Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo begin their assault on the 2008 MotoGP World Championship firmly in the spotlight this weekend as the new season gets underway beneath the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit in Doha, Qatar.
The 60th season of the world’s oldest motorsport series kicks off with an historic night race, the first in Grand Prix history, and Rossi and Lorenzo will be amongst no fewer than eleven past and present FIM World Champions looking to claim motorcycling’s biggest prize.
For Rossi the new campaign represents a second opportunity to reclaim the crown he held for five consecutive seasons until 2006, with the Italian having undergone an intense winter programme of physical training and MotoGP testing. As well as working on improvements with the engine of his Yamaha YZR-M1, Rossi has also been adapting to a change of tyre manufacturer and he is hoping to reap the fruit of his hard work in the dark desert landscape of Doha, where he has already celebrated victory on two previous occasions.
A repeat on Sunday night would be a good omen for the 29-year-old, who has won the opening race on each of the five occasions he has won the title. A top three finish would make him the first rider ever to reach 100 premier-class podiums.
“Firstly speaking about the night race, after the last test I am quite relaxed about this," said The Doctor. "I think they have done an excellent job with the lights and it’s really true that you can ride just the same as you can by day.
"The biggest problem is of course the temperature, because it’s very cold by night and this makes our work, especially with the tyres, much harder. Generally I’m very happy and excited that we have finally reached the first race. It’s been a long time since Valencia and I am definitely ready to start a new challenge.
"Yamaha have worked very hard over the winter and our new bike is very good; of course there are some things still to work on and we did have some issues to contend with at the last test, but I am confident that we are in good shape overall. I am very happy with my tyres as well and now I just want to get started. We have a big task ahead of us but I know that my team and everyone at Yamaha are up to the job.”
At just 20 years of age Lorenzo will be the youngest rider on the grid in Qatar, although he is unlikely to be fazed. The 250cc World Champion has been on pole position for the quarter-litre race there for the past three years and has taken victory for the last two – a clean sweep he had already managed as a precocious teenager in the 125cc class in 2004. The Mallorcan will also be buoyed by some impressive winter form on his new 800cc Yamaha, culminating with the fastest overall lap time at the final preseason test at Losail just a few days ago.
That crucial two-night session also provided the circuit organizers with the opportunity to try out their incredible lighting system with the full complement of MotoGP riders on track. With 3,600 light fixtures using 250, 1500 and 2500-watt bulbs, the system needs 13 megawatt generators to produce the required 5.4 million watts of power – creating enough light to cover an area equivalent to 70 football pitches.
The bulbs are fixed on 1000 poles with mounting heights from 3-36 metres, all linked together by almost 500 kilometres of wire and supported by 300,000 kilos of concrete.