Casey Stoner has won the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix, run on Monday night after Sunday's rain cancellation, for the third year in a row.

The Australian star led from start to finish, keeping his Ducati out of reigning world champion Valentino Rossi's reach for almost the entire 22 laps. Rossi's hopes were hit when he dropped from second to third at turn one, then fell victim to Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo shortly after.

Realising the risk of giving Stoner space up front, the Italian swiftly retaliated, re-passing Lorenzo before the end of the first lap, then prizing second position from a fast-starting Loris Capirossi on lap three - but Stoner was already three seconds ahead.

Rossi nibbled into the #27's lead, but was never able to get closer than 1.9sec and Stoner - who led every single track session from Rossi this weekend - smashed the Italian's challenge in the closing stages.

Stoner crowned a dominant 7.771sec win, his first since bone graft surgery on his wrist, with a huge wheelie, while Rossi gave his team a conciliatory wave as he collected second.

Lorenzo, second to Stoner on his MotoGP debut at Qatar last season, matched the Australian's wheelie display as he took a podium finish on his Bridgestone debut, albeit over eight-seconds from Rossi.

Stoner later said that Monday evening's extra warm-up session had allowed him to improve his GP9 further and that his only concern during the race had been fuel consumption.

After being passed by Rossi, Capirossi fell victim to Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso, but worse was to follow when - on the ninth lap - he lost the front of his GSV-R and went down in a shower of sparks whilst trying to stay ahead of Colin Edwards.

Dovizioso, making his factory Honda debut, had faded out of contention for third by the halfway stage, then lost fourth place to Edwards on lap 14. The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider ran out of time to challenge Lorenzo, having paid the price for a bad start from the second row.

Sixth place went to a hard charging Alex de Angelis, but the San Marinese may find the position taken from him pending the results of a post-race investigation. The San Carlo Honda Gresini rider tangled with injured Repsol Honda Dani Pedrosa while passing the Spaniard for seventh at half-race distance.

Pedrosa, who had just been overtaken by Chris Vermeulen, drifted slightly off line on the exit of a left hander - prompting de Angelis to dive for the inside. Unfortunately, their lines crossed and Alex hit the side of Pedrosa's RCV with considerable force, although the Spaniard stayed in control despite his feet coming off the pegs.

Pedrosa, riding at '60-70 percent' fitness following recent knee and forearm surgery, seemed shaken by the incident - which may well have aggravated his injuries - and, having fought his way up from 14th on the grid to sixth, sank back to eleventh at the finish.

Pedrosa only just held off former team-mate Nicky Hayden, himself riding battered, bruised and with three stitches in his chest after a huge qualifying fall. The American had begun his 100th grand prix, and first race for Ducati Marlboro, from 16th on the grid.

Vermeulen brought the sole surviving Suzuki home in a less-then-expected seventh position, and had impressive MotoGP rookie Mika Kallio breathing down his neck, while Honda riders Toni Elias and Randy de Puniet completed the top ten.

Behind Hayden, Sete Gibernau's first MotoGP since 2006 saw the injured Spaniard progress just one place from 15th on the grid for Grupo Francisco Hernando.

Fellow former title runner-up Marco Melandri looked set to give the Hayate Racing Team a thrilling debut as he concluded the first lap in eighth position, but the Italian - who turned heads with fifth in Saturday free practice, before qualifying the 'unofficial' Kawasaki ZX-RR eleventh - then ran straight on through the turn one gravel.

Melandri rejoined last, but pushed hard to the flag and was able to finish ahead of Yuki Takahashi, James Toseland (who also ran off track) and Niccolo Canepa.

Qatar Grand Prix:
1. Stoner
2. Rossi
3. Lorenzo
4. Edwards
5. Dovizioso
6. de Angelis
7. Vermeulen
8. Kallio
9. Elias
10. de Puniet
11. Pedrosa
12. Hayden
13. Gibernau
14. Melandri
15. Takahashi
16. Toseland
17. Canepa