Qatar never fails to delight & surprise.

As a destination, this is brilliant. We get to play during the day, getting in some great shopping, dune bashing, sight seeing or just relaxing by the beach or pool; and in the evening we see all sorts of great motorcycle action!

This event is totally unique. The night racing is amazing, with the daytime activities it feels like two weekends in one! As the first event, it is pregnant with questions, anticipation, surprises, new and old faces, and ultimately sets the stage for the season to come!  We always find it incredible that so few people make it to this - with an attendance of well under 5000 (don’t believe any higher figure you might hear!) this is the least-attended event by far. A paradise for those who don’t like crowds!  Great for families as well - the shopping malls feature stupendous child facilities, and the corniche and other areas are littered with playgrounds; not to mention the beaches & pools.

2011 didn’t fail to live up to its reputation.

See also photos from customer Scott Schweitzer

Our first guests arrived Wednesday; these were some riders and teams we are supporting this year; notably the 125cc Team Ongetta who boast three riders: our own sponsored Jakub Kornfeil; English rookie Harry Stafford and the Dutch rider Jasper Iwema. Heading up to the track Wednesday we got to see all the teams setting up, and saying hi to old friends and meeting some new people in the paddock. Wednesday night we organised a welcome dinner for the team.  Seeing as they spend the rest of the weekend boiling pasta in their offices and rarely getting off the circuit, we took them for a bit of culture: a visit to the old Souk and a very traditional Arabic meal at my favourite Yemenese restaurant. Floor cushions, eating with fingers, huge trays of an entire grilled billy goat; we loved it; but a bit too much of a culture shock for some!

This is essentially a new team, extremely friendly lot (Italian, but most speak very good English), and very professional.  We expect to see them bat well above their weight this year in an incredibly competitive class.

With the strange addition of a 4th night at the track, our ‘happy hour’ on Thursday split between those who wanted to go up to the circuit and those happy to enjoy one of the rare watering holes in dry Doha. On this latter note, we cannot say enough good things about our ‘Classic package’ hotel, the Mercure. Their upstairs bar is a classic; and they are very cooperative when we arrange to keep it open after the night action for us thirsty bike fans!

Seeing the bikes on the track for the first time was novel, especially Rossi in his new livery! A few of our customers were on Team Experience packages and got to visit the pits of Honda Gresini and Tech3, the latter personally guided by Cal Crutchlow!

Friday saw an intrepid group head out in a small convoy of Landcruisers to have a bash at some of the dunes in southern Qatar.  Heading at high speed to the Saudi border and the inland sea really sets the tone for the weekend! Quad bikes for the high spirited, camels for those who are real gluttons for punishment or simply relaxing with a tea basking in the desert sun is a very cool way to spend an afternoon!

Friday afternoon I attended the press launch of Danny Webb’s new team, Mahindra Racing - the first Indian team in Grand Prix.  A very impressive company, and they are showing it through their deep support of the team (and Danny!).  Despite hardly surprising teething issues on the first time out for not just a new team but a whole new marque in GP, they put in a respectable performance over the weekend, and miss scoring their first point (which would have been a miracle) by a whisker.

Friday night our bus trundled up to the circuit for a full set of practice runs. The Hondas were dominating, with an outside look in by a few Yamahas, notably Ben and Jorge. The surprise of the night was the fastest Ducati:  the rather unpredictable result being Hector Barbera! We had an opportunity to introduce our guests to our sponsored riders Danny Webb, Jakub Kornfeil, and Kev Coghlan.  Lots of discussion in the paddock about Honda’s ‘magic gear box’ (follow up on David Emmett’s superb summary in; but we liked Jeremy Burgess’s succinct summary to us when we asked about Rossi’s prognosis for success: “We gotta get a better bike!”

Apart from the MotoGP issues, a lot of attention was on Japan; with tons of support in the form of stickers, banners, a minute of silence on Sunday and we took this shot of Suzuki raising the flag in support.  Sadly, Alvaro Bautista shortly after this photo crashed and broke his femur; taking Suzuki out for the weekend. In a coincidental footnote, we happened to follow his ambulance all the way back to Doha; we could tell from the expressions of the attending staff seen through the windows that they were pretty relaxed, and clearly talking to Alvaro; we wish him a speedy recovery.

