DOHA: Even for a sport used to very high speeds, the pace at which a patch of desert in Qatar has been turned into the venue for world motorcycling's first foray into the Middle East is nothing short of remarkable.
When the MotoGP bandwagon arrives this week for Saturday's inaugural Qatar Grand Prix, it will be little more than 15 months since the deal was announced to bring grand prix motorcycling to the Gulf of Arabia.
The magnificent, purpose-built Losail track in the middle of the desert on the outskirts of the capital Doha is another symbol of the oil- and gas-rich Emirate's rising sporting ambitions.
The US$58mil facility for motorcycling – a sport without any major roots in the country – is in tune with the thinking of Qatar's planners who have been investing billions of dollars in various sports facilities, most of them for the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.
It was in June 2003 that the Qatar Motor and Motorcycling Federation (QMMF) signed an agreement with MotoGP rights holders Dorna Sports to host a Grand Prix in 2004.
With Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Abdulla bin Khalifa Al Thani taking a keen interest in the project, more than 1,000 workers have worked around the clock to get the new venue ready.
The circuit was officially opened just over a year later on July 9 when former 500cc grand prix racer Randy Mamola completed the historic first lap on a Ducati.
Mamola said the 5.4-km track would reward rider talent rather than raw horsepower, which is probably good news for Yamaha's Valentino Rossi as he looks to defend his world title against riders on the more powerful Honda RCVs.
While Losail will be a level playing field of sorts as none of the MotoGP riders have been on the track, Mamola said they might find some parts of it familiar in tomorrow's first practice session.
“They have made an incredible effort with the track,” he said. “It's wide, born with safety in mind and it has got lots of interesting corners to keep the riders busy.
“The straight is really fast, the bikers should do over 320 kph, and there's plenty of great turns.
“The straight is almost like the Catalunya track,” Mamola added. “In fact, the Losail track has got a lot of other bits from other tracks.
“Turn one is like the first corner at Sepang, turn three is like the kink on to the back straight at Estoril, turns four and five are like the two rights into the stadium at Brno and there are a few turns which resemble corners at Welkom.”
With the Losail site being flat and open, there was some apprehension about the desert sand getting on to the track but the organisers have added a three-metre wide strip of artificial grass to the inside and outside of the track.
“We have also decided to use a special glue to prevent the sand from blowing on to the track,” said Nasser bin Khalifa Al Attiyah, president of the QMMF.
“We are all set for action, there are no apprehensions about the track. In fact I have received the final report about the readiness of the circuit.”
Situated a 30-minute drive north of the Qatari capital, the circuit has a grandstand with a capacity of 5,000.
“If needed, we are prepared to put up another temporary grandstand too,” Al Attiyah said.
The biggest challenge for the riders and team may be the weather which, befitting the desert location, will be hot.
Temperatures are expected to be around 40-45 degrees Celsius and down on the track could rise as high as 50 degrees. – Reuters