Nicky Hayden starts his defence of the MotoGP title in the desert of Qatar’s Doha circuit and, lest we forget, in the desert of the BBC’s live sport roster (11.30am Sunday BBC2, since you ask). But of course nobody is too interested in the Number 1 bike when there’s a Number 46 bike on the grid.
After his sensational late season charge to (what seemed) yet another fairytale MotoGP Championship, Valentino Rossi was (for once) unable to write the final chapter. The Doctor fell off in the last round of MotoGP 2006 and handed the title to the consistent young American who had accumulated points steadily over the season.
Having spent the close season flirting with Ferrari and rallying, Valentino, to the huge relief of TV companies and sponsors, is as hungry as ever for motorcycling, as his fastest lap in last month’s official testing at Jerez proves. Having won well over half of all MotoGP races, the Doctor will be looking to win in Qatar and stay ahead of the field through the 18 race season, with the British round scheduled for Donington Park on June 24. Like Woods and Federer, Rossi thrives on the pressure favouritism brings and can look forward to another season basking in the adoration of his worldwide tifosi.
As ever, the new season comes with a new rulebook, 2007’s stipulating that bike capacity come down from last season’s 990cc to this season’s 800cc. But, inevitably, the bikes are going faster. We can expect close racing, drafting then overtaking (as Formula One cars did before the boffins got a grip) and plenty of thrills and spills (though not many serious ones please).
To the uninitiated, channelling over 220 bhp through the few square centimetres of rubber in contact with the road seems completely crazy, but to the initiated… well, we think it’s pretty crazy too. Having said that, a great joy of motorcycle racing, as compared to Formula 1 or WRC, is that the bikes look like our own bikes – they go quite a bit faster and stop astonishingly more abruptly, but it’s still two wheels with an engine in between and a rider struggling to control it. Of all top-end motorsport competitors, it is probably bike riders who are closest to their public in every way but salary..
Joining Hayden and Rossi on the grid are old favourites like Alex Barros and Kenny Roberts (not so) Jnr and young guns Casey Stoner (real name!) and pocket-rocket Dani Pedrosa. Ulsterman Jeremy McWilliams will fly the Union Jack, but at 42 is old enough to be Casey Stoner’s father. With Rossi a long-term London resident, many British fans consider the Italian genius as one of their own.Will Hayden repeat his feat of 2005 and hold on to the title? You can get 10/1 about the Kentucky Kid if you think so. Rossi, on the other hand, is odds-on.