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Thoughts with Japan as season start looms

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Matt Roberts | 17:04 UK time, Friday, 18 March 2011

Qatar

You know you've got up too early when you realise midway through the morning that your underpants are on back to front and inside out.

The first leg of my journey to Qatar for the first round of the MotoGP season was uncomfortable but not unusual.

After 10 full seasons of covering the sport, I have yet to learn to prepare my suitcase any sooner than bedtime on the eve of departure, or get up any earlier than 10 minutes before the taxi is set to beep its horn, which, in this case, was 5am.

But one thing is significantly different for me this year. This time I will be anchoring the BBC's MotoGP coverage.

The five long months since the last round of 2010 at Valencia - and particularly the two months since I was informed of my new role - have largely been spent anxiously counting down the days to the start of the 2011 campaign.

Eventually, the frustration became so great that I took a hammer to my bathroom, an ambitious renovation project that, to my wife's dismay, has progressed no further towards refit beyond removal, leaving her without showering facilities. I, on the other hand, was able to run a hot bath in my Doha hotel room on Wednesday. Sorry love.

In the meantime, the MotoGP teams and riders could barely have been busier, with three intense testing sessions; two in Malaysia and one in Qatar; separated by a matter of days, which were filled with physical conditioning sessions and, for most, promotional engagements.


Stoner and Lorenzo

Stoner and Lorenzo will be battling for silverware

The most impressive took place a couple of weeks ago in Bologna, where some 38,000 well-wishers took to the streets to wave off Valentino Rossi and Ducati, iconic Italian newlyweds for whom the honeymoon period ended almost as soon as it began.

Generally speaking, pre-season testing gives us limited indication of what to expect over the course of a full season. But, as I write this, there looks like being a blazing row over the distribution of silverware Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, flirtations with victory for last year's impressive rookies Ben Spies and Marco Simoncelli, and a tentative get-to-know-you period for Britain's own debutant Cal Crutchlow.

Only last week, Cal revealed to me that a lifetime's ambition will be realised when he lines up on the grid alongside Rossi, his all-time Grand Prix hero, on Sunday night will do so weighing in slightly below his fighting weight. Not because of the thousands of miles he has covered on his push bike back home on the Isle of Man and at a training camp in California over the winter but because he lost part of his little finger in a crash during the final session at Losail on Sunday.

The injury, coupled with his ongoing recovery from a shoulder operation, leaves Cal with an even tougher job this weekend. But, as he relayed to his fans on Twitter, such matters are put firmly into perspective by the devastation in Japan, a country and people with intrinsic links to MotoGP.

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Crutchlow looking forward to MotoGP debut

Other than Ducati, of course, all the main manufacturers in the premier class are Japanese, as are a large section of the paddock workforce. Honda Racing Corporation head Shuhei Nakamoto has already been reported as saying that his organisation's development programme could soon be hit by the limited working hours imposed following power cuts and the fact that suppliers are also experiencing difficulties.

Furthermore, damage to the Motegi circuit in the Tochigi prefecture and surrounding roads in from the major local city of Mito has led to the postponement of the Grand Prix of Japan, scheduled to take place on 24 April but now pencilled in for 2 October.

On the journey out to Qatar, our plane touched down briefly in Bahrain, a country where the voices of democratic discontent remain real and relevant despite having been somewhat drowned out this past week by news of the Pacific tsunami.

With the country now under martial law, the cabin staff remained on board for the short hop to Doha - they usually change crew in Bahrain - while all passengers choosing to disembark were advised to stay within the airport arrivals hall until 4am due to a night-time curfew. It is a situation that has led to our return flight being rescheduled from Monday night to Tuesday morning.

The social hierarchy here in Qatar is not dissimilar to the neighbouring island, or indeed its other Gulf neighbours, which made me consider that the threat of similar revolt surely cannot be discounted here in the future.

Indeed, the decadence of this very event has rightly been questioned, with a reported $58m spent on building a circuit that holds just a few thousand fans and is illuminated by 3,600 light fixtures so that the race can be run at night, for reasons apparently no more significant than the novelty of it. The same could be said for the F1 Grands Prix in Abu Dhabi and Singapore but, then, I guess if necessity were not the mother of invention then elite motorsport surely would be.

However, Qatar takes the view that a top-class sporting infrastructure is a key factor in the economic stability of its future. Over the past few years, it has bought its place on the global sporting map by hosting events like the Asian Games, the WTA Tour and MotoGP, and, of course, winning the rights to host football's World Cup in 2022.

During times such as these, the politics of sport are rightly put in the shade but on Sunday night, for 45 minutes at least, it's most valuable human qualities will shine beneath a 5.4m-watt glare as the fastest men on two wheels race elbow to elbow at 200mph for their life's dream

The least I can do is remember to put my pants on the right way round.

Go to MotoGP pages on the BBC Sport website for coverage details.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Can't wait for the new season to start. It's going to be a good 'un.
    Glad that you've been given the chance to host the coverage full time matt as your interactions with the riders have always been interesting and on occasion funny.
    Let's just hope you keep that charm eh?

  • Comment number 2.

    Nice blog Matt, can't wait for the season to start. Do you know if the BBC will be broadcasting MotoGP in HD this year?

  • Comment number 3.

    RH92, the previous set of blogs asked the same question, sorry to say, the answer was no for now at least.

    Good look Matt, you're no Suzi Perry I'm afraid, but who is. :-)

    Drama already with it looking like there wont be a Suzuki rider for the start of the first Race!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    Rossi made a big mistake going to Ducati.

