Aleix Espargaro produced a stunning performance on his Open class MotoGP machine to top the times in Qatar, where the Forward Racing Yamaha rider edged out Britain's Bradley Smith.

Espargaro has been showing terrific form during pre-season testing at Sepang and the Spanish rider raised his game again at the Losail circuit, with a fastest lap of 1m 55.386s putting him ahead of Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha YZR-M1 in the closing stages by 0.253s on the opening day.

It was a brilliant effort by Espargaro, even in the absence of the Repsol Honda, Factory Yamaha and Ducati teams.

"It was a very productive day. I was not so fast at the beginning, but when I put the hard front tyre I could find the same feeling as in Sepang and I could start to push," said Espargaro.

"The feeling with both the hard and soft tyre is good so I'm confident for the start of the season and the first races."

Colin Edwards finished in seventh position but was 1.575s down on his team-mate with a fastest time of 1m 59.961s.

"I'm quite satisfied of the work done today. We continued working, where we left in Sepang," said the American. "My feeling with the bike improved, especially in the corners, and also my lap times and my position.

"I have more confidence with the front, this means that we are working in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to do."

The Losail circuit in Qatar hosts the opening round of the MotoGP World Championship on March 23.