After all the preseason talk about Dani Pedrosa
being the expected rider to beat in the new 800cc MotoGP
formula, it was his old 250cc class rival, Casey Stoner
, who stole all the glory in Qatar.
"Valentino and I had a pretty good battle, it was nice riding up front again. When he came by later on I decided to see how much further the bike can go and I was able to break a bit of an advantage. On the last lap I didn't realize I had a gap and rode the fastest lap."
Starting from pole position was GP golden boy Valentino Rossi
, but by the end of the first lap, the Ducati-mounted Stoner was leading the pack after a brazen overtaking move on Rossi. Meanwhile, the Repsol Honda of Pedrosa and the Rizla Suzuki of American John Hopkins gave chase.
Texan Colin Edwards, who also started from the front row, had a poor tire-spinning launch and a lackluster race to a sixth-place finish, losing a position to Marco Melandri late in the race. Fellow American Nicky Hayden had a tough day on his Repsol Honda, being harried by Randy de Puniet, though the Kawasaki rider eventually pushed too hard and crashed out of the race. Also crashing out of the race were Loris Capirossi and Carlos Checa. Hayden would end up in eighth, a lowly position for a reigning world champ and one spot behind the Suzuki of Chris Vermeulen.
"I tried to learn as much as I could in the race," reported a dejected Hayden. "I really felt like I rode my hardest and had some good dices with a few of the guys - I just about caught Vermeulen on the last lap and I got faster as the race went on. My last two laps were my fastest laps of the race and that's the positive thing. It's been a tough weekend but I'm not going to whine and make a bunch of excuses. I qualified ninth and finished eight and, compared to the top boys, we we've just been off the pace for the whole weekend."
While the battle for first place between Stoner and Rossi raged up front, an even more intense fight developed for the final spot on the podium. A small mistake by Pedrosa allowed the leaders to gap him and cause him to fall into the clutches of a very determined Hopkins. Hopper, who missed the final preseason test due to injury, gutted out a great ride that fell just a half-second short of his maiden podium position.
"I'm happy with the result today and to start the season with a third place is pretty useful," said Pedrosa. "We had a fair few problems this weekend, so to finish on the podium is good for us. I made a great start, which I was happy with because my practice starts this weekend weren't as good as this. In the race I was trying to ride at the maximum and then I made a mistake in the last corner and lost the slipstream to the riders in front."
Up front, Rossi went in for the kill on lap 18 of the 22-lap affair, putting a pass on the young Stoner in one of his patented late-race surges. But the Ducati proved to be blazingly fast down the front straight and could easily blast past The Doctor's Yamaha M1. Stoner, who logged the quickest lap of the race, regained control of the top position and put nearly 3 seconds between himself and the god-like Rossi by the end of the race.
For the Australian Stoner, he not only scored his first-ever MotoGP victory, he also becomes the first winner in the 800cc era of the premier class in motorcycle racing.
"We couldn't ask for much more," explained Stoner, "it was my first time racing with Ducati and Bridgestone, a perfect start. I couldn't be happier with the weekend, the team worked perfectly and the bike and tires were perfect in the race. We had a bit of a speed advantage and though we had some dramas in other parts of the track I played to the strengths of the bike and was able to do some pretty fast lap times."
For Rossi, he said after the race that he was worried about some problem he had with his tires during morning practice, but that didn't end up being a factor in his race.
"I got a great start and my M1 worked very well," said the multi-time champ. "I could ride it how I wanted on the limit and keep pushing. I wanted to push Casey and try to take the fight to him more, but in fact he was perfect today. He didn't make a single mistake as far as I could see and he rode very well; he deserved to win, so congratulations to him. I could see that he was faster on the straight and so I knew that if I got in front I was going to need to make a gap from him, but in fact he was too strong! In the last few laps we were getting faster and faster and I thought I still had a chance, but then he kept on going and my tire started to slide a little bit so I wasn't able to stay with him to the finish. Now we need to find a little bit more horsepower, but Yamaha is working very hard and I am confident that we will continue to improve."
1. Casey Stoner (Ducati)
2. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
3. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
4. John Hopkins (Suzuki)
5. Marco Melandri (Honda)
6. Colin Edwards (Yamaha)
7. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki)
8. Nicky Hayden (Honda)
9. Alex Barros (Ducati)
10. Shinya Nakano (Honda)
11. Alex Hofmann (Ducati)
12. Olivier Jacque (Kawasaki)
13. Kenny Roberts (Team KR)
14. Toni Elias (Honda)
15. Sylvain Guintoli (Yamaha)