez already having two wins in the bank, it’s incumbent on the Yamaha guys to get their act together and win at Losail and LeMans, the Yamaha tracks. The problem there is we know #93 will win in Austin and the Sachesenring, but we don’t know which Yamaha rider will win in Qatar and France.

          Ducati very likely takes Austria.

          Someone riding a Yamaha has to make up for those two gimme wins for Marquez, while also being consistent enough at the other tracks to stay in the hunt. When Marquez has a bad day at the office, he finishes fourth, not eighth. Last year, that was a major problem for the Yamaha guys.

          Yep, it’s Marquez’s consistency that wins these titles, along with the half-dozen wins. When Rossi had the title within his grasp in 2015, it was because he was on the podium nearly every race of the season. He (or Vinales, or Zarco) will have to repeat that performance and hope for a couple of DNFs along the way from Marquez.

          • TimC says:

            Whoever can get MM is only going to do so by putting on enough pressure that his over-the-limit stuff results in actual crashes in actual races – I don’t think simply outrunning the guy is going to happen much.

    • Dave says:

      Solid logic, but my gut tells me Zarco and Crutchlow finish higher, at some of the franchise rider’s expense. I don’t believe Yamaha will get the new bike sorted fast enough (Zarco will be on the 2016 chassis again), and Crutch gets a full factory Honda this year.

      • VLJ says:

        Entirely possible.

        It’s also entirely possible that Dovi might be consistently fast enough this year to push Marquez into crashing, as TimC described. Each time out now Dovi seems to have the easiest, least stressful speed. He looks like he does only enough to secure his position, while leaving plenty in reserve. I don’t get that same impression from watching Marquez, who looks to be putting forth his usual maniacal best every time out.

        Similarly, it looks like Rossi is finding easier, more consistent speed than Vinales, who only seems able to pull a single decent lap out of the hat, while Rossi is usually found near the front during the entirety of each session.

        Rins and Petrucci are just killing it. Rins could be this year’s Zarco, and Petrucci might just put forth a case to replace the much pricier Lorenzo on the factory squad next year.

  2. Hot Dog says:

    Moto GP video package paid — check

    New 75″ HD TV in place — check

    No talking to me during racing — check
    (This is usually when scantily clad Lady tests my focus to racing)

    Dovi MM JoZo Vin Vale Jlo Crutch Ped

  3. Vrooom says:

    So everyone is a threat, but the results will be the same as last year? Dovi will be fast, Lorenzo won’t win any races. I’m guessing something like Dovi, Vinales, Rossi, Marquez, Zarco at the end of the season. Morbidelli is fast, but the satellite Honda bikes haven’t been.

  4. joe b says:

    2017 year in review, thursday night, on Bien.

  5. Martin says:

    The premier class will look a lot like moto3 races this year!

  6. mickey says:

    All I can say is, let the games begin! Should be an awesome season.