Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V) continued the excellence he’d shown all weekend by leading a Honda onslaught in his first race as a member of the Honda family in the season-opening Grand Prix of Qatar under the desert lights of the Losail International Circuit. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) interrupted the Honda parade by finishing a distant second, with Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) finishing third, Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) fourth, and Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) a fighting fifth.
Stoner had showcased his abilities on the Honda RC212V throughout pre-season testing, as well as in the run-up to the race. On the first race weekend of the 2011 MotoGP World Championship, Stoner was fastest in all three practice sessions before taking the 27th pole position of his career with a blistering lap of the 5.380k circuit outside the capital of Doha.
Though Stoner was on the pole, it was Pedrosa who got the jump and Lorenzo who was in front by the end of the first lap. But that was the only one he’d lead. Stoner led the next lap, but wasn’t able to get away, with Pedrosa applying constant pressure. The Spaniard made a pass on the sixth lap as the pair put a second on Lorenzo.
The complexion of the race changed dramatically early in the second half as the fuel load went down and the tyres were worn. His confidence growing every lap, Stoner took the lead into turn 12, the first of the triple rights, and went to work. He set the fastest lap of the race on the 13th, a 1:55.366, with Pedrosa now 1.307 secs. back. More ominously, Lorenzo took .6 out of Pedrosa, who was in danger of losing second.
Stoner pounded out the fast laps to the end, winning the opening round of the 2011 MotoGP World Championship by 3.440s.
The win was Honda’s first in the opening round of the championship since 2003, when Valentino Rossi started the season with a victory at Suzuka en route to the title.
The win was Stoner’s fifth at this track, with four in MotoGP and one in 250cc. It was also his 31st career victory and 24th in the MotoGP class. The victory puts him equal with three-time 500cc World Champion Wayne Rainey for seventh overall on the premier class wins list.
Stoner began the 800cc MotoGP era by winning the World Championship in 2007 and, with engine displacement increasing to 1000cc in 2012, Stoner would like to finish the era with another world championship.
Lorenzo caught and passed Pedrosa, but Pedrosa used the visibly superior power of the Honda RC212V to power by on the front straight. The scenario would unfold again and again, but eventually Pedrosa couldn’t keep the pace because of physical problems with his left arm and had to slow. Still, he finished on the podium.
Just missing out was the third member of the Repsol Honda team. Andrea Dovizioso battled hard with fellow Italian Marco Simoncelli before seizing fourth decisively on the 17th lap. Dovi closed fast on Pedrosa at the end and was unhappy about missing the podium, but that opportunity was lost earlier while fighting with Simoncelli. Despite losing fourth place, Simoncelli was an ecstatic fifth after proving that he can run with the fastest riders in the world.
Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) finished tenth in the first race of his second MotoGP season after an emotional start. The Japanese rider, and the rest of the MotoGP grid, observed a minute of silence prior to the race to honor the victims and survivors of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The return to the MotoGP class wasn’t a successful one for Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP). The 2010 Moto2 World Champion continued to struggle to get heat into his rear tyre on a cool evening. His night ended with a nasty crash on the 20th lap. Elias was slow to get up, though it was soon clear he wasn’t injured.
Qualifying for the Moto2 race was a preview of what was to come, at least for one rider The pole position time of Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing-Kalex) was 1.736s faster than last year’s pole and the top 16 riders qualified faster than last year’s pole time.
But it was Bradl who stood out. The 21-year-old German on the German chassis from Kalex Engineering sped to the lead with such pace that it left his rivals in awe. Lap after lap the lead grew until it was over 14s, at which point Bradl wisely backed off the pace. Still, he won by a handsome 7.710s.
Not as well defined was second place. Andrea Iannone (Speed Master – Suter) moved into the spot well in advance of the end of the race, but had to repel the repeated advances of a number of riders to secure the runner-up position.
Swiss rider Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2-Suter) came from fourth with two laps to go to take third, passing Alex de Angelis (JiR Moto2-Motobi), the fourth place finisher, and fifth placed Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing Moto2-Moriwaki) over the final two laps.
The MotoGP World Championship now returns to its European roots for the first race on the Continent in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain on the first weekend in April.
Honda MotoGP Rider Quotes:
Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V): 1st "After a great pre-season, we came into this race weekend and everything kept getting better and better for us. This morning in warm up we had a few issues getting a good feeling with the bike carrying a full tank of fuel and this issue also affected us in the early part of the race, but we knew as the fuel level decreased and the tyres aged, that our bike would come back to us. Dani (Pedrosa) came past and we decided to follow to see where he was strong and where I was weak. Then when I started to feel more confident with the bike and had more grip and better turning, we decided to push forwards and take advantage. Tonight the bike was fantastic, as it has been for all the sessions and I'm very proud to be racing for Repsol Honda and to take my first victory in the first race. It is a great way to start the season! I'm really happy with how everything has gone and the way the team has all worked together, a big thanks to Honda and my best wishes to Japan in this difficult time.”
