For the first time since Jorge Lorenzo in 2008, a MotoGP rookie heads for his debut premier-class race with a real chance of victory.

Reigning Moto2 champion Marc Marquez - replacement for the retired Casey Stoner at Repsol Honda - has been the talk of winter testing after setting a front-running pace in the official Sepang tests, then dominating a private Honda/Yamaha outing at Austin.

The rain-interrupted final test at Jerez saw a more modest sixth position, but many feel that the wild-riding 20-year-old could still cause an upset and join only Max Biaggi (1998) and Jarno Saarinen (1973) in winning on his premier-class debut.

Marquez's fellow Spaniards Lorenzo (2008) and Dani Pedrosa (2006) - also title winners in the intermediate class, who moved straight into a factory MotoGP team - both finished second in their opening premier-class grand prix appearance.

As expectation builds, Marquez has his feet firmly on the ground ahead of this weekend.

"We've had a good winter testing and now it's time to go racing," said last year's Losail Moto2 winner. "Qatar isn't one of my favourite tracks but I still enjoy it. There are many factors to consider there with the sand from the desert which affects the grip and also the fact it's a night race.

"Also, as I saw in Jerez, everything is very different on the MotoGP bike compared to Moto2 so we will need some time. Let's see when we get there, for sure I will be nervous going into my first MotoGP race but I'm also excited."

While beating the likes of Lorenzo and Pedrosa over a race distance might be a step too far in Qatar, few would be surprised to see Marquez lead the grand prix at some stage before possibly ending up in a contest with Valentino Rossi for the final step of the podium...

Should things turn out tougher than expected for Marquez, he can console himself with the fact that seven time champion Rossi failed to finish on his 500cc debut, in 2000.

Practice for the 2013 Qatar night race begins on Thursday evening.