Casey Stoner’s quest for a fourth straight victory in the Qatar MotoGP race started in dominant fashion tonight when the Australian topped the timesheets in the opening practice session of 2010. Stoner was untouchable once the 24-year-old hit the top with just 12 minutes of the hour-long session completed when he moved ahead of title rival and reigning world champion Valentino Rossi.
Stoner, who is undefeated at the Losail International Circuit since 2007, was so dominant that at one stage shortly before the halfway mark he led the field by close to a second. A lap of 1.55.500 put the 2007 world champion 0.906s clear of Rossi and that time was never surpassed.
Stoner’s best though on the new Big Bang GP10 Ducati was marginally slower than his best time when he topped the timesheets at last month’s night test in Doha. But he still finished a massive 0.526s clear of the field with Fiat Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo finishing second fastest.
The Spaniard showed no signs of a lingering right hand injury slowing him down as he steered his factory Yamaha YZR-M1 to a best time of 1.56.026. Lorenzo posted that time with just four minutes remaining but he was involved in late drama after a crash in the dying moments. The 22-year-old though was able to walk away unscathed and finish ahead of teammate Valentino Rossi by just 0.002s.
The odd couple in the Fiat garage, Lorenzo and Rossi will no doubt continue to clash on the track during 2010. The younger rider got the first dig at Qatar, nipping Rossi on the practice timesheet as the second-fastest.
Lorenzo was happy with his performance and relieved that he’d not aggravated the right hand injury he suffered back in February. The double 250GP world champion said: “I’m quite happy about tonight and about my hand; I tried riding for the first time without the extra hand protection and I was okay. I felt good on the bike and my thumb didn’t really hurt, it was a lot better than at the test. We still have a few things on the bike that we need to work on but we have made a good start. It was a pity to crash, I was pushing hard at the time and I just made a small mistake, touching the white line; these things happen and luckily I didn’t hurt myself.”
Rossi had led the early minutes of the session under the floodlights at the Losail International Circuit. But the Doctor ended up third quickest ahead of Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso, who denied Nicky Hayden a morale-boosting top four on his penultimate lap.
Rossi was somewhat disappointed with his failure to lap closer to Stoner and said: “Honestly I expected to be faster today – the lap time is not bad but it could be better. The conditions are much better than during the test, it’s warmer and a lot less humid so I’m happy about that, but we don’t have enough grip and I was sliding quite a lot so we need to try to find a way to improve this. Stoner is always very fast here and I hope we can close the gap to him by making some small changes to our suspension. If we can stop the bike sliding then we will be a lot faster.”
Andrea Dovizioso was the fastest Honda on Friday, fourth-fastest and just ahead of Ducati’s Nicky Hayden.
British GP winner Dovizioso ended with a best time of 1.56.698 to beat Kentucky rider Hayden by just 0.095s. Factory Ducati rider Hayden staged an impressive fight back in the final quarter of the session after the 2006 world champion had been left languishing down in 16th position at one stage. Just six minutes were left on the clock when he moved into fourth and he ended up beating fellow American Ben Spies by 0.025s.
Texan Spies was sixth fastest with a best lap of 1.56.818 after the reigning World Superbike champion had occupied third on the timesheets in the early exchanges of the 2010 campaign.
Spies said: “I didn’t want anything crazy to go on with it being the first race. I wanted to be in the top ten for the first session of the year because the last time I rode the bike I fell, so I just wanted to clear my head and get off to a good start. To be in the top ten in the first session and right in sixth, I’m happy with that. We never really threw a lap time in and the session was pretty smooth. We went out on the hard tires and it was good. We did our quickest lap on the 21st lap, which is close to a full race. Every time we went out the times were getting faster. Besides the top three guys, I think we’ve got pretty good speed, which is really important. We need to get some time on the softer tire so that when qualifying comes around we can use it to its full potential. I still think we’ve got a second at least with fresh hard tires on the bike, so I’m pretty happy about that.”
Spies, who completed the double in Doha at last year’s World Superbike clash, finished well clear of fellow Texan and Monster Yamaha Tech 3 teammate Colin Edwards. Edwards was left down in 12th place with a best lap of 1.57.167 that was some way of his pace at the recent night test.
Alvaro Bautista made an impressive debut on the factory Suzuki GSV-R when he logged a best time of 1.56.998 to claim seventh. He was close to 0.4s faster than experienced teammate Loris Capirossi, who had a troublesome start to his record-breaking 300th Grand Prix appearance. The 37-year-old was only 13th fastest and he escaped injury when he crashed heavily with 22 minutes remaining.
And Dani Pedrosa’s problems continued, as the Spaniard was unable to post a time good enough to secure a top-10 finish. The triple world champion has had major issues in adapting to Ohlins suspension and has also found Honda’s 2010 RC212V chassis difficult to set-up. Pedrosa was testing a revised chassis tonight with extra stiffness to bolster his confidence but he ended up 11th with a best time of 1.57.133.
MotoGP Friday Practice Results
1. Casey Stoner (Ducati) 1:55.500
2. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:56.026
3. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1:56.028
4. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 1:56.698
5. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1:56.793
6. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 1:56.818
7. Alvaro Bautista (Suzuki) 1:56.998
8. Randy De Puniet (Honda) 1:57.031
9. Mika Kallio (Ducati) 1:57.059
10. Hector Barbera (Ducati) 1:57.105
11. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:57.133
12. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:57.167
13. Loris Capirossi 1:57.363
14. Marco Simoncelli (Honda) 1:57.535
15. Aleix Espargaro (Ducati) 1:57.605