MotoGP 2012: Who to watch in Moto2 and Moto3
- Venue: Losail, Qatar
- Date: 7-8 April
Coverage: Saturday: 1555-1900 BST on red button: Live coverage of MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 qualifying. Sunday: 1655-1905 BST on red button: Live coverage of Moto2 and Moto3 races (1655-1830 BST on Freeview). 1930-2100 BST on red button: Live coverage of MotoGP race. 2320-0050 BST on BBC One and HD - repeat of MotoGP
The MotoGP season starts again this weekend in Qatar, but there is plenty of action to look forward to outside the top class.
With 66 riders from 18 countries - spanning five continents - in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes this year, the competition is set to be as tough as ever.
Ask any Moto2 rider who they think the favourites are and a long list of probables comes up: Thomas Luthi, Pol Espargaro, Andrea Iannone, Julian Simon, Claudio Corti, Toni Elias, Alex de Angelis, Bradley Smith and Scott Redding among them.
But the one name that really stands out is that of last year's runner-up, with seven wins and a further four podiums, Marc Marquez.
What is Moto3?
Moto3 is the new lowest cylinder class, replacing the two-stroke 125cc bikes with four-stroke 250cc ones.
It was brought in to keep the prototypes more relevant to the motorcycle industry.
The 12,000 euro (£9,900) price cap on engines and single spec ECU (Dell'Orto) and tyres (Dunlop) has been introduced to keep costs down and create more competitive racing.
It says a lot about the Spaniard that while still on an extended recovery from the vision problems sustained in a crash in October, he was already being touted as the favourite for the title this year.
At the last official test in Jerez, Marquez posted a top-five time on each of the three days to dispel any suspicion that the former 125cc champion might start the season off the pace.
It is as clear now as it was at the end of last year: Marquez is the man to beat in 2012.
For British rider Redding, a 2011 season without a podium, after a promising display in his debut year, was little short of a disaster but renewed confidence this year should see a revitalised performance from the 19-year-old.
One of the tallest riders in Moto2 at just over 6ft - and still growing - Redding needs to get on a bigger bike and soon, and has the extra incentive of knowing that he is in the shop window for a 2013 MotoGP ride.
Fellow Briton Smith is in the very special circumstance of starting the Moto2 season with his future in MotoGP already guaranteed.
But although the pressure of finding a 2013 ride will be off, that of justifying his MotoGP one will be on.
The good news for Brits is that Smith and Redding provided us with some great fairing-to-fairing battles towards the end of last year and that rivalry will no doubt spill over into 2012.
There are three Brits in total in Moto2 this year as Gino Rea makes his debut in the class, coming over from World SuperSport to join the championship-winning Gresini team.
Gino will find it a tough year in Moto2, where every tenth off the lead can drop you four or five places, but he has already shown himself to be resilient and up for the challenge.
Replacing the 125cc category, Moto3 heralds a new era in grand prix racing as the world championship says goodbye to two-strokes forever.
If Marquez is the one to beat in Moto2 then his compatriot Maverick Vinales could be the one with that mantle in Moto3 after a stunning debut in 125s last year.
The 17-year-old took four wins and a further five podiums on his way to the highest points tally ever for a rookie, and his performances in testing have down nothing to play the hype down.
The season will be tough, however, and it looks like the fiercest competition may come from Red Bull KTM Ajo team-mates Sandro Cortese and Danny Kent.
Cortese will be contesting his eighth season in the lowest cylinder class and, having finally taken his first win in 125s last year, should be poised for a title challenge in Moto3 in 2012.
Danny Kent's adaptation to the KTM and Moto3 category is very promising for Brits as we may see a genuine title challenge from the 18-year-old.
So the favourites have been agreed on, but it is points that count and racedays where champions are made - starting on Sunday in Qatar.