Reigning MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi has said he expects an even tougher fight to successfully defend his premier class title this year.
The Fiat Yamaha rider, who was in a superb form throughout winter testing, has predicted a fierce battle between himself, team-mate Jorge Lorenzo and a healthy and fit factory Ducati star Casey Stoner.
Rossi, who was quickest for all but one day of pre-season testing, said: “Finally we're at the start of the season and we are all very excited.
"The pre-season has gone well for me, our new M1 is good, Yamaha and Bridgestone have done a great job and we have been fast.
"We have only had six days on track so we still have work to do and things to learn about the new bike, but we are starting in good shape.
"I expect this season to be a big battle with many riders very strong, and I hope that we will show some good racing to the fans!
"Qatar hasn't been one of the best tracks for our bike in the last few years but at the test we went well so I hope this will continue again for the race."
Rossi will arrive in the Middle East with confidence sky high and the 31-year-old appears in the best mental and physical shape of his career.
The same can’t be said for Spaniard Lorenzo, who claims he is still short of 100 per cent fitness as he recovers from the badly broken right thumb he suffered in a training accident.
The double world 250GP champion said: "I am not perfect yet, I still need more time to recover 100 per cent from my injury, but at least I can ride in Qatar.
"I am very happy because we are so close now to the start of the season; it's been a long winter!
“Unfortunately, I had some troubles in training and hurt my hand, but these things happen.
"Qatar is a very special track for me; it was the place where I got my first podium in MotoGP in 2008! I know this time it will be more difficult, but I will try to be close to the action.”
For a free 32-page glossy preview to the new MotoGP season, check out the April 7 issue of MCN.