Marquez begins title defence in Qatar

 18 Mar 2014 - 8:42

Doha: The floodlit Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar will signal the start of the 2014 MotoGP season this weekend, as 21-year-old Marc Marquez (pictured) looks to begin the defence of the World Championship title he historically won on the first time last year
This weekend’s race will be the 11th at the Losail International Circuit, which has been on the calendar since 2004. 
The track first welcomed the season-opener in 2007 and has hosted an evening race since 2008.
The first Qatar winner was Sete Gibernau, although in more recent times one looks to Jorge Lorenzo who has claimed the last two events. 
Riding for Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, Lorenzo faired better in the Phillip Island test than at the preceding pre-season gathering at Sepang and will now be threatening for a hat-trick of Losail victories. 
However, team-mate Valentino Rossi will also be looking to challenge, having battled hard with Marc Marquez last year.  Marquez heads into the 2014 campaign somewhat on the back foot, having suffered a broken leg in a training accident exactly six weeks before the day of opening free practice. 
The Repsol Honda Team rider may well be thinking of the long game, whereas team-mate Dani Pedrosa will certainly be hoping for a first race win in Qatar.
Ducati Team generated plenty of headlines over the winter break with its much-publicised switch to Open bikes. 
From 2014, all bikes in the field are obliged to run the spec ECU hardware as supplied by Dorna Sports and Magneti Marelli. Furthermore, teams must select either ‘Factory Option’ or ‘Open’ as their bike specification. 
Factory Option machines drop from 21 litres of fuel in 2013 to 20 this year, whereas those running Open bikes are obliged to use the spec ECU software as well as the hardware. 
In-turn, Open runners will enjoy privileges such as a maximum of 24 litres of fuel across a race distance, 12 engines per season (as opposed to five for Factories) and no subjecting to the new engine freeze regulations – allowing work on the machines during the season. Open runners can also enjoy unlimited testing.
As Ducati Team recruits Cal Crutchlow alongside Andrea Dovizioso, Monster Yamaha Tech3 places Moto2 World Champion Pol Espargaro next to Bradley Smith. Spaniard Pol is one of four rookies in the 2014 premier class, but unfortunately sustained a broken collarbone during the final minutes of the last pre-season test.
The other three debutants come in the form of Frenchman Mike di Meglio (Avintia Racing), Moto2 runner-up Scott Redding of England (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) and Australian Broc Parkes (Paul Bird Motorsport, team-mate to Michael Laverty).
However, it was Aleix Espargaro – elder brother of Pol - who was the revelation of the off-season thanks to his lap times with NGM Forward Racing. Making best use of a Yamaha lease deal, Aleix has been tipped by paddock insiders for some major surprises, as he and Pol look to become the first siblings to share a premier class podium since Nobuatsu and Takuma Aoki at Imola in 1997.Agencies