SPEEDtv.com’s Dennis Noyes comments on how Valentino Rossi’s Yamaha M1 was no match for Casey Stoner’s Ducati Desmosedici on the long Losail straights.
Who saw this one coming? Instead of the anticipated Yamaha-Honda battle between Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards on the Fiat Yamaha M1s and the Repsol Hondas of World Champion Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa, the winner at round one of the MotoGP World Championship in Qatar was 21-year-old Australian Casey Stoner riding a red rocket from Bologna that flew past Rossi’s Yamaha and left all the rest behind.
Valentino Rossi, on his Yamaha, was later on the brakes, faster through the curves and better out of the corners at the Losail circuit on March 11th, but Stoner rode an error-free race and used the overwhelming superiority of his factory Ducati Desmosedici on the long 1,068 meter home straight to win his first MotoGP race. The sight of both Stoner and Honda’s Dani Pedrosa blasting past Rossi, declining to even use his slipstream as they powered by, was the clearest indication yet that the new 800cc Yamahas, in spite of the good lap times their riders have consistently produced over preseason and in qualifying (first and third) for the GP of Qatar, are significantly down on power at the start of this first year of the 800cc MotoGP era.
European online odds-makers made Rossi the clear favorite to take the opening race and the title, with Pedrosa and Stoner’s veteran teammate Loris Capirossi vying for the role of most likely challenger. Hayden, in spite of his #1 plate, was expected to be off the leaders’ pace in the early part of the season as he struggles to adapt to a bike that, in spite of Honda’s claims to the contrary, is generally understood by … well, by almost everyone on the GP scene, to have been designed to fit both the riding style and the physical size of his 5-2, 112-pound Spanish teammate.
The most frequently mentioned long-shot going into the opening round was 23 year-old American John Hopkins on the Suzuki, fast in the preseason but racing hurt with badly bruised hands and broken toe after a big preseason crash at the Qatar tests in mid-February.
Stoner, signed by Ducati to replace Sete Gibernau, who subsequently retired, earned a reputation as a fast learner but also a crasher during his first season in MotoGP with LCR Honda last year. He is not known as a rider who takes his physical training very seriously, but at 21 he runs on adrenalin and natural talent.
Commentators in the many languages of MotoGP recalled on air during the race that Stoner, on the LCR Honda, had led the Qatar GP for the first nine laps last year before being reeled in and passed by Rossi, who went on to win from Hayden and Capirossi. Stoner eventually finished fifth. This year Stoner neither tired nor faded. Rossi managed to get in front on several occasions, but each time Stoner remained unflustered and used the straight to smoke past the Yamaha and regain the lead. In fact, Rossi never managed to lead across the start-finish line.