Honda will start the fifth and final season of 800cc MotoGP racing with its best-ever chance of world championship success for the RC212V, after Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa completed a fearsome pre-season half-a-second clear of the field at the Qatar test.

2010 title runner-up Pedrosa had led Sunday's opening night at the Losail circuit, which will host round one of this year's championship next weekend, and looked set to maintain his superiority on Monday - until a late lap from new Repsol Honda team-mate Stoner bumped him from the top.

Stoner, the 2007 world champion for Ducati and winner of the Qatar Grand Prix for three of the past four years (he crashed while leading last year), nipped 0.064sec under Pedrosa's best with a time of 1min 55.681sec on the 40th of his 46 laps.

"I'm really happy, I didn't think we would get any laps in tonight judging from the weather earlier in the day, it was a little tough but the wind seemed to settle and the track conditions improved a lot and we got some good test time in tonight," said Stoner.

"By the look of the lap times everyone seems to have taken a big step forward, but we're happy with what we've achieved again here and we can enter the race weekend with confidence but at the same time everyone else will be improving their set-up so we can't relax.

"We found a good rider position which I'm really happy with, having moved my position more towards the rear in Sepang - to try and find more grip, here we can run a more neutral set-up and everything seems to be working well.

"We did some more work on electronics tonight and also on the tyres, but generally worked in preparation for the weekend."

New Factory Yamaha rider Ben Spies emerged as best of the rest in third (+0.613sec). Then came Gresini Honda's Marco Simoncelli (+0.752sec), Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso (0.758sec), Pramac Ducati's Randy de Puniet (+0.764sec) and Factory Yamaha's reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo (+1.026sec).

That was in terms of best lap time, but the lap-by-lap breakdown once again painted a slightly different picture in terms of race pace.

Looking at the number of sub-1min 57sec laps, Stoner recorded 23 (out of 46), compared with 12 (out of 39) for Pedrosa, nine (out of 70) for Simoncelli, eight (out of 45) for Spies, just five (out of 58) for Dovizioso and (out of 48) for Lorenzo, then 3 (out of 67) for de Puniet.

Lorenzo and Dovizioso both completed near-full length race simulations. Stoner and Spies stuck to shorter runs, while Pedrosa did a half-race distance.

Lorenzo's race simulation was mainly spent in the low-1min 57secs, and Dovizioso's in the mid-1min 57secs.

Pedrosa ran a faster pace for his shorter simulation, staying below 1min 57sec, and even set his best lap of the evening (1min 55.745sec) during his long run.

Completing the Monday top ten behind Lorenzo was Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Colin Edwards (+1.035sec), Ducati Marlboro's Nicky Hayden (+1.045sec) and Honda Gresini's Hiroshi Aoyama (+1.059sec).

Edwards set three laps (out of 57) below 1min 57sec, while fellow American Hayden set six (out of 68) and Aoyama one (out of 73).

Then came Mapfre Aspar Ducati's Hector Barbera (+1.117sec) and the lone Suzuki of Alvaro Bautista (+1.250sec) in an ultra-close mid-pack, before the name of MotoGP superstar Valentino Rossi finally appeared, in just 13th.

The seven time MotoGP champion ran inside the top six early in the evening, while some riders waited in the pits for sand blown onto the track to clear, but steadily dropped down the order thereafter.

The Italian also crashed for a second time in as many nights from his Desmosedici and finished the test 1.307sec from Stoner.

Rossi set just a single lap below 1min 57sec, and his longest run consisted of only six fast laps (meaning fuel levels are unknown), but he was able to lap consistently in the mid-to-low 1min 57sec - indicating a stronger race pace than his position on the timesheets suggests.

Rossi was one of numerous fallers on the final night, all of whom escaped without injury - except rookie Cal Crutchlow, who injured his finger when it became trapped under his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 M1.

Crutchlow, who finished the test ahead of fellow rookie Karel Abraham and Moto2 champion Toni Elias, should be fit to ride in next weekend's grand prix.

Monday's test was the tenth day of track action since the end of the 2010 season.

The fastest rider on each day/night of winter testing has been as follows:

Valencia - November 2010
Day 1: Lorenzo (Yamaha)
Day 2: Stoner (Honda)

Sepang I - February 2011
Day 1: Stoner (Honda)
Day 2: Pedrosa (Honda)
Day 3: Simoncelli (Honda)

Sepang II - February 2011
Day 1: Stoner (Honda)
Day 2: Stoner (Honda)
Day 3: Stoner (Honda)

Qatar - March 2011
Day 1: Pedrosa (Honda)
Day 2: Stoner (Honda)

Opening practice for the Qatar Grand Prix takes place on Thursday evening, with the race on Sunday.



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