Marc Marquez hopes to repeat his 2013 performance this season. (Photo: Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

Marc Marquez hopes to repeat his 2013 performance this season. (Photo: Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

The floodlit Commercial Bank Grand Prix of will signal the start of the 2014 ™ season this weekend, as 21-year-old Marc Marquez looks to begin his defense of the World Championship title he historically won at the first time of asking last year.

This weekend’s race will be the 11th at the desert-based 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 victory at 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, teammate Valentino Rossi will also be looking to challenge, having battled hard with Marc Marquez last year.

Marquez heads into the 2014 campaign at less than 100 percent fitness, 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 teammate 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-publicized 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 will not be subject to 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.

Another high-profile team switch is that of Nicky Hayden, who is now riding for Drive M7 Aspar alongside Hiroshi Aoyama. Along with the aforementioned Redding and Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham, these four riders are at the helm of the brand-new Honda RCV1000R customer bike. Elsewhere, Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista continue with their respective LCR Honda MotoGP and GO&FUN Honda Gresini satellite outfits, whereas the Pramac Racing line-up sees Yonny Hernandez now racing full-time alongside Andrea Iannone. Colin Edwards stays put with Forward, while Danilo Petrucci becomes the sole rider of IodaRacing Project.

The 2014 MotoGP™ grid contains 11 World Championship title winners, who between them have won a total of 26 crowns across the three classes – a new record for the premier class entry list. On top of this, no less than 16 of the current MotoGP™ riders have been race winners at some point in their career; with 333 victories between them, this will also become new record should all successfully gather on the start line for the season-opening race on Sunday.

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