Motorsport / 16 March 2018, 4:01pm / Motoring Staff
Doha, Qatar - When the red lights go out on Sunday night at the Losail International Circuit, 30 minutes north of Doha, for the start of the 15th Qatar Grand Prix, it will be the 12th time this race this race has opened the series and the 11th time it will be held under spotlights.
This is the only motorcycle Grand Prix that’s held at night - but it might as well be daylight, with 5.4 million watts of power (enough to supply 3000 family homes) lighting up an area the size of 70 soccer fields
By the numbers
The circuit is 5380 metres long, with 16 corners and a main straight of more than a kilometre - one of the longest on the Grand Prix calendar. MotoGP riders hit 350km/h before the second hardest braking manoeuvre of the entire championship, requiring eight kilograms of lever pressure for 5.1 seconds, over a distance of 290 metres.
Losail is situated in the middle of the Qatar desert; the circuit is surrounded by acres of artificial grass, but the prevailing wind still blows fine sand onto the track, causing unpredictable grip off the racing line and at the same time making the surface extremely abrasive for tyres.
You wouldn’t think rain would be a problem in one of the driest places on the planet, but it has been and still is a serious complication for the advisors. The glare of the spotlights on wet tar and the thin mud that forms with the ever-present sand, make it impossible to race in the rain.
In 2009, it began to rain moments before the start, and the race had to be postponed to Monday night - the first time that a motorcycle Grand Prix had ever been held on a weekday.
The end of the main straight is the best place to overtake, under braking for Turn 1, which is wide enough to have more than one racing line.
Turn 2 is the most dangerous corner, because the riders arrive there 38 seconds after the previous left-hand corner, so that side of their tyres has cooled to the detriment of grip. Of the 14 crashes during the 2017 Qatar MotoGP, five were at Turn 2, including that of Johann Zarco when he crashed out of the lead.
Turn 6 is the slowest corner, taken at less than 70km/h; it’s another favourite place for passing moves.
For many years nobody succeeded in overtaking in Turn 16, but recent improvements in tyre and suspension technology have made it possible, although still very risky.
Jorge Lorenzo has posted the most wins at Losail - once in the 125cc class, twice in 250’s and three times in MotoGP.
All-time great Valentino Rossi has won four times in Qatar, all in the premier class.
Lorenzo has also recorded the most podium finishes at Losail - 11 in 14 GP’s - and been on pole eight times, including in his debut MotoGP race in 2008 - something no other rider has ever achieved.
Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso recorded the only indisputable dead heat in the premier class in 2004. Their times at the finish were identical and the photo finish showed them exactly abreast across the line but, since the MotoGP scoring system does not allow for a dead heat, Lorenzo was awarded the win because his fastest lap was faster than Dovizioso’s.
The 2018 MotoGP season will include 19 races, the highest number yet.
The championship will start on 18 March and end on 18 November - exactly 8 months - making it the longest season in history and with the latest end date.
The earliest start date for a Motorcycle Grand Prix season was in 1964, with the United States Grand Prix at Daytona on 2 February.