By Gordon Hatch - MotoGP correspondent
The final day of practice for the opening round of the 2011 MotoGP Championship at the Losail International Circuit, Doha, Qatar saw the Repsol Honda's of Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso top the first three slots of the timing sheets. In the third free practice session Stoner and Pedrosa came tantalizingly close to breaking the 1m 55s mark and a full half a second ahead of third man Dovi.
Surprisingly, it was the Spaniard who dominated the majority of the session but with Stoner for close company while the factory Yamaha's of reigning MotoGP Champion Jorge Lorenzo (1m 55.814s) and new teammate for 2011 Ben Spies (1m 56.003s) trailing behind by nearly a full second. The best either rider could achieve against the Hondas came in the form of Spies splitting them for about two minutes.
The final practice session ahead of Saturday's qualifying saw Pedrosa wringing the neck of the Repsol-clad RC212V in an aggressive fashion not common with the Spaniard's regular traits. Yet the new style earned him stellar lap times and it was only in the latter stages where Stoner managed to stamp some authority on the proceedings setting a best time of 1m 55.035s to that of Pedrosa's 1m 55.193s.
Below the factory Hondas and Yamahas things were playing out a little differently with the first surprise coming in the form of Hector Barbera (Mapfre Aspar) taking 6th spot with a 1m 56.266s and the bragging rights of being fastest of the Ducatis, ahead of the rest of the privateer Ducatis and most of all, the Marlboro Ducati team and riders. Nicky Hayden set 1m 56.586s, leaving the 2006 champion in a lowly 14th position and seven-time MotoGP Champion Valentino Rossi posted a 1m 56.306s giving him 8th place.
Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) performed well and has already commented this week and also in winter testing how much he likes his new bike with all the new parts coming over from last year's factory YZR-M1. This showed in the Texan's riding who, at the end of the session was sitting in 7th with a best time of 1m 56.302s.
Following Rossi into 9th and 10th positions were the satellite Ducatis of Pramac Racing teammates Randy de Puniet (1m 56.362s) and veteran Lori Capirossi (1m 56.434s). Meanwhile rookie rider Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) managed to battle through the pain and discomfort of losing the tip of his left little finger down to the bone in a crash last week to finish in 11th with a time of 1m 56.437s and at one stage the Brit was also ahead of Rossi for two laps.
Next came the sombre Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) in 12th place who has had to ride through each of his tests and free practice sessions here in Qatar while his home country of Japan is devastated after being hit by an earthquake, tsunami and now the very high possibility of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant going into meltdown. Nevertheless Aoyama produced an efficient session (1m 56.517s) to finish ahead of teammate Marco Simoncelli who could only manage 1m 56.540s despite going quicker in the earlier sessions.
The Marlboro Ducati of Hayden in 14th is followed by the second MotoGP rookie Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Motoracing) who set a best time of 1m 57.275s on his Ducati. Abraham was followed by lone Suzuki rider Alvaro Bautista in 15th spot but his best time of 1m 57.601 came amidst a turbulent week for Bautista after a 250kph crash earlier in the week was then followed up tonight in another big crash that sent his GSV-R into the air and the rider lying on the tarmac clutching his left leg. Later it was confirmed that Bautista will not take any further part this weekend after his injury turned out to be a broken femur.
Last up was reigning Moto2 Champion (LCR Honda) with the Spaniard still struggling with his bike and the change over to 800cc despite 'Tiger Tony's' past form being one of the few riders who beat Valetino Rossi when he was at the height of his power on the Yamaha.
Top laptimes after practice:
1. Casey Stoner - AUS - Repsol Honda Team - 1m 55.035s
2. Dani Pedrosa - ESP - Repsol Honda Team - 1m 55.193s
3. Andrea Dovizioso - ITA - Repsol Honda Team - 1m 55.740s
4. Jorge Lorenzo - ESP - Yamaha Factory Racing - 1m 55.814s
5. Ben Spies - USA - Yamaha Factory Racing - 1m 56.003s
6. Hector Barbera - ESP - Mapfre Aspar Team - 1m 56.266s
7. Colin Edwards - USA - Monster Yamaha Tech 3 - 1m 56.302s
8. Valentino Rossi - ITA - Ducati Marlboro Team - 1m 56.306s
9. Randy de Puniet - FRA - Pramac Racing Team - 1m 56.362s
10. Loris Capirossi - ITA - Pramac Racing Team - 1m 56.434s
11. Cal Crutchlow - GBR - Monster Yamaha Tech 3 - 1m 56.437s
12. Hiroshi Aoyama - JPN - San Carlo Honda Gresini - 1m 56.517s
13. Marco Simoncelli - ITA - San Carlo Honda Gresini - 1m 56.540s
14. Nicky Hayden - USA - Ducati Marlboro Team - 1m 56.586s
15. Karel Abraham - CZE - Cardion AB Motoracing - 1m 57.275s
16. Alvaro Bautista - ESP - Rizla Suzuki MotoGP - 1m 57.601s
17. Toni Elias - ESP - LCR Honda MotoGP - 1m 58.123s