“It is going to be really exciting”
Just a few days after completing their preseason testing schedule in Qatar, the Ducati Marlboro Team return to the Losail International Circuit this weekend to begin their defence of the MotoGP World Championship.
Sunday 9th March
2008 will go down in history as the date that a Grand Prix took place at night for the first time ever.
The riders have already had the opportunity to get accustomed to the peculiar conditions that will greet them at the circuit thanks to two days of tests at the end of February, when they rode their MotoGP machines under artificial lighting for the first time. Casey Stoner adapted quickly to the unusual surroundings whilst Marco Melandri made small but constant steps to improve his feeling with the bike and circuit.
The same could be said for the entire winter testing programme for the Ducati Marlboro Team, with the defending World Champion on top form and satisfied with the job done on the GP8 and with the Bridgestone tyres in all conditions at all of the circuits in Malaysia, Australia, Spain and Qatar. Melandri, meanwhile, has been focused on finding his own way forward, concentrating on setting a consistent pace on race tyres as opposed to worrying about a hot lap on soft rubber. He now feels confident that he is ready for the start of the season.
Last year in Qatar Stoner made a stunning debut with Ducati, taking an incredible maiden victory in MotoGP to become the youngest Australian rider ever to do so and the first to register wins in all three Grand Prix classes. Melandri battled from tenth on the grid to take an impressive fifth place finish.
LIVIO SUPPO, MotoGP Project Director
"It has been a challenging winter but one that has been full of satisfaction. Casey has proved himself to be the man to beat and the level of confidence he has with the bike and tyres is fantastic. Compared to this time last year he has improved even more and it's a great pleasure to see that his World Championship success has not taken anything away from his desire to win. Marco has had to take a diametrically opposite approach.
He has preferred not to push too hard and to work around the clock with his new team to completely understand the characteristics of his new bike - we shouldn't forget that Casey also struggled a little at the start to understand how to make the most out of the potential of his Ducati. I want to say a big 'thank you' to everybody at Ducati Corse: the development work has been wonderful once again and Casey is very satisfied with the evolution of the GP8 - Filippo's 'small step' theory is being rewarded. I also want to thank our partners, who are supporting us in this new challenge. Bridgestone have worked hard to maintain their competitiveness and all of our technical partners, especially Shell, have always known how to respond positively to our requests. It is going to be really exciting to start the season under the floodlights of Losail and to be amongst the first to contest a World Championship race at night!"
CASEY STONER, Ducati Marlboro Team
"I'm happy that the races are starting up again and I'm satisfied with the job myself and the team have been able to do in the preseason tests. The Ducati engineers have made a few small changes to the bike over the winter that have produced a notable general improvement. The GP8 has better acceleration in low revs and the set-up changes we made at Phillip Island have improved its performance on the exit of corners. The Bridgestone tyres have worked well at all of the tracks we've tested at, including the night test in Qatar, so from that perspective I'm also really happy. It is going to be fun to race at night but for me it won't be a completely new experience because I already did a couple of speedway and dirt-track races at night when I was a junior back in Australia. It will be different but I don't think it changes the job for the rider, especially because we've already had two days of tests last week to get used to the track conditions and the lights. Temperature will be an important factor, though, especially as far as the tyres are concerned because at 11 o'clock when we start qualifying and the race it is really cold. We'll have to wait and see if the conditions are the same as they were for the test."
MARCO MELANDRI, Ducati Marlboro Team
"I'm ready to start racing, in fact to be honest I can't wait! We've worked hard over the winter to try and improve my feeling with the bike and even though we still have work to do I feel better now. I actually think that our potential is much higher than we've shown up to now, also because in all of the tests we have done we've concentrated on finding a race setting on race tyres, not just one fast lap. It is true that we are still lacking in some areas but we're ready and prepared to work hard to improve. In Qatar we'll be racing at night for the first time and I think it will be very exciting, even though it will be an even tougher GP than usual for us riders, especially because of the low temperature."