MotoGP bike racing world champion Jorge Lorenzo talks to Time Out
Time Out Bahrain staff
With the Bahrain Grand Prix not happening this month, and an obvious lack in racing action, you may be interested to know that a slightly scaled-down event (and we mean that in terms of four wheels becoming two) will be taking place just a short plane ride away in Doha. March 20 will see the first race of the MotoGP calendar in Qatar at the Losail Circuit – the motorbike equivalent of the F1.
MotoGP, along with the slightly smaller 125cc and Moto2 classes, makes up part of the Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix, which has taken place since 1949, with the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) the governing body. The bikes involved are like F1 cars in that they are purpose-built racing machines not available for purchase to the general public or suitable for riding on normal roads. There is a huge emphasis on aerodynamics, suspension and tyres, and like the F1 season points are earned to decide two annual World Championships – one for the riders and one for the manufacturers.
Unlike F1, the races are shorter, with no pitstops for fuel or tyre changes allowed. For the past decade, the sport has been ruled by one man, Valentino Rossi, who has been crowned world champion nine times. With injury troubling his 2010 season, it was up to someone else to take the crown – 23-year-old Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo started racing in the 125cc class in 2002, and had progressed to MotoGP by 2008, in a season where he had his own fair share of accidents. After finishing as runner-up in 2009, he took the win from former Yamaha team-mate Rossi in 2010. We caught up with him to find out how his new season preparations were coming along.
You enter the 2011 season as reigning world champion – feeling any pressure? I am the reigning world champion, but I will not think about that. I am trying to improve all the time to be a better rider, so that’s my main focus.
The first race is in Qatar – somewhere you have always fared well at. Is it a good track? I like Qatar, and Losail is always a good race. I’ve always had good results there, and I began my career in MotoGP back in 2008 with a pole position in Qatar. Of course, it is the first race of the season – you have to arrive early, because that’s where a lot of the testing is, and because of all the promotional pictures and video-shooting we must to do, the things you need to set you up for the rest of the season. Every time I go to Losail, it’s a pleasure. And you ride at night, so it’s a different feeling to anywhere else.
You have a new team-mate too, Ben Spies – how are you getting on with him? He is a good guy and we have been talking a lot. He also asks me about the bike. I think he will be a good, strong team-mate this season.
You are both testing your bikes ready for the new season at the moment – what sort of things is Yamaha concentrating on? Yamaha is concentrating on giving us a better bike. We requested more power, and I think the new engine can give us this.
Your old team-mate, Valentino Rossi, won the Comeback of the Year at the Laureus Sport Awards in Abu Dhabi last month. What did you think about that? I think is an important award, and it shows he fought a lot to be back on the track last season after all the injuries he had to put up with.
The two of you will go into this season on rival teams – is Rossi the person to beat, or do you have your eye on other riders? We still don’t know. It is always difficult to say what will happen. In theory, Rossi, [Casey] Stoner and [Dani] Pedrosa are the strongest, but [Ben] Spies and [Marco] Simoncelli, for example, are pushing a lot. The season will be interesting.
How was the off-season for you? What did you get up to? I had a lot of events, awards and travels… On the one hand, it is incredible, because you are the champion, but on another, you cannot rest as much as you want. I was in Bali with Yamaha, and at Christmas I was with my familiy in Mallorca, as usual.
In the short time you’ve raced in MotoGP, you’ve sustained a lot of injuries. Which ones have been the worst? Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of crashes and injuries. Maybe the worst moment in my career was in 2008. I crashed many times, and I didn’t understand why. In China I broke both of my ankles, and in Catalunya I was in hospital for three days almost with no memory – and again in Laguna Seca I had problems with my legs. Also I crashed in races at Le Mans, Mugello… 2008 was my worst season, but I learnt a lot and I could finally understand how to ride the M1.
How does it feel going back into a race after an injury? After Catalunya I could ride and ride. Many races, many kilometres, without crashes, and I was not even thinking about crashes. Step by step you lose your fear.
So your predictions for the 2011 season – who will win this time, and who will win in Qatar? I don’t know. In my case, I will work hard to be out in front.
The Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar takes place at Losail International Circuit from March 17-20, with the main MotoGP race on March 20 at 10pm. Tickets priced US$40 (Grandstand), US$415 (Losail Club access) and US$620 (VIP Village access). Visit www.losailcircuit.com to book. The circuit is located on New Al Khor Highway, approximately 25km from Doha. Bahrain Air, Qatar Airways and Gulf Air all fly between Bahrain and Qatar.