After a memorable 2016 campaign, which saw nine different riders win races as Michelin returned to the series following a seven-year absence, the first fixture of the 2017 MotoGPTM World Championship (March 23-26) will take teams to Losail, near Doha, in the middle of the Qatari desert.
One of the favourites to win the season’s opener is rising star Maverick Viñales who has emerged as the dominant force after pre-season testing at Valence, Sepang, Phillip Island and Doha.
His Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team-mate and four-time Qatar victor Valentino Rossi (last win in 2015) has had a more difficult build-up to the season, so the Italian star will be hoping for a strong result after posting the sixth-best lap at Losail testing.
Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati), who has been coming to terms with the new Desmosedici, has been gradually upping his pace and he concluded the last test in Qatar with the fourth-best time. A win on Sunday would see him become only the second rider – after his former team-mate Rossi – to claim back-to-back victories with two different makes.
Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez, the outgoing champion, and Dani Pedrosa are buoyed by their positive winter testing programmes. The former has amassed one win and two podium finishes from four starts at Losail, while Pedrosa has scored five podium finishes.
To build on its 2016 effort, which harvested one race win and four podiums, Team Suzuki Ecstar has recruited Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins. Meanwhile, Aleix Espargaró and Sam Lowes will be coming to terms with the Aprilia RS-GP for Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, as two-time Moto2™ world champion Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger – two MotoGP rookies – appear for the first time in the colours of Monster Yamaha Tech3.
After a long time preparing for the occasion, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing is poised to make its return to motorcycle racing’s premier class as a permanent entry and will be represented by Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith. The move means it will be the first team to be active in every class, from Moto3™ to MotoGP.
There is plenty new from Michelin in 2017, too, including the availability of a new front MICHELIN Power Slick (revised profile), plus a new rear tyre for enhanced traction and rideability.
Rule changes mean that Michelin will now propose three different front- and rear-specification tyres for each race compared with two in 2016. This broader range is expected to provide more variety in terms of tyre choice and add to the dynamism of what is in reality a control-tyre series. The use of intermediates has been dropped.
Free Practice is due to start at 7:55pm local time on Thursday (March 23), with the first grand prix of 2017 scheduled to get under way at 9pm on Sunday.