Casey Stoner maintained his position at the head of the MotoGP timesheets during the first of Friday's two free practice sessions, at Qatar.

The new Repsol Honda rider, fastest by 0.6sec over team-mate and nearest rival Dani Pedrosa during Thursday night's opening session, once again set a scorching pace from the moment he left the pits.

Stoner, who led the way with a 1min 55.752sec on Thursday, set a 1min 55.9sec on his second Friday lap - and then a 1min 55.457sec on his third!

That third lap was to be the fastest of the 45-minute session and put the Australian 0.397sec ahead of Pedrosa.

Stoner had used the harder-compound rear tyre on Thursday, but ran the softer option this evening. Stoner's first run, when he set his fastest lap, consisted of six flying laps - all but one of which was under 1min 56sec.

Pedrosa was the only other rider to break into the '55s, which he did twice during 19 laps, compared with eight (out of 17 laps) under 1min 56sec for Stoner.

Yamaha's Ben Spies advanced from sixth on Thursday to third this evening, with a best lap 0.659sec behind Stoner. Third Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso also made clear progress up the ranking, rising from eighth to fourth (but +0.715sec).

Fifth was the second factory M1 of world champion Jorge Lorenzo (+0.763sec), who lost a few minutes at the start of the session when a technical issue prevented him leaving the pits as planned.

Sixth and seventh were top satellite (team) riders Colin Edwards, of Monster Yamaha Tech 3, and Marco Simoncelli, of San Carlo Honda Gresini. They were the last riders to get within one-second of Stoner.

Rookie Cal Crutchlow, who lost the tip of his left little finger in a testing crash earlier this week, turned heads with an impressive eighth place (+1.061sec) on the second Tech 3 bike.

Just behind the Englishman was seven time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi. The Italian had been fifth quickest on Thursday, 0.727sec from the top, but dropped to +1.075sec this evening.

Rossi was the fastest Desmosedici rider, with Ducati colleagues Nicky Hayden, Randy de Puniet and Hector Barbera immediately behind him on the timesheets.

The unique four-night race weekend schedule for Qatar will see another MotoGP free practice session later tonight, followed by qualifying on Saturday, then warm-up and the race on Sunday.

Friday practice (1):

1. Stoner
2. Pedrosa
3. Spies
4. Dovizioso
5. Lorenzo
6. Edwards
7. Simoncelli
8. Crutchlow
9. Rossi
10. Hayden
11. de Puniet
12. Barbera
13. Aoyama
14. Bautista
15. Capirossi
16. Abraham
17. Elias

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