Saturday and those that weren’t snoozing off a late night session at the hotel bar came along on our interesting city tour. We placed a few bids on animals at the camel market, saw how a $2,000,000 horse lives, and ended up in the old souk for a great Arabic feast. The food is just too good in this town... :-)

The qualifying sessions that evening threw up a few surprises.  In the 125cc, sadly Mahindra was way down, with Danny in 24th and his team-mate Marcel Schrotter 25th. (Danny will later overcome a lot of this disadvantage...) A few more cheers in the Moto2 class with our friends Scott Redding on 10th and a very impressive outing for class rookie Bradley Smith setting the pace at 8th. No one was surprised at the pole position of Casey Stoner with Dani Pedrosa right behind, but our two favourite results were Marco Simoncelli - taking a brilliant 4th - and Cal Crutchlow placing an even more amazing 8th, one step ahead of Valentino Rossi on his maiden MotoGP race! After the session, Cal popped up to the VIP Village to meet our customers and share some of his experiences and hopes.  He is a very cool, friendly guy and pretty much charmed us all!

Sunday was a free day.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this ‘oasis’ of a day - unique in the hectic MotoGP schedule - where we have the opportunity to do absolutely nothing! Four hours by the pool & beach at our 5* hotel, refreshed with an ice cold beer (okay, it is only Heineken, but under 30 degree sunshine it works!)

Like most race ‘days’, our evening at the track seemed to go by in about 10 minutes.. Of course the schedule WAS shortened somewhat by the rather odd choice to put the 125 and Moto2 ‘warm up’ sessions in the previous evening; so it was just the MotoGP warm up followed by the first race of the night, the 125s.

No one expects anyone but Nicol Terol to win the last ever 125cc championship this year; and he proved it with a dominating win here. Our eyes were on the Brits in the class; rookies Harry Stafford, Danny Kent and Taylor MacKenzie (son of legendary Niall; who was also there); and of course the debut of Mahindra and our own Danny Webb.

Danny really showed the strength of his experience, moving up 10 positions (only two of which he was gifted by crashes) from 24th to 14th about half way through the race. He dropped back to 15th but it looked like a pretty secure position, 2 seconds ahead of next rival Louis Rossi. Unfortunately he made a small error, and Rossi got past him just before the end; leaving Danny just out of the points in 16th. However his strong showing has impressed all, especially the visiting executives from Mahindra, on hand to see their debut GP!

Danny Kent took 3 points with a 13th, a brilliant result for a debut race! Harry Stafford, riding with a broken hand - only diagnosed the previous day - ended 25th, but under the circumstances a finish was a great result! His team-mate, our sponsored Jakub Kornfeil, finished 2 places ahead, his bike unfortunately leaking oil which made handling a little tricky, to say the least! Taylor was running very well when he went wide while running 14th; ultimately just missing points at 18th; but nevertheless a solid first performance.

I watched the Moto2 race from the Losail Club hospitality. Have to say, this is a great venue - with the only view onto the back corners (near Turn 10) and a very nice facility. No beer of course, but at less than half the price of the VIP Village, this is an excellent compromise between the rather spartan grandstand and the lovely but expensive VIP.

Of the race itself, in a class that is all over the place, Bradl announced dramatically that he will be the force to reckon with - dominating pole position and a convincing win. It just seems his maiden 125cc victory at Brno was only yesterday - how they grow up!

Sadly our sponsored rider Kev Coghlan, struggling all weekend trying to get the bike right, crashed. Scott Redding fared only slightly better, crashing out early, but getting back in to at least finish - although at the back. Possibly the best result of the weekend was Bradley Smith, taking 9th - unquestionably placing him in the top class of Moto2 and a brilliant debut.

The MotoGP race we had been anticipating for months finally happened at 10pm local time. Pretty much perfect conditions meant that nothing external was going to influence the results; finally putting to test all the speculations, tweaks and skills. The Casey/Dani duel was classic racing - and one we expect to see a lot more of this season. Dani is still suffering from his previous injury, this probably cost him the battle; which until Casey finally opened a gap was never more than 2 bike lengths apart. Jorge got past Dani as well to a delighted and unexpected 2nd - he isn’t the world champion for nothing! Of course our favourite result was Marco Simoncelli hanging in there battling for 4th, just losing out to Dovi, but proving he has the pace and skill to duke it out with the big guys! And Cal delighted us with a last corner overtake to grab 11th.

After suffering the most insane traffic routing I have seen in over 100 GPs (in 8 years it has never taken us more than 15 minutes to get out of the circuit - why ‘fix’ something that wasn’t broken?); we got back to our hotel at 1am where we had organised a winding-down drinks session in the delightful Mercure bar. A good time, as they say, was had by all...

I can’t wait to come back!  We are already taking bookings for next year...


Qatar MotoGP 17-20 March 2011