Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo became the first winner of the new 1000cc MotoGP era after battling, and beating, the factory Hondas in Sunday's Qatar season-opener.
Pole sitter Lorenzo held his advantage at turn one despite opposition from a fast-starting Dani Pedrosa, whose Repsol Honda team-mate and reigning champion Casey Stoner squeezed between the M1 rider and the pit wall to take the lead on lap four.
Stoner built a two-second cushion over Lorenzo by the halfway mark of the 22 laps, with Pedrosa a close third. The victory battle looked to be over as the time difference remained static for lap after lap, until Lorenzo and Pedrosa suddenly began catching Stoner in the closing stages.
Wheel-to-wheel by lap 17, Pedrosa was first to attack by snatching the runner-up spot from Lorenzo. That prompted a swift retaliation from the 2010 world champion, who then made his race-winning pass on Stoner under braking for the final turn with four laps remaining.
Lorenzo went on to claim his first Qatar MotoGP win by 0.852sec, with Pedrosa demoting a struggling Stoner to third place with an out-braking move into turn one on the penultimate lap.
Tyres or chatter were the obvious causes for Stoner's decline, but the Australian later revealed he had been suffering from arm pump, causing numbness in his right arm, throughout the race.
“It was just myself and my right arm that couldn't do the job today. I felt like a back marker at the end!” said Stoner.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team-mates Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow spent the entire race fighting over fourth, with the Englishman - who got a poor start from his best-yet third on the grid - eventually finding a way past on lap 17.
Crutchlow set the second fastest lap of the race, 0.443sec behind Stoner.
Nicky Hayden finished as the top Ducati in sixth place, just ahead of Gresini's Alvaro Bautista. LCR Honda rookie Stefan Bradl held sixth for much of the race during an impressive debut, before slipping to eighth.
Pramac's Hector Barbera was ninth, but only after running wide on the final lap, costing the Spaniard two places.
Factory Ducati rider Valentino Rossi and Lorenzo's team-mate Ben Spies both had a miserable start to the new grand prix season, off the pace throughout on their way to tenth and eleventh places.
"That's what happens when u ride a bike that's been crashed twice....#nobackupchassis" Spies wrote on his Twitter account @BenSpies11.
Cardion AB's Karel Abraham was the only manufacturer rider not to finish, due to technical problems.
Colin Edwards won the battle of the new 'Claiming Rule Team' catagory, finishing twelfth and 12sec ahead of Aspar Aprilia rider Randy de Puniet.
Edwards and his Suter-BMW were almost one-minute behind Lorenzo, but only one-second from Spies.
The European MotoGP season will start with the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez on April 27-29.
Qatar Grand Prix:
1. Jorge Lorenzo
2. Dani Pedrosa
3. Casey Stoner
4. Cal Crutchlow
5. Andrea Dovizioso
6. Nicky Hayden
7. Alvaro Bautista
8. Stefan Bradl
9. Hector Barbera
10. Valentino Rossi
11. Ben Spies
12. Colin Edwards
13. Randy De Puniet
14. Yonny Hernandez
15. Aleix Espargaro
16. Ivan Silva
17. Mattia Pasini
18. James Ellison