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MotoGP: Five Stories To Look For At Grand Prix Of Qatar

The 2013 MotoGP World Championship opens April 4-7 with the Grand Prix of Qatar, with action in all three classes – MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3.

The 18-round World Championship includes the Red Bull Indianapolis GP on Aug. 16-18 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Here’s a look at five storylines entering the Grand Prix of Qatar this weekend:

Rossi Back At The Front: Seven-time MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi will make his racing return to the Yamaha Factory Racing team this weekend after two lost seasons with the Ducati Team.

Rossi earned 46 of his 66 career victories and four of his seven world titles in the premier class with Yamaha from 2004-10 before leaving for Ducati to form an Italian dream team in 2011. But that dream quickly turned into a nightmare, as Rossi managed only three podium finishes and no victories in two seasons with Ducati.

But Rossi escaped Ducati after last season and is the prodigal son at Yamaha. He was among the top five at all three preseason tests on Yamaha’s M1 motorcycle and is expected to return to his usual spot on the podium this season, including challenging for his first MotoGP victory since October 2010 at Malaysia.

Still, there are lingering questions about Rossi, beloved by fans as one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time. He’s 34 – considered a senior citizen in motorcycle racing – and has raced in World Championship since making his 125cc debut in 1996.

Plus there’s the Lorenzo factor. One of the reasons Rossi left Yamaha after 2010 – besides baskets of Ducati money – was the frigid relationship with his teammate, Jorge Lorenzo. Rossi resented the threat posed by Lorenzo, who won his first World Championship in 2010, and insisted an actual wall be built between their garage stalls in 2009 and 2010.

Lorenzo only has become even faster in Rossi’s absence in 2011 and 2012, winning another world title last year. The two riders have enjoyed cordial relations during preseason and publicly claim they can co-exist. But funny things happen when riders drop their helmet visors and their eyes fill with the red mist of competition.

The Golden Child: Reigning Moto2 World Champion Marc Marquez climbs into the powerful Repsol Honda Team this season as the most heralded rookie in MotoGP since fellow Spaniards Jorge Lorenzo in 2008 and Dani Pedrosa in 2006.

Marquez should threaten to win a Grand Prix this season and could challenge Yamaha’s Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi and Repsol Honda teammate Pedrosa for a World Championship. If Marquez, 20, wins one of the first 11 races of the season, he will become the youngest winner of a premier-class Grand Prix in history, beating the record held by American Freddie Spencer.

Fans, media and fellow riders buzz about Marquez because he combines a fast, fearless riding style, including lean angles so severe that his elbows drag on the asphalt, with a sunny insouciance about his talent and competitors.

Marquez proved his worth during preseason testing, finishing fourth, third and sixth overall in the three official tests. But he dominated a private test in March at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, leading all three days against Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Rossi.

New Qualifying Format: Expect to see more excitement on Fridays and Saturdays as MotoGP adopts a two-stage qualifying system to replace the open, one-hour session to determine the starting grid.

The top 10 riders overall after the third practice will advance directly to the second round of qualifying, as practice times will play into the qualifying procedure unlike past years. The other riders will participate in the 15-minute first round of qualifying, with the top two advancing to the second qualifying round.

The top 12 positions on the grid will be set based on the results of the 15-minute second qualifying round.

Riders not among the top two in the first qualifying round will take grid positions 13 and above according to their placement in the first qualifying round.

The new system will be used just in the MotoGP class. Moto2 and Moto3 still will use one open, timed session to determine their respective starting grids.

The Americans: This is a pivotal season for the three Americans racing in the premier MotoGP class.

2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden becomes the team leader at Ducati Team after supernova Valentino Rossi left to return to Ducati. Hayden enters his fifth consecutive season with the Italian team and looks to improve upon his ninth-place finish in the World Championship last season.

An improving Ducati GP13 machine could help “The Kentucky Kid” reach that goal. He was ninth overall in all three preseason tests, but the gap to the top of the time sheets was reduced to nine-tenths of a second at the final test, in Jerez, Spain.

2010 Rookie of the Year Ben Spies moved to the Pramac Ducati team after a disappointing, injury-plagued 2012 season with Yamaha Factory Racing. Pramac is a satellite team to the Ducati factory team, but Spies and rookie teammate Andrea “Crazy Joe” Iannone both will race on factory-spec GP13 machines.

Spies had a sluggish preseason due to continued recovery from reconstructive surgery on his shoulder during the offseason. The speed of that recovery – and of his adjustment to a new team and bike – early in the season could determine the success of his 2013 campaign.

Colin Edwards continues to be MotoGP’s ageless wonder, entering his 11th MotoGP season at age 39. “The Texas Tornado” returns for a second season with NGM Forward Mobile Racing, which fields a bike under the production-based Claiming Rules Team formula.

Edwards struggled toward the back of the grid last season as the team never came to grips with the balky electronics of its Suter-BMW package. Many speculated Edwards might walk away from the sport after winning two World Superbike titles and enjoying a long MotoGP career, but a switch to a more proven FTR-Kawasaki package for 2013 helped to keep him in the premier class.

Another Alien?: The riders on the two most competitive factory teams in MotoGP, Repsol Honda and Yamaha Factory Racing, are called “aliens” by many MotoGP fans, media and riders due to their otherworldly skill on superior machinery.

But it’s very possible a fifth rider could join the alien world this season, and he’s not on a top-line factory bike.

British veteran Cal Crutchlow turned heads by leading the last preseason test last month, in Jerez, Spain. His Tech 3 Yamaha is a “satellite” machine, not of the same state-of-the-art specification as a factory machine.

Crutchlow also was in the top five in the first two preseason tests, at Sepang, Malaysia, so his outstanding performance at Jerez was no fluke. He could become the first British rider to win a motorcycle Grand Prix since the legendary World Champion Barry Sheene in 1981 and could become the first satellite team rider to win a MotoGP race since Marco Melandri in 2006.

RACE DETAILS:

Race:             Grand Prix of Qatar
Date:              Sunday, April 7
Round:           First of 18 races in 2013
Circuit:           Losail International Circuit, Doha, Qatar
Distance:       22 laps on 16-turn, 3.343-mile circuit
2012 Winner:        Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha
U.S. Riders:    Nicky Hayden, Owensboro, Ky., Ducati Team; Ben Spies, Longview, Texas, Pramac Racing Team; Colin Edwards, Houston, NGM Mobile Forward Racing.
TV:     MotoGP: 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday, April 7, SPEED. Moto2: 11 p.m. (ET), Sunday, April 7, SPEED. Moto3: Noon (ET) Tuesday, April 9, SPEED.
Web:            www.motogp.com
Twitter:        @MotoGP


***


2013 tickets: Tickets are on sale for the 2013 Red Bull Indianapolis GP MotoGP event. Visit www.ims.com/tickets, call (800) 822-INDY or (317) 492-6700 or visit the IMS Ticket Office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.

Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are available. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.

Information on camping at IMS during the Red Bull Indianapolis GP is available at www.ims.com/tickets. Hotel package information can be found at visitindy.com/redbullhotels.

Photo courtesy of motogp.com

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