MotoGP commences a new era in Qatar, all-new 800cc machines replacing the 990s that ruled the sport from 2002 to 2006. The Ducati Marlboro Team brings its Desmosedici GP7 to this crucial first race of the 800 era following a fruitful winter of development that has seen the Bologna-based squad covers thousands of track kilometres during test sessions in Spain, Australia, Malaysia and Qatar.
Ducati stalwart Loris Capirossi and new team-mate Casey Stoner went well during last month's Qatar tests, putting them in positive mood for Saturday's season-opening Grand Prix. And both men have great form at the Middle Eastern venue - Capirossi took pole position in 2005 and qualified second last year, finishing the race in third place. Stoner took pole position last year, making him the second youngest rider in history to start a premier-class race from pole. In the race he battled for the lead and finished a close fifth.
Livio Suppo, Ducati MotoGP project manager;
"It's good to finally go racing after a long winter of testing. We start the season at a track where we recently had some pretty good tests, so we are quite confident that we can have a good first race. This season is going to be really tough for everyone involved in MotoGP, it's the biggest season ever, the new 800s are really fast and there's a lot of guys going very, very quick, already quicker than the 990s at some tracks. Our aim is to be in the front group from the very beginning".
Loris Capirossi, Ducati Marlboro Team rider;
"This year is so important for me because I know I don't have too many more seasons in me, maybe one, maybe two, maybe more, I'm not sure. So I am more determined than ever to do my best and the first race is very important. It is great that we were able to test at Qatar only a few weeks ago. We made some good preparations during those tests with some good long runs, so I think we are ready to fight for the podium at this race. The track is okay for our style of bike and tyres. The big thing you really need for this race is good feeling from the front tyre, so we've had to work very hard on that for Qatar. You also need good agility for all the direction changes - and the GP7 is more agile than last year's GP6".
Casey Stoner, Ducati Marlboro Team rider;
"I couldn't be happier with the team, everyone gets on great and the bike has got better and better at every track we've been to. It's looking very competitive and the tyres are looking great as well. The tests we did at Qatar last month were very positive, so I'm feeling quite confident going into this race. I've had some good races in the past there, so it could be good for us. We were okay with tyres in the test, we ran a good race pace. The only thing with Qatar is the track surface, it can be pretty changeable, one day the track is fast, the next day it can be slow. It's not the most exciting track, it's very flat, with not enough camber on the corners, and most of it is average corners flowing together. It can be good for racing though, you normally get a nice little battle up front".
Losail is one of MotoGP's newer circuits and the sport's first Middle Eastern venue. The track hosted its inaugural event in 2004, when windblown desert sand made the circuit treacherously slippery but the surface has improved a lot since then, though sand can still be an issue. Dominated by a 1.1km straight, the remainder of the 5.4km Losail track is a sinuous high-speed switchback, with most corners leading into one another, rather than separated by straights. Heat was a concern at the inaugural Qatar GP held in October when temperatures nudged 50 degrees. Since then the event has been scheduled at cooler times of year.