The grand prix circus this weekend explores unknown territory in Qatar in the desert region's inaugural MotoGP event, following the F1 first outings to Bahrain and Shanghai earlier this year.

The grand prix circus this weekend explores unknown territory in Qatar in the desert region's inaugural MotoGP event, following the F1 first outings to Bahrain and Shanghai earlier this year.

The grand prix circus this weekend explores unknown territory in Qatar in the desert region's inaugural MotoGP event, following the first F1 outings to Bahrain and Shanghai earlier this year.

In just over a year, a patch of Arabian desert has been transformed into a world motorcycling venue. The purpose-built Losail track on the outskirts of the capital, Doha, is another symbol of the oil- and gas-rich Emirate's rising sporting ambitions.

More than 1 000 workers have worked tirelessly to prepare the multi-million dollar facility for its first race.

The circuit was officially opened on July 9 when the former 500 cm3 grand prix racer, Randy Mamola, completed the first lap. He later commented that the 5,4 km track would reward rider talent rather than sheer horsepower.

Losail may level the playing field somewhat, as none of the MotoGP riders have been on the track. But Mamola said they might find some parts of it familiar in Thursday's first practice session.

"The site is very flat, with a long main straight, like Catalunya, which will probably mean top speeds in the low 320 km/h bracket. In fact, it's got a lot of other bits of MotoGP tracks in it.

"Turn one is a bit like the first corner at Sepang, turn three is like the kink onto the back straight at Estoril, turns four and five are like the two rights into the stadium at Brno and there's a few turns that resemble corners at Welkom. I'd also say there's a bit of Assen in it - with a few 'follow-my-leader' high-speed sweepers," Mamola added.

"Bike-wise, I think it'll need a fairly neutral set-up from front to rear. With all the twists and turns you'll need a bike that steers well, with geometry on the light side," the Ducati rider concluded.

Overall, Mamola was greatly impressed by the standard of the Middle Eastern circuit.

"The whole place is very impressive. The infrastructure is incredible and the circuit was born with safety in mind, so there's none of the little chicanes that have been added to other tracks to slow things down.

There were some concerns about sand from the surrounding desert getting onto the track but organisers have added a three-metre 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, one of the organisers.

A big challenge for the riders, however, will be the weather, with ambient temperatures expected to be at between 40 and 45 degrees Celsius. The track temperature could rise to as much as 50 degrees Celsius on the day of the race.