Yamaha's reigning double MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo got his title defence off to the best possible start by leading Thursday night's opening practice session in Qatar.

The Spaniard, winner from pole at Losail last year, spent much of the session second to returning team-mate Valentino Rossi, but got the better of the Italian - and Tech 3 Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow - on his final laps.

Lorenzo concluded the night just 0.058s clear of Crutchlow and 0.071s over Rossi, but there was a surprisingly large gap to the factory Hondas.

Rookie Marc Marquez was fourth quickest and 0.591s from the front, while team-mate Dani Pedrosa - who battled Lorenzo for last year's title and led much of pre-season testing - was eighth and over one-second off Lorenzo.

"It's a very good way to start the season, on top. To have three Yamahas in the first three positions like in Jerez means this track is good for us," confirmed Lorenzo. "The lap time came easy, but we need to improve though because the other guys will come in the next practice.

"We'll look to improve in three ways - by riding, improving the bike and also the track condition. Today we tried both bikes and tomorrow we will try the new chassis."

Team manager Wilco Zeelenberg admitted it was nice to put the Hondas under early pressure. "To be on top and see the competitors struggling a little is good. We still have a step to make but we have to be satisfied in first position tonight!" said the Dutchman.


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