Stoner fights to Qatar victory

Stoner fights to Qatar victory

21st Mar 2011 7:00 am

MotoGP season opener at Qatar.

Casey Stoner commenced his first season as a factory Honda rider with victory in Qatar - but the result was not the Honda steamroller that was anticipated.

Honda did not even manage to deliver a one-two, with world champion Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) battling through to second ahead of Honda's Dani Pedrosa.

Valentino Rossi started his Ducati career with seventh place after a hard-fought race.

Stoner had fallen from pole to third at the start, as Pedrosa moved into the lead for half a lap before the hard-charging Lorenzo slipped ahead.

But Honda - which had been quickest in every pre-season test and all the practice sessions at Losail - soon flexed its muscles and by the end of lap two Stoner and Pedrosa were back to first and second.

Stoner was unable to shake his team-mate off, and at the start of lap six the Spaniard sliced down the inside at Turn 1 to take the lead.

With the smaller Pedrosa proving faster down the straights, Stoner needed several laps to find a way back past, eventually getting through into Turn 12 on lap 13.

Stoner then immediately blasted in a new fastest race lap to instantly open up a 1.2-second lead over Pedrosa.

The Australian duly pulled away to win in Qatar for the fourth time in five years, while Pedrosa found himself under huge pressure from Lorenzo.

The two Spaniards would swap places four times in as many laps, before Lorenzo managed to get away and secure second as Pedrosa's pace faded.

He only just held off the third works Honda of Andrea Dovizioso for third, the Italian having won a tough battle with compatriot Marco Simoncelli (Gresini Honda).

Yamaha's Ben Spies lost ground on the first lap and was only able to recover to sixth, having become embroiled in a spectacular dice with Rossi. The seven-time champion had thrust his Ducati from ninth to second by the first corner of the race, but was down to seventh again by halfway around the lap and was fighting a rearguard action for most of the distance. As he had predicted as his recovery from shoulder surgery continues, Rossi fell away in the closing stages.

His team-mate Nicky Hayden made good progress in the race to come through to ninth, right behind Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards, having put a late move on 10th-placed Hiroshi Aoyama's Gresini Honda.

Qualifying stars Cal Crutchlow (Tech 3) and Hector Barbera (Aspar Ducati) slipped back to 11th and 12th in the grand prix, jostling all the way to the flag.

Newcomer Karel Abraham completed the finishers on the AB Cardion Ducati. The two Pramac Ducatis both had to retire after Randy de Puniet crashed on the first lap trying to pass Loris Capirossi and clipped his team-mate. LCR Honda's Toni Elias also fell in the closing stages while struggling in last place.

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