Doha - Valentino Rossi will rev up for a 10th world title
tilt amid a field of young rivals including new Yahama team-mate Maverick
Vinales as the 2017 MotoGP season roars into action in Qatar this weekend.
The floodlit Losail Circuit in Doha will host the only night
race on the 18-stop world championship calendar on Sunday.
The sandy, windswept track on the outskirts of Doha is one
which the 38-year-old Italian superstar knows well, having won on four
occasions in 2005, 2006, 2010 and 2015.
But the veteran Yahama rider - winner of seven MotoGP world
titles and two in 125cc and 250cc - finished off the podium last year in Doha
with former teammate Jorge Lorenzo taking top spot.
Rossi's glittering 20-year career has been tempered by
frustration in recent years and he has not won a world championship title since
He finished runner-up for the past three years amid a tense
rivalry with Lorenzo, 29, with Rossi even accusing current world champion Marc
Marquez of conspiring to help Lorenzo win the title in 2015.
Lorenzo has since moved to Ducati, leading to rising star
Vinales joining Rossi at Yamaha, whilst Andrea Iannone made way at Ducati to
move to Suzuki.
Vinales proved he could be a challenger to the veteran
maestro as he outshone Rossi in winter testing at Sepang, Phillip Island and
Qatar earlier this month.
"I'm still not very fast I have to work," said
But Vinales was delighted with how he handled the Yahama M1.
"If we do the same in the first GP as we did in the
test, we can fight for the victory," warned 22-year-old Vinales, who
finished fourth in his second season in the top category in 2016.
A record nine drivers won a grand prix in 2016 and Rossi
expects an open championship.
"I think at minimum six riders can win this year,"
"It will be very interesting this season because three
top riders change bike."
Marquez - a five-time world champion with three in MotoGP -
fared less well falling of his Honda three times in Qatar practice.
"The first race of the season is always a special one
because you're a bit more nervous than usual," said the 24-year-old
"One of the main things to consider is the sand, which
can make the surface quite slippery as soon as you get out of the best
Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa - a former world champion in
125cc and 250cc - has had six MotoGP podiums but none since 2013.
"The track is very dusty and the place is quite windy,
so the grip is generally not very good," said Pedrosa, who had his worst
season in 2016 in a decade competing in the top class.
"There's a long straight where we typically have a
headwind and therefore you need a strong engine."