Casey Stoner has defeated former five-times world champion Valentino Rossi
to take his first ever MotoGP victory, on his Ducati debut and in the first ever 800cc race, at the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix.
Stoner blasted past pole-sitter Rossi along the main straight at the end of the first lap and the pair battled continuously from then on. The Australian's Ducati enjoyed a clear top-speed advantage, but Rossi repeatedly reeled the #27 back in through the twisty sections and the pair exchanged the lead frequently during the 22 laps.
However, the combination of Desmosedici horsepower and a perfect mistake-free ride from Stoner - who set the fastest race lap on the last lap - carried the former 125 and 250GP race winner safely to his first MotoGP victory, at the start of his second premier-class season.
Rossi later admitted that the top-speed advantage enjoyed by Stoner (and Dani Pedrosa) was 'a bit too much' for him, but that he'd tried his best to win and had hoped to upset Stoner's rhythm when he passed him in the closing stages - to no avail. Nevertheless, as the Italian pointed out, it is a much better start to the season than the disaster of one year ago at Jerez.
Repsol Honda rider Pedrosa had mixed it with the top two for the first half of the race, when a mistake by the Spaniard at the final turn ended his victory hopes and dropped him firmly into the clutches of Rizla Suzuki's John Hopkins. Pedrosa and the injured Hopkins then fought for third right to the finish, with the Honda rider just doing enough to deny the brave Hopkins his first MotoGP podium.
Stoner's team-mate Loris Capirossi
fell from the tail of the lead pack (fifth) on lap seven, while Rossi's Fiat Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards
- ultra competitive in practice - was never a factor and crossed the line in sixth.
Fellow American Nicky Hayden
faired even worse; the reigning world champion concluded a frustrating weekend with a miserable eighth position - and a sour facial expression that said it all.Qatar Grand Prix: