The first night of 2009 grand prix action has ended with title favourites Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi leading the Friday free practice timesheets at the Qatar MotoGP season-opener.

With track time now restricted to just one, 45 minute, free practice session on a Friday, riders wasted no time in leaving the pits to begin vital preparation work for Sunday's race.

Stoner, winner at Qatar for the past two seasons and leader of all three 2009 pre-season tests, was typically fast from the off - his fourth lap being good enough to keep reigning world champion Rossi 0.6sec behind by the midway point of the session.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Colin Edwards then closed to within 0.34sec of Stoner with 18 minutes to go, but Stoner struck back in style - pulling 1.121sec from Edwards.

Rossi's response came as the final five minutes approached, when the Fiat Yamaha star climbed within 0.386sec of Stoner, while a late charge by Edwards put the Texan 0.782sec from the top and the only other rider within one second of the #27 Ducati.

Stoner's best lap was a 1min 57.053sec, compared with a 1min 55.744sec he recorded at the Qatar pre-season test, which he had led by almost one-second from Jorge Lorenzo.

Lorenzo, Rossi's Fiat Yamaha team-mate, snatched a late fourth place on the Friday timesheets, 1.219sec from the top, while Alex de Angelis delighted the San Carlo Honda Gresini team by being the fastest RCV rider, in fifth on his satellite spec machine.

Loris Capirossi was sixth for Rizla Suzuki, almost 1.5sec from Stoner, with rookie Mika Kallio delivering yet another impressive performance to claim seventh for Pramac Ducati.

New Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso was eighth, while Marco Melandri gave the Hayate Racing Team an excellent debut - the Italian taking the 'unofficial' 2009 Kawasaki ZX-RR to ninth position out of the 18 riders.

LCR Honda's Randy de Puniet rounded out a top ten covered by 1.718sec, with James Toseland - who qualified second on his grand prix debut at Losail last season - claiming eleventh position on the second satellite M1.

Returning Gresini rider Toni Elias was twelfth on his factory Honda debut, with Stoner's new Ducati Marlboro team-mate Nicky Hayden and Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen a disappointing 13th and 14th.

Double MotoGP title runner-up Sete Gibernau began his first MotoGP race weekend since Estoril 2006 with 16th position after a late jump up from the tail of the timesheets for Grupo Francisco Hernando Ducati.

The 36-year-old, whose most recent MotoGP victory was at Qatar in 2004, had missed the Losail test due to a shoulder injury and Friday therefore marked his very first experience of night riding.

Countryman Dani Pedrosa, who sustained a fractured left forearm and reopened a left knee wound at the Qatar test on March 2, made his MotoGP return for Repsol Honda on Friday.

Pedrosa had a screw inserted into his forearm and, most significantly, skin graft surgery on his knee immediately after the test accident - putting his participation in this weekend's event in doubt.

The six-time race winner, who describes himself as '60-70 percent' fit, completed 17 laps, the best of which was a worrying 4.382sec from Stoner, leaving Pedrosa 18th and last on the timesheets.

Under new rules, all riders are now using Bridgestone tyres, with slick options limited to one hard and one soft compound. Racing at Qatar will not take place if it rains due to visibility problems caused by the floodlights reflecting off a wet track surface.

Second free practice and qualifying, each of 45 minutes, will take place on Saturday night. Sunday's schedule remains unchanged for 2009, with a 20 minute warm-up followed by the race, which starts at 11pm local time.

Friday practice:

1. Stoner
2. Rossi
3. Edwards
4. Lorenzo
5. de Angelis
6. Capirossi
7. Kallio
8. Dovizioso
9. Melandri
10. de Puniet
11. Toseland
12. Elias
13. Hayden
14. Vermeulen
15. Takahashi
16. Gibernau
17. Canepa
18. Pedrosa


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The defensive rants trying to build up Rossi and degrade Stoner are the ones that generally have no clue.

Sorry if you were shocked out of your comfort zone.
However you are the type I am talking about.

Well done Casey!!!
Can't wait to see you on race day and you put on another masterful display of devastating dominance over all your peers.
You really are the best out there and the education of the Rossi sheep has begun.The ones that know next to nothing about racing and MotoGP.Seems they are attracted to follow the great man while having no clue.Amusing indeed.