The 2008 MotoGP season began with a step into the unknown in the form of the first ever grand prix night race, but - despite the shock of a rookie qualifying one-two by Jorge Lorenzo
and James Toseland
- the end result was exactly the same as the year before, victory for Casey Stoner
and Ducati at Qatar.
The Australian and his Bridgestone-shod Desmosedici had destroyed the 2007 opposition and a second MotoGP title was already looking a distinct possibility, especially with lead rival Valentino Rossi
only fifth on his Bridgestone debut.
Few doubted that Rossi would reach race-winning speed eventually on his new tyres, but would it be too late to stop Stoner - a rider who finished every race in 2007, winning ten of them and never finished lower than sixth?
But the Stoner/Ducati invincibility hit an unexpected stumble next time out in Jerez, when - for the first time since throwing a leg over a Ducati - Stoner appeared to be in genuine difficulty.
With new team-mate Marco Melandri
never looking comfortable on the GP8, the Jerez handling problems weren't a complete surprise - but this was the first time that Stoner's talent and determination had been unable to rise above them.
The #1 qualified seventh, but ran off track on lap three, leaving him at the back of the field. Stoner went on to finish eleventh, after suffering a further moment late in the race. Rossi wasn't the main beneficiary of Stoner's woes, although the Italian did claim his first Bridgestone podium at Jerez, instead it was Dani Pedrosa
who stood on the top step of the rostrum, in front of his home fans.
Pedrosa had missed much of pre-season testing due to injury and, like team-mate Nicky Hayden, had begun the year using last year's valve-spring Honda engine, but the Spaniard raced from eighth to third at Qatar, then qualified behind only Lorenzo at Jerez en route to his first win of the year - and the world championship lead.
Lorenzo finished behind Pedrosa and Rossi to prove that his Qatar debut was no fluke, and the 20-year-old - the youngest rider on the MotoGP grid - completed a stunning start to his premier-class career next time out at Estoril, when he converted his third pole in a row into his first ever MotoGP victory, by 1.8sec over arch-rival Pedrosa, and took the world championship lead.
"I feel like I'm in heaven!" beamed Lorenzo, who planted his trademark 'Lorenzo's Land' victory flag for the first time as a MotoGP rider.