Valentino Rossi outsmarted Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso to commence the 2015 MotoGP World Championship with a sensational victory on the Movistar Yamaha in the Qatar night race - his 109th Grand Prix win.

Rossi was at his classic best as the nine-time world champion utilised his unrivalled race craft to time his assault on the lead to perfection on the YZR-M1, taking over from Dovizioso on the GP15 two laps from the end to set up a grandstand finish.

Dovizioso used the Ducati's top-end speed advantage on the straight to draft past Rossi on the penultimate lap but ran wide, allowing the 36-year-old to fight his way back into the lead again at Turn 2.

Rossi put together a faultless final lap, opening enough of a gap to negate the Ducati's edge on outright speed on the long blast to the chequered flag to hold off Dovizioso, who was joined on the podium by team-mate Andrea Iannone in third place as the Ducati riders erased any doubts over their ability to transfer their qualifying pace on the soft rear to the medium tyre over a full race distance.

There was drama at the beginning of the 22-lap race when defending champion Marc Marquez ran off the track and found himself dead last on the opening lap. Marquez fought his way through the field and overhauled his Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa, but the 22-year-old was unable to do anything about the quartet in front of him, with Jorge Lorenzo - who led much of the race along with Dovizioso - finishing in fourth after dropping off the pace slightly in the closing stages.

Behind Marquez in fifth, Pedrosa completed the top six followed by British pair Cal Crutchlow on the CWM LCR Honda and Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Bradley Smith.

Rossi's victory was his first in the season-opening MotoGP race since 2010 as he defied his qualifying position of eighth to take a massively popular victory under the floodlights in Qatar.

It was pole man Dovizioso who hit the front from the off into Turn 1, with Marquez running off the track after leaving himself nowhere to go as he ran in hot on the brakes on the RC213V. The double MotoGP World Champion was dead last and it was clear that even he would need a small miracle to force his way back into contention.

Lorenzo made a strong start from row two to take up the running behind Dovizioso with Iannone next ahead of Pramac Ducati's Yonny Hernandez, Bradley Smith, Pol Espargaro and Pedrosa, who appeared to have made a strong start from second place on the front row only to be shunted back in the first-corner melee.

Rossi also had plenty of work to do from eighth place on lap two as Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone began to open a gap at the front.

Lorenzo moved into the lead on the Yamaha and stayed there until lap eight, closely shadowed by Dovizioso with Iannone hot on his team-mate's tail.

Rossi, though, was beginning to make his way through the pack while Marquez was now up to tenth place by the end of lap four. Pedrosa had also gained ground but was overtaken by Rossi on lap four, who moved into fifth place behind Hernandez.

He soon made a pass on the Colombian and set off in pursuit of the leading trio, with Lorenzo still in front from Dovizioso and Iannone.

Dovizioso was back at the head of affairs on lap eight after using the power of the GP15 to draft past Lorenzo on the straight, a move that became a regular feature of the night race in Qatar.

Marquez was now into sixth place and attempting to hunt down Pedrosa, who was occupying a somewhat lonely fifth place off the back of the leading quartet.

Lorenzo and Dovizioso were taking turns to lead out in front but Rossi was now on the scene and once the Yamaha rider made his pass stick on Iannone, he seemed to have plenty in reserve as he kept a watching brief in third place.

Marquez had caught and passed Pedrosa for fifth, but was unable to make any inroads into the leaders, while Hernandez, Smith, Crutchlow and Pol Espargaro were the top ten.

Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Rossi were turning the screw as the race began to hot up and as a result, Iannone began to drop off the pace. However, he began to get a second wind in the final laps, snatching third from Lorenzo after Rossi took up the chase behind Dovi with a pass on his team-mate on lap 19.

The front pair began to break away and it soon became clear the winner would come from either Dovizioso or Rossi, who moved to the front on lap 20 only for Dovizioso to power past on the straight on the penultimate lap.

However, the Ducati ran wide at Turn 1 and Rossi took full advantage before attempting to put some daylight between himself and the ultra-rapid GP15.

At the start of the final lap Dovizioso again used the speed of the Ducati to breeze past into the lead but once more he drifted wide and Rossi pulled the M1 tight to the inside of Turn 1, retaking the position on the final lap and producing a stunning last lap to hold his rival at bay for a memorable victory.

Iannone's rostrum finish in third was his first in the premier class as Lorenzo had to settle for fourth ahead the Honda pairing of Marquez and Pedrosa.

Crutchlow got the better of Smith for seventh, with Pol Espargaro and Hernandez completing the top ten.

Aleix Espargaro was 11th on the Suzuki GSX-RR ahead of Danilo Petrucci (Pramac Ducati), Scott Redding on the EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda, Maverick Vinales on the second of the Suzuki machines and Hector Barbera, who earned the final point in 15th on the Avintia Ducati.

Stefan Bradl was the top Open rider in 16th on the Athina Forward Yamaha ahead of Aspar Honda's Nicky Hayden and Eugene Laverty.