The MotoGP season kicks off with its only night race of the year. They race under the lights because they’re in Qatar, where daytime temperatures make it just too hot to race safely. So, it was a pretty unusual and unexpected guest that messed with the race weekend this year:
Yep, it actually rained hard enough on Saturday that they canceled Qualifying, which is where everyone’s starting grid positions are determined. Instead, the grid would be based on Friday’s Free Practice lap times.
And then on Sunday, just as everyone was in that grid and ready to start, guess who popped back in for an encore drizzle? Everyone trooped back in off the track. Then they trooped back out. Then they took a trial run around the track. Then lots of people stood around shaking their heads. For 45 minutes the MotoGP announcers, who rely on a hyperbolic trove of go-to phrases, tried to make the tedium into an absolute nightmare!
But once the race and the 2017 season was finally underway, it was worth the wait, for a whole slew of reasons.
- Everyone was waiting to see what Maverick Viñales was going to do. This was his first race for Yamaha, and he’d been blisteringly fast in all of the testing over the winter and in free practice. He was starting from the pole position. And the 22-year-old kid has already got bookies saying he’s going to manage to snatch the title from reigning champ Marc Marquez.
- However, in a burst of speed that surprised everyone, rookie Johann Zarco immediately shot to the front of the pack, shuffling Viñales back to 4th. In his first ever MotoGP race, the former two-time Moto2 champ held off Marquez and the Andreas (Iannone and Dovizioso) with an authoritative lead for the first six laps — until he crashed out of first place. (And yes, the announcers declared it a nightmare.)
- Now it was Dovizioso’s turn to blast ahead, while Marquez and Iannone fought for second place — until Iannone crashed out.
- Meanwhile, this was going on behind Marquez:
- And then all of a sudden, there was Viñales somehow overtaking Dovizioso and swapping 1st place with him for the last few laps — until yes, he ultimately won the race, making him only the 6th rider ever to win his first race on a new team and bike.
- And finally, Valentino Rossi overtook Marquez for a spot on the podium in 3rd — which was an excellent start for the 38-year-old who hadn’t been having the greatest pre-season. I’m eager to see how he does next weekend in Argentina — which will be the 350th race of his career. Yes, that’s yet another world record for him.
And after the race? Viñales was all grace and good sportsmanship, handling victory like a total professional. So yes, look out Marquez. There’s a new kid in town — and he’s got his eyes on your championship. It looks like it’s going to be a mighty exciting MotoGP season.