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Event review - Grand Prix of Qatar 2017
The MotoGP 2017 season finally got underway!
And what a weird and wonderful weekend it was in Qatar! We’ve been here every year since 2004, and somehow it still manages to hold surprises and interest for us.
We don’t get a lot of rain in this part of the world, being a desert and all, but when it does rain, it is “biblical”. It turns out that March isn’t normally one of the wetter months (that is September), but of the average 18mm per month of March, most of it seemed to fall this weekend! Of course the MotoGP and Moto2/3 tests were also curtailed thanks to the weather. This would make everything just a little more interesting!
Thursday we opened with a happy hour drink or two, then up to the track for the early arrivals. Always the best evening to go to Losail as not only do you see the first sessions of the new season, but there are very few “tourists” around. Our few VIPs met a lot of riders, and even got to watch the MotoGP practice from the trackside around the final turns 15 & 16. Back to the Ritz for the Deluxe package, we enjoyed the tail end of the Club Floor bar, which they nicely kept open for us (free drinks!). At the Mercure, our City Package customers enjoyed keeping the top floor English-style bar open until well after midnight… Joined by some locals at one of the best bars in Doha.
Friday we had the day off. This is the great thing about Qatar – it’s like two weekends in one. You can spend the day chilling, shopping, riding quad bikes or whatever, and in the evening hit the track.
After all our chillingwe headed up to the track. We caught the first MotoGP session of the evening from the grandstands. Still some of the only people there, for many guests this was their first experience of the night action – and you get a great feel for it at the grandstand.
After the session, all came into our VIP suite for our opening reception. We had a very welcome initial surprise to find beer and wine served! This was exceptional – Friday it is usually just soft drinks. We also had some yummy canapes and finger food; while watching the action from our air conditioned suite.
Our main guest speaker was MotoGP guru Manuel Pecino; who started with an evaluation of all the top MotoGP riders and their likelihood of success in the weekend and season. We were shortly joined by one of our sponsored Moto3 riders John McPhee who told us about his struggles with the new bike and new team, but was very confident he would overcome the issues. (And he certainly did – taking the podium in the race!). Dutch kid Bo Bendsnyder also popped up – a very rapidly rising star in the paddock. Later we were joined by the SAG Racing team, with boss Edu Perales giving us some insights into running an independent Moto2 team; and riders TetsutoNagashima and Isaac Vinales talking to us.
The evening ended on a light note – we organised for a cake and the SAG Team to sing happy birthday for the 50th of good customer Carol. We also awarded our annual “Unsung Heroes” award to Manuel.
On Saturday we split into two groups – the hardcores and the lazies. The lazies spent another day chilling at the pool, shopping or whatever; the hardcores hit the desert!
Yes our 12th annual Desert Safari set off in two Landcruisers into the Southern Desert area and the Inland Sea. We may not be able to run this next year, as we demolished about every dune we saw! A lovely lunch by the sea was punctuated by a transition from 4 wheels to 4 legs as we took to the camels!
Just as the jeeps were leaving lunch, the rain that was to plague us all weekend started. And when it rains here, it isn’t just a drizzle – rain of the evening combined with several hours of non stop rain to create standing water all over. Some of the streets were flooded.
Although just a light drizzle by the time we got to the track, all the sessions were delayed until the water could be cleared from the track and service roads. By the end of the evening this had proved a hopeless task and a bike never hit the circuit. Qualification standings were based on the combined practice times of the previous sessions.
We spent the evening in our VIP suite, with lots of beer, wine, great food and full paddock access; so it wasn’t too onerous. Guests Moto3 World Champion Brad Binder and tech guru Neil Spalding joined us to talk about their experiences, and later Neil was joined by Scott Redding who gave us great insights to the Ducati and his riding issues. Since at 6th he was the top Ducati on the grid, this was interesting!
Another return to our respective bars and we got a long sleep in…
Sunday was threatening rain, but it hardly materialised, and with the adjust time schedule lengthening the warm up practices; we had plenty of time to see track action at last! Finally the Moto3 race rolled around, and what a race! Our sponsored Scotsman John McPhee was the hero of the weekend, taking 2nd place from a 12th place start – a blistering ride! Moto2 Was a little less scintillating, although from a very wide open field it was interesting to see who was riding at the top – winner Franco Morbidelli clearly one to watch!
We were joined in the suite after the Moto2 race by South African Darryn Binder, who had a respectable 13th in the Moto3 race, and gave some insight into what racing in the near rain in the dark is like!
Finally the Big Show! Just when we thought we had escaped the rain, it all started again just about the time of the out lap. The start was delayed until the weather decided what to do; but at last the first MotoGP race of 2017 got underway! A thrilling race that kept us on our toes until the very end – a fitting victory for Maverick Vinales maiden ride on the Yamaha, a great show by Ducati putting Andrea Dovizioso 2nd and a very popular 3rd place for Valentino Rossi. An especially pleasing result for us was out partner team Aprilia Gresini getting their best result on the Aprilia with a 6th from AleixEspargaro.
We got back to the hotels after midnight thanks to the delays at the track – but in time to enjoy our final drinks at the two hotels!
We always look forward to this event, and if you can’t get enough of the night time action, join us in November for the final round of the World Superbikes!
Picture gallery - Grand Prix of Qatar 2017