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MotoGP Race Preview and Predictions: Qatar

April 10th, 2009

We are just two days away from the first race of the season and I’m getting very excited. I was in Qatar last year for the first ever MotoGP race under the lights and had a great time. I’ll miss being there this year, but the race itself should still be thrilling. Here I take a look at how I think things will go. I’ve listed the riders in the order I think they will finish in Qatar.

Casey Stoner is expected by a lot of people, including me, to win the race. He has won the last two Qatar races and has been consistently putting down fast laps during off-season practices. In the BMW Shootout mock qualifier, he led the field by almost three-quarters of a second. The only doubt is whether his wrist is fully recovered from the operation on it over the winter. During practices he has not been putting in successions of laps that are anywhere near races distances. He claims that his wrist will not bother him.

Valentino Rossi can never be counted out of being in contention for the top spot. He lost he championship in 2006 and 2007 and came back last year to win again. He wants to show everyone that he really is the best in the world and is hungry to prove it. His Yamaha has been performing well during the tests and we know he won’t want to let Casey win the opening round. I think Casey will get away from him and Valentino will come in second.

Jorge Lorenzo has been another strong performer during the winter tests. His MotoGP debut was in Qatar last year and he impressed everyone by placing 2nd. He’ll want another podium and I think he will manage to get another it, but 3rd place this time.

Loris Capirossi‘s Suzuki has been performing well and he came in 3rd in the BMW shootout, showing that he will be a rider to be reckoned with this year. He’s experienced, healthy and with a good bike should do well, I think he will probably not be to far off the podium in this race.

Mika Kallio is the rookie with the most promise this year. He seems to be handling the Ducati well and placed 6th in the BMW shootout. I predict he’ll continue to get quicker and be able to be within a few places of a podium for this race.

Chris Vermulan has been showing some promise on the Suzuki. He placed 6th in the BMW shootout and 4th at the test in Qatar earlier this year. He should be finishing not too far off the podium this weekend.

Andrea Dovizioso has an impressive rookie season last year that earned him a factory Honda ride. He placed fourth in Qatar last year should be able to do well again this year with more experience and a fully supported bike. I don’t think he’ll be able to do quite as well this year.

Nicky Hayden is new to Ducati this year and seems to be making improvements. He has complained that the set-up on the bike is very tricky, so if he gets that right he can probably be very fast. I have a feeling he’ll get better as the season goes along and he learns the bike. In Qatar I think he’s be somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Colin Edwards now has a wall up in his garage to separate him from James Toseland. Edwards has been a consistent rider in his MotoGP career, but never seems to end up on the podium often enough to be a real threat in the overall standings. I think he’ll show similar middle-of-the-pack results this weekend.

Sete Gibernau is back after a two year break from MotoGP. Officially his heated rivalry with Rossi has been ended with the two even joking and shaking hands at a press conference. Their on track behavior might be different though. If he can re-gain his form there will be some great moments between him and the current world champion. For Qatar I don’t thing Sete will be a threat for the podium, but should be able to stay with the middle pack.

Alex De Angelis is in his second year in the top MotoGP class with his Honda. He placed a respectable 10th last year, but was never took a podium. His tests results during the off-season showed similar middle-of-the-pack results. He will likely be there again for this race.

Toni Elias struggled last year on a Ducati but has switched to Honda this year. His performance during the test seemed a little more promising than last years races, but nothing too exciting. I think he’ll be slightly closer to the bottom of the standing after Qatar than to the top.

Randy De Puniet probably has a nice smile on his face now that his Honda will be sponsored by Playboy (but he won’t be showing the Playboy logo for the Qatar race). He has always had problems with consistency and only has one podium in his four-year MotoGP career. Most likely he will continue his lackluster performance in Qatar.

Marco Melandri has unfortunately ended up on as the lone rider on a Kawasaki and will have no factory support during the season. That is too bad because the Kawasaki seemed to be performing better than it did last year and Melandri was ending up in the middle of the time sheets and may have been able to completely erase the thoughts of the miserable season he had last year on the Ducati. I think he’ll be towards the back of the pack at Qatar.

James Toseland has a hard crash at the last test and had to be taken to the hospital for a concussion. He also had a tumultuous off-season publicly bickering with team-mate Edwards. Even though he should be mostly healthy for this race, he has been struggling at the bottom of the time sheets during the tests and probably won’t be able to get up to speed for this race, staying near the back of the field.

Dani Pedrosa‘s will is strong, but his body is not. He is still recovering from a skin graft on his knee and surgery on his arm this winter. He missed the last test and was in doubt whether he would be able to race this weekend until a few days ago. Even he has admitted that he won’t be very competitive at Qatar, but will settle for a few points. I hope he manages to have a good ride without injuring himself further.

Yuki Takahashi the Honda protegee is another rookie. I don’t think he’ll be able to keep up with the more experienced riders early in the season and will finish well back in the standings at Qatar.

Niccolo Canepa is a rookie without much world championship level racing experience and spent last year as a Ducati test rider. His times during tests were well off the leaders times and I think he’ll finish at the bottom of this race.

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