- Round 1: Losail, Qatar
- Track length: 5400m
- Opened: 2004
- Fastest Lap Ever: TBA
- Lap record: TBA
- Last year's winner: NA
New championship, new challenge
Next weekend marks a new beginning for both Yamaha and the Superbike World Championship, as the 2005 season opens up with the opening race held at the Losail International Racetrack in Qatar on Saturday (26 February).
It will be the first time the series has travelled to the Middle East and represents Yamaha's return to the series after a four season absence. The Yamaha Motor Europe-backed Yamaha Motor Italia squad, featuring riders Noriyuki Haga and Andrew Pitt, are looking forward to the challenge of moving up to the 1000cc class after concentrating their efforts on the supersport series for the past few seasons.
Despite the early start to the season, the team had already completed many kilometres of testing with their YZF-R1s: twice at Valencia in Spain, Phillip Island in Australia and Monza in Italy, before joining rivals at the official pre-season tests in Qatar last weekend.
And while the race R1 is still undergoing development work, the team remains cautiously optimistic about the year ahead - setting a target of solid points scoring performances in the opening two 'fly-away' rounds before returning to Europe where the next stage of development work can be implemented. As Pitt comments: "I have absolutely no doubt that we have everything in place to turn the R1 into a race winning package. Perhaps it is too early to expect this in the opening races but we'll go to Qatar trying to get the best possible results. Many of our rivals are also in the same situation, though I am very happy that I have been able to have such an extensive testing programme. This has given us a good knowledge of the new bike and should help us to produce consistent early results."
Haga too is upbeat about the season, despite having completed less testing than his team-mate after joining the team in January: "It has been hard work for the team to get everything ready so early in the year, but I think there is big potential for the R1. The engine is already very powerful and with some more time I think we can have the chassis exactly how I like it too."
All the superbike and supersport teams have arrived early in the Qatar circuit for a two-day test last weekend with the Yamaha riders all showing early season potential. Significantly the top 12 superbike riders were covered by just over a second around the long Losail circuit, giving promise of close racing in the year ahead. Of those top 12 riders, seven were mounted on R1s.
The test also provided an opportunity for the teams to find a good base set-up for their machines at the circuit. Yamaha's official riders spent most of their time chasing good race settings rather than going for ultimate laptimes, which they hope will benefit them this weekend. Certainly the circuit demands a set-up that offers easy changes in direction; supported by a high level of feel from both the front and rear, making tyre choice a critical factor this weekend.
Losail International Racetrack
Costing $US58 million and taking less than one year to build, the 5.4km track displays Qatar's quest to make motorsport a major industry on the Persian Gulf. The circuit hosted its first, and so far only, world championship event with a MotoGP round last October. Riders generally approved of the circuit layout, although all noted a lack of grip due to the 'greenness' of the circuit and its location in the middle of the desert. And while two days of testing last weekend has 'cleaned' the track, the superbike and superbike riders are also likely to find grip levels at a premium during this weekend's race meeting, especially off the racing line. Despite this the teams and spectators should enjoy some competitive racing while enjoying the world class facilities at the new venue.
R1 proves popular
The Yamaha YZF-R1 is proving to be the machine of choice for riders in this year's championship, confirming both the machine's out of the crate performance and the ready availability of official Yamaha racing kit parts. Of the 31 riders listed in the provisional entry list for Qatar, 11 are entered on R1s. In addition to the officially-supported Yamaha Motor Italia team, other high profile entries come from Yamaha Motor France, who will enter former Grand Prix rider Norick Abe and 2004 endurance world champion Sébastien Gimbert; Lorenzini by Leoni's Gianluca Vizziello and the privately entered DFXTreme squad, who field Spanish Formula Xtreme champ Jose Luis Cardoso, who set the third fastest time at last weekend's pre-season tests.
Supersport World Championship
Qatar also marks the start of the 2005 Supersport World Championship, with Yamaha's official entry coming from the Yamaha Motor Germany squad and their Australian riders Kevin Curtain and Broc Parkes.
Both riders will be armed with the latest Yamaha YZF-R6 which has numerous improvements over its predecessor, especially in the suspension and braking departments. The Yamaha Motor Germany squad joined their Italian counterparts at last month's three-day test in Phillip Island and joined the rest of the supersport riders in Qatar last weekend: Curtain setting the third fastest time with Parkes eighth despite a hand injury sustained in a training accident.