Riders want Qatar MotoGP to start earlier over safety fears

Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo will team up at Honda this season. (AFP pic)

DOHA: Leading MotoGP riders on Thursday urged safety officials at this year’s traditional Qatar season-opener to move the race’s start time forward an hour amid ongoing concerns over Doha weather conditions.

Defending champion Marc Marquez, challenger Jorge Lorenzo and Alex Rins are among those calling on a safety panel to push Sunday’s race to 7pm (1600 GMT) to combat heat, humidity and wind in the desert state.

“Last year the race started at 7 and it was really good, it’s less risk,” said Marquez, speaking at a press conference.

He was backed by other riders, including fellow Spaniard Rins.

“For me, if you race at 7, it’s safer,” said Rins, who crashed out of last year’s Qatar Grand Prix.

The argument to move the start time over trackside temperatures has been rumbling in the days before the season’s curtain-raiser.

Lorenzo, widely considered to be the main challenger to Marquez who is his new Honda stablemate, is one of those who has raised concerns after crashing in pre-season testing, claiming it could be “dangerous” to keep it at 8pm (1700 GMT).

It is forecast to be a maximum of 24 degrees Celsius in Doha on Sunday, though several degrees cooler by the evening.

There are also concerns over the gusty conditions especially on some exposed parts of the Losail track.

Whatever the conditions, the race should herald the beginning of one of the most competitive MotoGP seasons, which takes place over 19 races.

Marquez and Lorenzo come into the season with injury concerns.

Marquez is recovering from shoulder surgery, while Lorenzo is recuperating after fracturing his wrist in a dirt bike crash.

He said he was not fully-fit for Losail.

“I am going close to that (100% fitness), but I feel it may take one month,” said Lorenzo.

Marquez, who has won five of the past six championships, is also expected to face a stiff challenge from last year’s Doha winner, Andrea Dovizioso.

The Italian, who rides with Ducati, finished second overall to Marquez in the 2018 season.

As ever, the biggest draw will arguably be a legendary seven-time premier class winner, Valentino Rossi.

The Italian, who has just turned 40, will be racing in his 20th season.

Rossi, who finished third in Doha last season, said “seven or eight riders” could compete for this year’s title.

“The line-up of the championship is unbelievable, all the different factory bikes are strong, everybody is faster,” said Rossi.