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Let the games begin! MotoGP preseason finishes in Qatar

Written by Reef Parker, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Bagnaia proved red hot during testing; Image Credit - Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images

A season that could be looked back at for decades to come has officially kicked off, with two test days at Lusail. 

After a 12-week break, it was business as usual for Ducati, who topped both the test days at Qatar. 

Double world champion Pecco Bagnaia flexed his muscles across the two days, topping both sessions, and putting the rest of the grid on notice for the season ahead. 

Ludicrous times were set throughout the grid, with 11 riders dropping under the existing race lap record on day two, but it was Bagnaia who smashed through the 1:51 barrier, setting a new unofficial lap record at 1:50.952.

Wunderkind rookie Pedro Acosta continued to impress with his ability to get up to speed, finishing just over a second behind reigning champ Bagnaia. 

However, overall lap time wasn’t Acosta’s concern, as he spent the entirety of day two prioritising race runs, reported by Peter Mclaren. The Spaniard was on average around three tenths of a second behind Fabio DiGiannantonio’s race-winning pace in November. 

It was a much more successful test for MotoGP newcomers Trackhouse Racing. This was after a disastrous crash at the beginning of the Sepang test for Raul Fernandez rendered him unable to take part for the duration of the test. 

All of this was put behind in Qatar, as he was the second-quickest Aprilia, and in fifth. Although, it wasn’t meant to be for Franco Morbidelli, who also suffered injuries in testing. The Italian crashed two weeks ago during a private test in Portimao, and was left with a severe concussion. 

On Monday, Morbidelli announced he’d be withdrawing from the test, having been advised to do so by medical professionals. 

Raul Fernandez of Spain and Trackhouse Racing rounds the bend during the Qatar MotoGP Official Test at Losail Circuit on February 19, 2024 in Doha, Qatar; Credit - Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

It was a quiet two days for Marc Marquez, as he got to grips with his new Gresini Ducati. After claims circulated by Bagnaia at the Sepang test that, “He (Marc) is still very much riding in the Honda style” all eyes fell on Marquez' efforts in Qatar. 

The first day's work was met with disappointment from fans, as Marquez finished nine tenths away from Bagnaia’s leading time, languishing in 16th, a place behind rookie Acosta. However, Marquez put the sandbagging claims to bed on day two, finishing in a respectable fourth position, three tenths of a second away from first. 

After Marquez announced he was leaving a struggling Honda garage, it was to be expected the Japanese giants were going to enter a rebuilding phase, with good results not coming by often. 

However, after a Sepang test which showed flashes of promise, with Joan Mir finishing inside the top 10, the bar has now severely dropped again, after a disappointing display with Honda riders Johann Zarco, Takaaki Nakagami, Joan Mir, Luca Marini finishing 17th,18th,19th and 20th place respectively at the end of pre season. The riders were left citing that grip remained the main issue for them.

Ending the two days in 14th in the Qatar test was surely not on Fabio Quartararo’s agenda. 

For the last two years, the 2021 World Champion has cited that Yamaha's lack of top end speed has resulted in the team's decline in results, so it would've been sore viewing for the French man when he saw his Yamaha M1 machine reaching the top of the average speed list, yet battling in the mid-pack. 

On the other side of the garage, Alex Rins appears happy with his new team's testing efforts finishing only two tenths behind his teammate, while still adjusting to riding a new bike. With 2024 being a contract year for Fabio, it is pivotal for Yamaha to find success, if they want to keep the man who's spearheading their factory project.

With pre-season testing now, it's now just over two weeks to go until the flag waves for the beginning of the 75th motorcycle Grand Prix season. The omens predict 2024 to be the closest season yet with seemingly half the grid as likely winners at some point. Whatever the outcome, this season is set to be destined for the history books.


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