When Chris Vermeulen and his Winston Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR arrived at the new Losail circuit in Qatar last weekend, he and his crew chief, Kor Veldman, had to prepare for their first excursion on the track with none of the data that has become such a vital element of world championship motorsport.
Construction began on the Losail International Circuit in the summer of 2003 and the outstanding facility was completed, at a cost of 58 million US dollars, just over a year later in time for its inaugural MotoGP event in October 2004.
Located in the desert approximately 30km north of Qatar's capital Doha, Losail is a flowing, 5.38km combination of six lefts and 10 rights, bordered by artificial grass to prevent the local sand from blowing across the track surface.
“The sand is definitely a problem,” said Vermeulen, 22, winner of four races in his debut World Superbike year in 2004. “Basically, it narrows the racing line here and one of the first things I do when I get to a new circuit is to walk the racing line.
“It's important to know where you might go if you run wide,” he explained, “and what the level of grip is like when you do.”
And so begins the young Australian's methodical build-up of new circuit knowledge – a drive round in a hire car to get a general feel, a ride on a scooter to get more of an idea on two wheels, and that detailed walk to examine the track's surface and its rumble strips.
“The width of the racing line is important,” continued Chris, “because, if it's narrow, it will be difficult to pass in the race; so it's important to know the surface everywhere, where there's grip and where there isn't.”
The 22-year-old, of course, has already displayed his skills at quickly learning a new Superbike circuit, as demonstrated by his double victory at Laguna Seca in the 2004 World Superbike championship – his debut Superbike season and his first ever visit to the Californian circuit.
“When I eventually take to a new track on the race bike,” he said, “it's a real gentle ride – a couple of laps rolling around in third or fourth gear, trying not to use any brakes.”
Vermeulen then builds up to four- or five-lap stints, working on two, maybe three points on the circuit at a time, then returning to the pit box to relax and think about where he's just been. He also concentrates on the particularly heavy braking areas.