Stunning Stoner takes the flag in MotoGP opener

The MotoGP season opened with a bang in Qatar with the world’s best motorcyclists putting on a fantastic performance in Qatar.

That Casey Stoner was victorious came as little surprise, the Australian topped each session throughout the weekend, but he did not have it all his way in the 22 lap race. The Repsol Honda rider faced stiff competition from his teammate, Dani Pedrosa, for most of the race with Jorge Lorenzo also in close company.

The race started with Pedrosa making his customary fast start to lead into turn one but it was Valentino Rossi who made the most startling start. The nine times world champion shot off the grid from ninth on the grid to take second into the opening corner. Ultimately Rossi was unable stop in time for the apex and he fell back down the field to sixth coming out of the corner.

The opening lap was marred by an unfortunate accident for Randy de Puniet. The Frenchman highsided coming out of turn ten and the misery of the Pramac team was compounded when Loris Capirossi was forced to take avoiding action and hit his hand heavily off his bike causing his retirement.

Lorenzo led out of the final corner on the opening lap but it was clear that Pedrosa was considerably faster and it was only that the diminutive Spaniard was pushed onto the grass by his compatriot that kept Lorenzo ahead over the line. His lead did not last long though with Stoner, who capitalised on Pedrosa off track moment, to challenge Lorenzo. At turn ten Stoner made his move with this teammate following him through shortly afterwards.

Further back Rossi found himself battling with unfamiliar company; Hector Barbera. The Aspar rider found himself as the leading Ducati but on the fourth lap Rossi managed to find a way past and Barbera’s race descended from that point onwards, the Spaniard would eventually finish 12th.

When Stoner took the lead it was expected that he would quickly open a lead at the front of the field. This did not occur and Pedrosa was actually much faster at this point of the race. Coming out of the final corner on the sixth lap he made his move and took the lead. It looked as though Pedrosa could open a lead, he was faster for the next two laps, but ultimately Stoner was taking a tactical approach. The 2007 world champion was obviously keen not to make a similar mistake to his crash last year while comfortably leading.

Behind the leaders the main battle on track was between factory Honda riders, Andrea Dovizioso and Marco Simoncelli. The Italians battled hard for fourth position for the duration of the race and on lap eight Simoncelli dove past his opponent with a forceful move that left Dovizioso shaking his head with anger towards his compatriot.

Colin Edwards had a poor qualifying session but the Texan, as ever, was much stronger in the race. On lap eight he took eighth position from Barbera after forcing a mistake from his rival.

With the race reaching the halfway point Lorenzo was finding his form and with the tyres beginning to wear he showed his trademark ability to maintain his pace in the latter stages of the race. The Repsol riders’ inability to open a large enough gap over the world champion meant that the second half of the race would feature Lorenzo vying for second position.

With Stoner seeing on his pit board that Lorenzo was closing the gap the pre-race favourite wasted little time in taking the lead. On lap 12 Stoner made a daring overtaking manoeuvre into turn 12, the first of the fast triple apex right handers. Stoner darted up the inside of Pedrosa in the complex and made what will surely be one of the best overtaking moves of the season.

With Pedrosa enjoying a much higher top speed it was clear that Stoner needed to make the move early enough in the lap to be able o open a large enough lead over his teammate coming onto the home straight. In the past people have asked questions about Stoner’s racecraft but his decision making today was nigh on perfect and when he managed to stay ahead of Pedrosa into the first corner of the next lap the result of this race was never in doubt.

Within a lap Pedrosa had falled 1.5s adrift and it became clear that the Spaniard was struggling. While it appeared to be tyre wear causing the problem Pedrosa admitted after the race that he was suffering from armpump. Lorenzo managed to close in immediately on the Honda rider and on lap 14 he forced his way through only for Pedrosa to power past on the home straight. This pattern repeated for the next four laps until Pedrosa was eventually vanquished by Lorenzo with four laps remaining.

The battle for fourth was reaching its conclusion with Dovizioso and Simoncelli enjoying a competitive fight to be the first rider to finish off the podium.

Heading into turn one Simoncelli made his move only to run wide under braking allowing Dovizioso to get back ahead. Simoncelli though was not finished yet and into turn two he bravely attempted another move but almost lost control and crashed his Gresini Honda. This was the warning shot he needed and from that point onwards it was clear that he did not have the grip to challenge Dovizioso again.

Toni Elias’ miserable weekend came to an early end after the reigning Moto2 champion suffered a mammoth crash at the final corner three laps from home. “Tiger Toni” has struggled to readapt to MotoGP and his performance at the next race at Jerez will be one of the main subplots of round two.

The last lap was uneventful with Stoner reaching the chequered flag 3.5s clear of Lorenzo with Pedrosa third. Dovizioso came home fourth with Simoncelli impressing everyone with a dogged ride in the season opener.

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