Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen was racing under the lights at Qatar for the 2008 season opener – the first time in 60 years of Grand Prix racing that a GP has been run at night.
Sunday Night Lights
We tested at five different locations in all parts of the world. I trained my butt off and all is ready for the first Grand Prix of the year. The anticipation is high and my deal is sealed one lap into the race. I couldn’t imagine having a worse start to the year. Last place and no points; let’s just say I was happy to leave the Qatar desert behind.
Qualifying wasn’t great, but the Rizla Suzuki had good race pace and I was feeling pretty good about the first event of the year. I made a solid start and got as high as 8th, but that’s when things turned sour. My front tire just didn’t seem right, I had no grip and I started to go backwards at a pretty quick rate, so I elected to come in and change the thing. We put the exact same compound tire on and it felt fine, so we just had a faulty front. When I returned to the race I was able to peel off consistent 1:57 lap times, which would have been good enough for a top eight finish.
So last place in the first Grand Prix of the year is pretty hard to take. As a team we expect so much more. As I mentioned, we all worked so hard in the off season and while we struggled at times there was a thought we had unlocked some of the Suzuki’s potential. I thought a top eight was very realistic and a top five would have been a very good result.
As it turned out, we ended up with no points and all the work is ahead of us, but that’s the thing about MotoGP, you have to pick yourself up, get over the disappointment and head to the next race with no baggage because things can change in a heartbeat.
Vermeulen’s night under the Qatar lights was spoiled when he had to pull in for a fresh Bridgestone front tire.
I’ve been asked a lot about riding at night at the opening round of the championship and I have to say it wasn’t a lot different to riding during the day. I had a clear visor on and the vision was pretty good. I guess you just get used to it. I’ll be happy when we return to the traditional Sunday afternoon Grand Prix, but I think as far as a one-off race goes it’s a real winner. The Losail organization has secured a MotoGP event until 2016 so I guess we need to get used to it and this part of the world is going to be important as the sport moves forward. I hear the race was extremely well received around the world and that means it’s here to stay.
I stayed on in Qatar after the test and I made sure I kept in the late-night time zone. It meant going to be bed at 1 a.m. every morning and sleeping in. I think it really helped. My body clock was pretty much locked into race mode by the time Sunday night rolled around, so no need for the alarm clock on the bike!
It’s pretty obvious Michelin have an awesome tire package at the moment. Did anyone think that when Valentino decided he wanted to use Bridgestone, that the Michelin company would just go away and sulk? No, they went away and got to work and it appears riders like Toesland, Lorenzo and Edwards are going to reap the benefits early in the season. Seven of the top ten at Qatar were Michelin-shod bikes. I wonder how Valentino feels about his big off-season move now? Bridgestone has work to do, but I’m certain that over time it will even itself out. Let’s hope!
Vermeulen was turning competitive laps on the GSV-R after he came out of the pits with a fresh tire at Qatar.
The first race in Europe is at Jerez in the south of Spain and I just can’t wait. There is an incredible atmosphere at the track and outside it. Last year there were more people locked outside the track than inside it. They shut the city down for the three days of the Grand Prix and local television broadcast what the punters are getting up to at night. You can’t imagine some of the antics. The Spanish fans fill the hillside like billygoats and the roar when one of their countryman do anything good is incredible. It’s a place I like to race at as well and while our test there last month wasn’t overly positive I think we can perform well.
We found some things at Qatar and the bike is improving. The team has scheduled a two-day test after Jerez and a two-day test after Estoril, so that means the factory has things it wants to try. That’s good news. I know if we can just find a couple more small things we will have a machine capable of winning Grand Prix races.
Chris V may have finished last due to a faulty front tire, but the Aussie’s spirits are not diminished for a successful 2008 season.
One of the reasons I love MotoGP is that it is the best of the best on the fastest bikes. There are 11 world champions in the field this year, of which I’m proud to say I am one of them. When you break the numbers down like that, it’s no wonder you have to fight so hard for every place.
Of the 18 riders there are only two who haven’t won at a World Championship level, Sylvain Guintoli and John Hopkins. Hopkins is one of the most respected riders in the paddock and I think everyone agrees Guintoli can ride, so the numbers really back up the hype of MotoGP.
The average age of the riders this year is 26, that’s down from 29 last year.
Hold it on.
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