Honda will start the fifth and final season of 800cc MotoGP racing with its best-ever chance of world championship success for the RC212V, after Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa completed a fearsome pre-season half-a-second clear of the field at the Qatar test.
2010 title runner-up Pedrosa had led Sunday's opening night at the Losail circuit, which will host round one of this year's championship next weekend, and looked set to maintain his superiority on Monday - until a late lap from new Repsol Honda team-mate Stoner bumped him from the top.
Stoner, the 2007 world champion for Ducati and winner of the Qatar Grand Prix for three of the past four years (he crashed while leading last year), nipped 0.064sec under Pedrosa's best with a time of 1min 55.681sec on the 40th of his 46 laps.
"I'm really happy, I didn't think we would get any laps in tonight judging from the weather earlier in the day, it was a little tough but the wind seemed to settle and the track conditions improved a lot and we got some good test time in tonight," said Stoner.
"By the look of the lap times everyone seems to have taken a big step forward, but we're happy with what we've achieved again here and we can enter the race weekend with confidence but at the same time everyone else will be improving their set-up so we can't relax.
"We found a good rider position which I'm really happy with, having moved my position more towards the rear in Sepang - to try and find more grip, here we can run a more neutral set-up and everything seems to be working well.
"We did some more work on electronics tonight and also on the tyres, but generally worked in preparation for the weekend."
New Factory Yamaha rider Ben Spies emerged as best of the rest in third (+0.613sec). Then came Gresini Honda's Marco Simoncelli (+0.752sec), Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso (0.758sec), Pramac Ducati's Randy de Puniet (+0.764sec) and Factory Yamaha's reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo (+1.026sec).
That was in terms of best lap time, but the lap-by-lap breakdown once again painted a slightly different picture in terms of race pace.
Looking at the number of sub-1min 57sec laps, Stoner recorded 23 (out of 46), compared with 12 (out of 39) for Pedrosa, nine (out of 70) for Simoncelli, eight (out of 45) for Spies, just five (out of 58) for Dovizioso and (out of 48) for Lorenzo, then 3 (out of 67) for de Puniet.