Stoner victorious in season opener in Qatar
Casey Stoner had a titanic tussle with his Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa at the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar in the first round of the 2011 MotoGP World Championship to snatch 25 points on his debut ride with Repsol Honda. Stoner eventually finished 3.440s ahead of reigning World Champion Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing), with Pedrosa third.
It had been eight years since a Honda rider won the opening round of the MotoGP season, the last rider to do so was Valentino Rossi in 2003 at Suzuka. Stoner had an impressive record at the Losail International Circuit having won three years in a row from 2007-2009, and the Australian claimed the 31st win of his career here this evening - his 24th in MotoGP.
The riders observed a minute of silence in honour of the victims of the Japan earthquake ahead of the MotoGP race. The 22-lap race was run in the best conditions of the weekend, with warm temperatures but minus the strong winds that had been present intermittently throughout the practice sessions. It produced a thrilling race with close encounters throughout the field.
Pedrosa took the lead from the start of the race and then it was the reigning World Champion, Lorenzo, who took up the mantle as race leader. What followed was fierce between the two Spaniards and Stoner, with the Repsol Hondas eventually pulling an advantage. Stoner and Pedrosa swapped position for the lead on several occasions and at the midway point, the pole sitter, increased his pace and set off for the chequered flag. This left the two Championship rivals from 2010 duelling it out for second place and it was the Yamaha rider who picked up the 20 points with second place.
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) and Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini Team) were involved in a close battle for fourth place throughout the race and it was the Repsol Honda man who prevailed. Dovizioso finished 5.942s behind Stoner.
There was much anticipation surrounding the debut of Valentino Rossi with the Ducati Team. The Italian finished seventh after racing Ben Spies (Yamaha Factory Racing), and having swapped places with the American the Yamaha got the advantage over the Ducati to take sixth place.
Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) was eighth, with Nicky Hayden (Ducati Team) and Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) completing the top ten. MotoGP debutant Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) managed to take 11th place on the last lap ahead of Héctor Barberá (Mapfre Aspar Team). Premier class rookie Karel Abraham (Cardion ab Motoracing) was the final rider to pass the chequered flag and earned himself three points, with just 13 riders finishing the first race of the season.
It was not the MotoGP return that Toni Elías (LCR Honda) had been hoping for. After languishing in 14th place at the back, he suffered a crash towards the end of the race which cost him two points, as he lost the front end entering a corner.
It was a highly disappointing start to the season for the Pramac Racing team after Randy de Puniet had a nasty highside on lap one, causing his race to end early. His team-mate Loris Capirossi was hit by the Frenchman’s bike, crushing his hand and therefore forcing him to retire from the race.