Stoner has four MotoGP wins at Losail, the Australian a constant favorite at the now-traditional GP opener under the Qatar lights.
Casey Stoner marked his factory Honda debut with an outstanding debut victory at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar last night. A 24th MotoGP victory never looked in serious doubt once he ruthlessly disposed of Dani Pedrosa’s threat on Lap 12. He eventually won by 3.440s to claim a fourth win five years in the Doha night race, which is now established as the traditional season opener on the 18-round MotoGP schedule.
The 2007 world champion said: “Everything’s been almost a fairytale with the start to the season. I’m getting more and more confident with the bike and everybody’s working so well together and it was just a matter of continuing that for this weekend. It was good that we had the test here before, because we already had the bike pretty much set-up. In the warm-up we found that our bike really didn’t’ want to work too well with a full tank of fuel. So we tried a couple of things for the race and even for the race with a full tank it didn’t feel perfect. The bike didn’t sort of give me the traction that I wanted and I couldn’t get the bike to turn quite as easily.
“Once I got past Jorge (Lorenzo) early on, I thought we’d set on a pace that I was quite comfortable at, but Dani was obviously a little bit faster, so he came past. He was able to pull a little bit on me, but we weren’t really in a big hurry because we knew our bike at the at the end of the race was very competitive. So when I saw Dani start to struggle a little bit more with grip and things like this, then I just started to push a little bit more, get closer to him. And then once we made an overtake we were able to pull the advantage quickly and from there it was damage limitation and just going around enjoying the race. The bike was getting better and better the more laps we did and it was getting easier and easier to ride. So it was really fantastic.
“The worst part of the race for me was probably the first lap. I was expecting some other riders coming up the inside of me because I didn’t feel perfect with the bike in the early laps. But after we got into the lead I just wanted to hold a consistent pace. There wasn’t really a bad point of the race that we were worried. If we had to finish second, we had to finish second, it’s good points. But we felt we were able to run much faster lap times than what we were doing, so when we wanted to we tried to push a little bit more, the bike started to work better with less fuel. Other than the first lap, the race felt quite calm to me.”
Pedrosa was left to contemplate what might have been as a numb left arm cost him the chance to fight Repsol Honda teammate Stoner for the win in Qatar last night. Pedrosa faded suddenly out of victory contention when he started to have a loss of feeling in his left arm and fingers in the latter stages of the 22-lap race.
Going off practice and qualifying, Pedrosa was the only man with a shot at matching the pace of Stoner, but the Spaniard dropped out of the lead and eventually faded to third.
The issue is a problem that started after his practice crash during the Japanese Grand Prix at the Twin Ring Motegi last October. The Spaniard had hoped the suspected nerve damage in his neck had healed and he will fly back to Barcelona for further checks this week.
Pedrosa eventually finished third having failed to fend off reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo and said: “First we have to find what’s going on, but we thought everything was fine. In November I was resting and we did some examinations. Everything was right and in testing, the shoulder felt a little bit weak but no big problem. I didn’t make the full race distance in pre-season. In Qatar I started to do ten and eleven laps together and then I started to feel something, but I wasn’t sure if it was the wind or I was too stiff on the bike. But it is very strange and over the long distance in the race I had some problems and at the end I couldn’t use the arm. It’s a shame because the bike was perfect. For the very first time at this track I was quite quick I could fight for the win. But in the end I just had to try and bring the bike home and I had a hard time in the final few laps.”
Honda bosses reckon the intense internal battle between Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa will provide a fascinating sub-plot during the 2011 MotoGP world championship. The Repsol Honda pair was in superb form throughout winter testing as the new factory RC212V machine has stolen a march on rivals Yamaha and Ducati.
Stoner dominated the second Sepang test in Malaysia earlier this month and Spanish teammate Pedrosa has also been in consistently fast form throughout winter testing. HRC boss Livio Suppo said he is looking forward to the rivalry generated by the pair.
HRC has hedged its bets with Stoner and Pedrosa followed closely by the all but forgotten Repsol third man, Dovizioso, and the factory-backed Gresini piloted by Simoncelli.
It is the first time since both graduated to MotoGP that they have faced stiff competition from inside their own garage. Stoner was the standout rider at Ducati between 2007 and 2010 while Pedrosa hasn’t finished behind a teammate in the rankings since his rookie premier class campaign in 2006.
Suppo said: “We always speak about Ducati not being able to win without Casey, but it has been exactly the same for Honda and Dani. In normal circumstances, only Dani has been able to win with the Honda. For Dani and Casey it is a new situation because they both have in the same garage on the same bike another super strong rider and it will be interesting to see how they react.”
The biggest news at Qatar was the new gearbox that has given the Honda a clear technical advantage. Rumors first emerged in Sepang last month that Honda had introduced a dual clutch transmission system for this season, despite such technology being banned in the rules. Honda though has developed a new quick shifting gearbox and 2007 world champion Stoner said: “It makes each gear selection smoother, especially when you have a big step in the gearbox. It doesn’t drop quite as hard or affect the bike quite as much. It is a bit smoother and when you’re changing gear on the exit of a corner on the edge, that’s where it feels makes a difference. Whether or not it’s faster I don’t know but it gives you confidence, there is less movement in the bike and you have less issues.”
Repsol Honda teammate Andrea Dovizioso said of the new gearbox in qualifying: “The big difference you feel at this track is when you change direction with lean angle and you need to shift gear like in turn two and three and ten and eleven. When you need to change gear with lean angle the bike is very soft and it doesn’t disturb the bike.”