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V): 3rd “I'm disappointed, not for the race I had, but for the physical problems I had again with my left arm. Already in practice I felt something, but I was not sure if it could be that bad, at the end I couldn't grab the handlebar and in the last seven-eight laps I couldn't use the clutch at all. I was just holding the arm and I was suffering a lot. The bike was perfect all race, I had the chance to win but I had a very hard time, one of the toughest races of my life. I don't know what can I do because should be OK after the rest I had this winter. I did the tests and everything was in order. In the winter tests I was a bit weak, but I felt alright, so I don't know what we have to do. I feel sorry for my team as well, because the bike was very good, fast, perfect also in the corners. I'm proud of how I've been riding, I've been fighting with Casey (Stoner) in this circuit as nobody else did in the past but at the same time I feel sad because I don't know what the future will bring. I know we will go to Jerez in two weeks, where the bike will run very well, and I'm very strong and fast, but I don't know what will happen.”
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V): 4th “I’m a bit disappointed because our target was the podium. but all in all I had a good race. In the first laps I thought I could fight for the podium and I’m satisfied with my pace, I also did my fastest lap on the last lap. We ran with a strong pace and the bike was constant but we need to make another step forward to stay with Casey and Dani. I lost time in the fight with Simoncelli, his passing manoeuvre was at the limit in my opinion. This was a crucial moment because we lost time, which we needed to fight for the podium. I want to thank my team for the work done on the bike. I’m also happy of my physical condition because I finished the race without being too tired although racing here is demanding.”
Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V): 5th “I am delighted! I was a bit too nervous over the first few laps but it was so good to be racing at the front of the field that I almost didn't finish the race! Joking aside, I am really happy because I thought my pace would be in the 1'56s but we were able to better it. At one point when I passed (Andrea) Dovizioso I thought I might be able to go after (Jorge) Lorenzo, but I made a little mistake and it broke my rhythm. Then at the end in the battle with Dovizioso I was slightly slower than him on used tyres and I dropped off. Anyway, it was great to see the others so close up and I am sure this was my best race – maybe not the result but in terms of my consistency and the distance to the race winner. Now we need to take another step in the next race and have fun with the guys in the team, who have done a fantastic job.”
Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V): 10th “When we had the minute's silence at the front of the grid before the race for the tragedies in Japan I felt really emotional. On behalf of my countrymen I want to say thank you to everybody who has shown their support during this sad time. I had a tough race because of the start. (Randy) De Puniet crashed in front of me and I lost precious ground on the group. Then I got my pace together and recovered positions but it was a shame because I wanted to have a good race tonight. Anyway, I am still happy because I am sure that we will improve in the next race. My feeling with the team is perfect, we are getting on great and they believe in me, which is important if we are to grow together. I want to give them positive results and excitement.”
Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP RC212V): DNF “Well, this first weekend has been very tough for me and the team. Since the two-day test prior to the race we have been struggling with the bike set-up and even after. We have tried different adjustments to find the right feeling on this track, but at the end we could only lap at low 1.58. And that was my lap time during the race from the first lap till the crash. We knew we could not do better than this as we knew our limit but I feel sorry for the crash. I want to cancel this bad weekend and start again in Jerez.”
Moto2 Rider Quotes:
Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing-Kalex): 1st “It’s just unbelievable, because the weekend just worked so well for me. I’m just happy because I don’t find any words for that. From the beginning of the free practice we were so competitive and everything is going easy. A special thanks to my team because they did a great job and especially to my family because they give me so much support and they’re at home.”
Andrea Iannone (Speed Master-Suter): 2nd “This was a difficult weekend for us. During the race we managed to start well, we moved up a few positions, lap after lap, and we reached the leading group. I was fighting for the second position and, in the end, I noticed I was faster than the other riders and that there was a chance to keep hold of the second spot. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I tried and we got there. I’m really happy. I want to thank my team for the work they made. They helped me to be fast and to score this great result in the Qatar GP. I hope things will keep going my way.
Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2-Suter): 3rd “Yeah, it was for sure it was a hard race. In the beginning I tried to stay with Stefan (Bradl), tried to follow him, but it was just impossible. I didn’t have enough traction out of the corners, so I needed to let him go. And then I was in a pack and I had to fight with the guys, it was a good fight, a tough fight, and finally I’m quite happy to be on the podium and now I’m really forward to the next races because the feeling is good, the consistency is here. I think it’s going to be a good season for us.
Yuki Takahashi (Gresini RacingMoto2-Moriwaki): 5th “It was important to finish the race tonight and I tried to do it in the best possible way. I got a good start but from midway through the race I started to feel the rear sliding and I lost a little feeling, which cost me a few positions and the opportunity to finish on the podium. Overall though I am happy and confident because I know that with this bike we can expect to do much better at the circuits to come.”