  • Comment number 5.

    "Rossi made a big mistake going to Ducati"

    Oh fair weather supporter, Murray..! Say that again at the end of his two year contract. The only mistake Rossi made was riding that Motocross bike early last season and getting his shoulder injury. Even breaking his leg pales into comparison. If he gets back to 100%, and it's by no means certain with that injury type, he and Jerry will get the Ducati going fast enough.

    BTW, have a good 'un, Matt.

  • Comment number 6.

    Come on Tino Rossi..rooting for you

    Motihur Rahman (Bolton)

  • Comment number 7.

    Excellent piece Matt, a lovely read.

    And if your wife is reading, she should get someone in to finish your bathroom asap, use the money for your next birthday present/bike.

  • Comment number 8.

    Thanks for the comments folks, keep them coming

    Murray, I agree with TheSecondStain's comment about VR and Jerry - they will be competitive soon

    What are you like with a spanner Neilmurg?!

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree with your comments Matt and TheSecondStain's comment about VR, it is a little early to tell, you can only compare him to his team mate at this point in time, Nicky H is no slouch and VR is ahead of him, injured. VR is also a master in races, a master in last minute qualifying. I don' think it will be his year this year, if Casey Stoner can stay on, I think he is the man to beat, mind you, I thought that last year!!!

    Can't wait for the BBC coverage to start, the wife isn't looking forward to it though as I will be glued to my computer for the next few months.

    Hopefully the Moto2 racing will be as good as last year, rooting for Scott Redding and Bradley Smith to do well, currently following Scott on Twitter @ReddingPower, does anyone know if Bradley uses twitter too?

    Shame on you Matt leaving your wife without a bathroom and telling the world :-)

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Garry I also thought that last year and it's deja vu so far - let's see if he hangs on tomorrow night! Brad is @BradleySmith38. Maybe you can send your wife around to finish my bathroom while MotoGP is on?! ;-)

  • Comment number 11.

    I am delighted that MotoGP is back, but distraught with the BBC'c appalling coverage so far. NOTHING in pre season, nothing on free practise (funny, because I know Matt was there - "THE OTHER CHANNEL" showed him ligging in the pits).

    125 and Moto2 are relegated to red button only events.

    Now I discover the BBC are not even showing the race live here in Wales, because it clashes with - a rerun of Dad's Army!

    Come on Matt - at least put up a fight for our sport. BBC have been trumpeting their coverage of MotoGP with expensive flashy indents and extensive other media advertising. You have assembled a knowledgeable team - why not use them? How about spending some of the budget covering the sport properly instead of blowing fanfares for how wonderful the BBC is? At the moment "THE OTHER CHANNEL" is blowing your coverage away in EVERY aspect.

  • Comment number 12.

    Congratulations on the new role, Matt.

    Looks like a great season ahead. Looks like Stoner has made the right choice to switch. Wonder how GJ and Danped will react?

    Best wishes to all the Japanese who are going through these testing times.

  • Comment number 13.

    I was really happy for you Matt when I heard you were leading the coverage this year, also good on you for raising an important issue about Moto GP and F1 being held in countries where dictatorships are in control. A lot of these middle eastern counties flash facilities are built on nothing more than 'slavery' and our community needs to address where its priorities are. However, I'm very excited about the new season, but for me it really starts in Jerez. I think Rossi will struggle to compete this year, Casey and Lorenzo are hungry for it,they have the desire to dominate for the coming years.

  • Comment number 14.

    The wait is over

    congats Matt as the new anchor

    I'm looking forword to this season and shall be following you all the way Matt .

    I think this years suprise will be Ben spies but stoner is looking good befor the first corner , it should be a great year's racing

    Come on Matt whats your tips for for the first race .

  • Comment number 15.

    Good luck Matt, nice to see you taking the reins.

    I'm a little concerned, why can't the BBC give MotoGP proper coverage?
    I'm told by the BBC MotoGP site that it's on BBC2 at 1830. But it isn't - Dads Army is on, because I'm in Wales.
    So instead - I'm told that it's on the Red Button, but even the Red Button coverage labelled as "Live MotoGP" is...Dads Army. So I'm forced to watch online. Thanks BBC!

    I sincerely hope this years coverage isn't as disrupted as certain events last year and that the BBC gives MotoGP the attention it deserves.

  • Comment number 16.

    Matt, can you explain the rules on teams gaining points for Championship. Repsol have three riders but MotoGP site saysteams have two riders "in principle". So do all 3 riders count towards team championship, or is it 2 highest placed, or is the 3rd rider (Dovizioso) counted as a Wild Card all season? Maybe Steve and Charlie could discuss this as I am sure they can put a different view on the issues.

  • Comment number 17.

    Wisedog, what a good question, that hadn't even occurred to me, and where do Suzuki stand as they only have 1 rider?

    Maybe, Repsol Honda can let Suzuki have their points from Dovi :-)

    Matt would send the wife around to sort out your bathroom problem during MotoGP, but who would make my tea then as I can't possibly move from the tv whilst the race is on.

    P.S. no one tell the wife I said this btw.

    Racing this weekend was a little up and down I though, Casey did well, can't understand what happened to Pedrosa, and thought Lorenzo seemed very happy with his performance. Fantastic result for Cal and Bradley in Moto2, a bit of a shame for Scot though.

    Thanks Matt btw now following @BradleySmith38.

    Keep it up, can't wait for Jerez

 

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