Ben Spies began his first full time MotoGP season by delivering one of the stand-out performances of Sunday night's Qatar Grand Prix.

The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider gained four places on the opening lap, then was elevated into the top six by a surprise mistake from race leader Casey Stoner on lap six of 22.

Pursuing factory Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo, Spies once again demonstrated his devastating speed on worn tyres as he threatened to haul himself into contention for the podium battle involving Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso.

For several laps, Spies was the fastest man on track and his best lap time of 1min 56.087sec was just a few hundredths slower than the fastest laps by Lorenzo and race winner Valentino Rossi.

Spies went on to cross the line just over two seconds off third position and less than four seconds away from top M1 rider and reigning world champion Rossi.

"The key was that I knew we had a good pace on race tyres. I got a good start and I was quite aggressive in the first couple of laps to try and make up some places and keep contact with the front group," said Spies, who previous best MotoGP finish was sixth in the wet 2008 Indianapolis Grand Prix.

"My confidence was growing in the middle of the race and I could see Jorge and Valentino and those guys not a million miles in front of me. I wasn't catching them a lot, but I knew for a few laps in the middle of the race I was definitely the quickest out of the top five.

"Maybe if I'd have qualified higher I might have been in that fight for the podium at the end. But I can't be too greedy and this is a good start for me and gives me a platform to build on for the rest of the season," he added.

"Everybody was expecting great things from Ben this year and we have to say already that he has shown what he is capable of tonight," stated team manager Herve Poncharal. "We were a bit disappointed when he was only 11th in qualifying but we knew it would be better for the race because he was so strong on hard tyres and we know this is a major strength of Ben's.

"And he is a racer who is very aggressive and he made up a few places early on, which is always crucial in MotoGP. His lap times were incredibly fast and was he closing on the leading group for the whole race and this is a fantastic start for Ben with the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team."

Spies was also the top rookie and satellite rider, while team-mate Colin Edwards crossed the line in a disappointing eighth.

"I rode my hardest but tonight was one of the times when you're just riding around problems," he said. "The front grip was great but I was lacking a bit on the rear and I couldn't get a set-up that pushed the tyre on the ground.

"As soon I accelerated the rear tyre would spin, but we actually found out some things for the future that will help me. The Yamaha is obviously working good when you look at the result and I want to congratulate Ben because he did a great job. Hopefully next time out I'll be a bit closer to the fight."