The MotoGP season opened with Casey Stoner topping the timesheets after a competitive practice session at the Losail Circuit inQatar.
Unlike in previous years there was no testing in the lead up to this race so the opening 45 minutes of action was little more than a glorified track sweeping exercise. Even so the final minutes saw plenty of excitement with Ben Spies displacing Stoner as the pacesetter before first Jorge Lorenzo and finally Stoner asserted their authority on the American.
Stoner and Lorenzo are expected to be the pacesetters this weekend but for much of the session it was Spies who set the pace. The Texan, in his third season in the premier class, has a lot of pressure on his shoulders this year with Yamaha hoping that his consistency of last season can be matched with a more competitive turn of speed in comparison to his teammate Lorenzo.
Ultimately Spies would end the opening skirmish of 2012 with the fourth fastest time, his compatriot Nicky Hayden ended the session third, but the comfort and confidence that Spies showed during his time on track might point to the former World Superbike champion living up to his billing as the most likely rider to join the elite “Alien” status in the premier class.
With Stoner setting the pace it is easy to say that the coming year will be another dominated by the Australian but with Yamaha having four riders in the top eight it is clear that they have developed a bike that is easy to ride and hopefully more competitive than last years machine.
It took the world class talents of Lorenzo to claim any semblance of honour for the Japanese manufacturer last year. But with Cal Crutchlow having set the pace mid session and looking much more competitive it is clear that there is potential for a closer battle at the front of the field.
Crutchlow did well to finish the session in sixth having been displaced by Dani Pedrosa on the diminutive Spaniard’s final lap of the opening evening session.
With Nicky Hayden’s strong run to third there was encouraging signs for Ducati but with Valentino Rossi tenth it was clear that even though the Bologna machine is more competitive there is still much work to be done to get the nine times world champion back to the sharp end of the field.
The session also marked the first time that the CRT machines were seen in anger and as expected Randy de Puniet led the way with the Frenchman, riding the Aprilia ART Aspar bike, ended the session one second off the pace of Stefan Bradl. The German was the slowest of the MotoGP machines with the Moto2 champion adapting to life in the premier class.
De Puniet’s time saw him outpace Colin Edwards as the fastest CRT rider with the rest of the production engined bikes showing varying degrees of competiveness.
Pos Rider Team/Bike Time Gap
1. Casey Stoner Honda 1m56.474s
2. Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 1m56.648s + 0.174s
3. Nicky Hayden Ducati 1m56.924s + 0.450s
4. Ben Spies Yamaha 1m56.982s + 0.508s
5. Dani Pedrosa Honda 1m57.130s + 0.656s
6. Cal Crutchlow Tech 3 Yamaha 1m57.395s + 0.921s
7. Alvaro Bautista Gresini Honda 1m57.512s + 1.038s
8. Andrea Dovizioso Tech 3 Yamaha 1m57.547s + 1.073s
9. Hector Barbera Pramac Ducati 1m57.912s + 1.438s
10. Valentino Rossi Ducati 1m57.914s + 1.440s
11. Karel Abraham Cardion Ducati 1m57.939s + 1.465s
12. Stefan Bradl LCR Honda 1m58.934s + 2.460s
13. Randy de Puniet Aspar Aprilia 1m59.985s + 3.511s
14. Colin Edwards Forward Suter-BMW 2m00.044s + 3.570s
15. Michele Pirro Gresini FTR-Honda 2m00.322s + 3.848s
16. Aleix Espargaro Aspar Aprilia 2m00.720s + 4.246s
17. Ivan Silva Avintia FTR-Kawasaki 2m01.138s + 4.664s
18. Mattia Pasini Speed Master Aprilia 2m01.261s + 4.787s
19. Yonny Hernandez Avintia FTR-Kawasaki 2m01.276s + 4.802s
20. Danilo Petrucci Ioda-Aprilia 2m01.352s + 4.878s
21. James Ellison Paul Bird Aprilia 2m03.421s + 6.947s