Motor Sport

Food for thought in testing

March 15 - 21, 2017

Gulf Weekly Food for thought in testing

In keeping with many other cities in the Gulf, Doha is promoting a food festival that includes a variety of offerings ranging from food trucks to gastronomic delights prepared by guest chefs at plush five-star hotels.

There are also galleries presenting the art of food photography including a picture of a glowing ostrich egg that reflects a macabre aspect of French history while there is additionally a celebration of the preparation, presentation and precision of Japanese dishes.

Yet it was revolutions of another kind that were behind my visit to Qatar while I was keener to learn about the latest tyre regulations than Michelin stars and experience the glow from the pristine Japanese engines that run hotter than any wasabi!

One critic believes that 90 per cent of the enjoyment experienced from food comes from the smell yet it the sights and sounds that largely appeal to motorsport fans.

Having visited Donington Park in the English East Midlands as a child, I have attended a number of motorbike races and closely follow all aspects of F1, including the recent unveiling of the 2017 models in Barcelona; yet this was the first time I have witnessed a test on two wheels.

It was slightly surreal to be standing on the inside of Turn 6 at the Losail Circuit under the desert sun as the bikes raced around at this ‘winter test’ session!  Yet, the early action only came from the KTM factory team as the more experienced manufacturers elected to stay in the pits and allow the newcomers to clean the track.

However, that is largely understandable as the opener to the MotoGP season in two weeks is under floodlights meaning the early conditions on the dusty surface were unrepresentative. For the first few hours there was more racing action on the highway alongside the circuit than on track yet the new Austrian outfit were ever-present as they ran through a variety of different set-up options.

While I am a long-standing fan of Valentino Rossi having met him at the first MotoGP race in Qatar in 2008 and an admirer of the impact made by Marc Marquez I was most interested in catching up with Bradley Smith, the lead rider for the new KTM team.

I have not seen the Oxfordshire-born rider since he was in Bahrain in 2013 when he visited our island to test his new Yamaha after making the step up from Moto2.

Clearly passionate about his move from the satellite Tech 3 team I was intrigued to learn how Brad was coping with fighting at the rear of the grid rather than pushing for a podium.

Rider number 38 explained that he had recognised that he would never win the championship with a satellite team and, therefore, despite other offers being available, made the switch with a long-term goal in mind.

Smith has a reputation for being an honest and intelligent rider who is not afraid to work hard, as evidenced by his occasional switches to endurance racing which includes winning the Suzuka 8 hours in 2015.

It is that skill-set and attitude that is required by KTM as they learn what is required to succeed at the pinnacle of motorcycle racing.

The Austrian team, backed by Red Bull, certainly has pedigree on two wheels boasting numerous motocross and endurance world champions while they are current Moto3 title-holders.

It is this thorough-bread heritage that Smith wishes to tap into. The team has modest aspirations for the season which, I pondered, must be tough for someone wanting to win. However he was having none of this, as he expressed a genuine pleasure at being able to make a difference while enjoying working with his team on different variations on the set-up of his engine and bike. 

Despite having more potential power than the Ducatis, themselves famed for their top-line speed, this is yet to be unleashed as the KTM team learn how to harness the muscle at their disposal. Of course, the ultimate aim is to win and Brad firmly believes that within a few years he can be crowned world champion riding one of these sleek beasts.

Ironically, it is a former KTM junior rider who is ripping up the timesheets.  Maverick Vinales, now aboard the Movistar Yamaha team, completed his ‘four of a kind’ by recording the fastest lap in Qatar to accompany those he also set in Valencia, Sepang and Philip Island. 

His new teammate, ‘Doctor’ Rossi, was close behind him on the second day of the test with a 0.277s differential.

Yet, it was not the timesheets that were the talk of the paddock, rather the new-look Ducati. 

Having pioneered the winglet two years ago they were the most vocal critic of the decision taken to ban them. Searching for new ways to create down-force, Qatar saw the introduction of their new ‘Hammerhead’ design, so named after an online survey.

While the ‘aero-fairing’ test proved slower in Qatar than their conventional design, Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso, were confident that it would give them an advantage at some tracks.

At least they stayed upright … which proved to be a problem for the World Champion Marc Marquez who crashed twice.

With testing now finished riders and their teams will return home to sift through the accumulated data before the season starts in Qatar at the end of this month. It promises to be thrilling.

In Qatar I also experienced one of the ‘where were you when’ moments. While not quite on the same level as JFK or Princess Diana it was with great sadness that the motorsport world heard of the sad demise of John Surtees, the only man to have won a grand prix on two wheels and four.

Having dominated the top 500cc class on two wheels in the late 1950s he switched to F1, winning the title for Ferrari in 1964. RIP.

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