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Stoner Starts Season With Qatar Victory; Lorenzo Surprising Second

Casey Stoner delivered Honda an expected victory in the season-opening Grand Prix of Qatar on March 20, but MotoGP may have a true race on its hands, after all.

2007 World Champion Stoner made a victorious debut with the Repsol Honda Team at the Losail Circuit. But arguably the most impressive ride of the race came from defending World Champion Jorge Lorenzo, who finished second on his factory Yamaha, 3.440 seconds behind Stoner.

Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso finished third and fourth, respectively, to ensure Repsol Honda captured three of the top four places.

Ben Spies was the leading finisher among the three Americans on the grid, placing sixth in his debut with the Yamaha factory team. Colin Edwards placed eighth on his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, followed by 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden in ninth on a factory Ducati.

Honda riders led every preseason test session in 2011, and they also dominated practice and qualifying for this season-opening night race, with Stoner winning the pole.

But 2009 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Lorenzo signaled that Yamaha was ready to fight on the first lap, briefly taking the lead. Stoner and Pedrosa then passed Lorenzo on Lap 2 and exchanged the lead several times.

Stoner pulled away from Pedrosa halfway through the 22-lap race and never trailed thereafter. But Lorenzo stalked Pedrosa, passing his fellow Spaniard and rival with eight laps to go.

Pedrosa regained the lead for two laps, but Lorenzo blitzed past the tiring Pedrosa in the closing laps to earn second. Pedrosa complained of problems with his left arm late in the race, which he said prevented him from squeezing the clutch.

The duels between Stoner and Pedrosa for the lead and Lorenzo and Pedrosa for second were just two of the many tussles all around the track. One of the most spirited battles took place between Spies and seven-time MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi, making his Ducati debut.

Spies overcame a slow start to challenge and pass 2008 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Rossi, who ended up seventh, still weakened by major offseason shoulder surgery.

The next race is the Grand Prix of Spain on April 3 at Jerez. There will be four Americans on the grid, as John Hopkins will race for Rizla Suzuki as a replacement for Alvaro Bautista, who suffered a broken leg in a practice crash March 18 at Qatar.

The Red Bull Indianapolis GP is scheduled for Aug. 26-28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

***

RESULTS

DOHA, Qatar – Results of the 22-lap Grand Prix of Qatar MotoGP race, with position, rider, country, motorcycle, time behind winner. All riders on Bridgestone tires:
1. Casey Stoner Australia Ducati
2. Jorge Lorenzo Spain Yamaha +3.440
3. Dani Pedrosa Spain Honda +5.051
4. Andrea Dovizioso Italy Honda +5.942
5. Marco Simoncelli Italy Honda +7.358
6. Ben Spies United States Yamaha +10.468
7. Valentino Rossi Italy Ducati +14.431
8. Colin Edwards United States Yamaha +26.293
9. Nicky Hayden United States Ducati +27.416
10. Hiroshi Aoyama Japan Honda +28.920
11. Cal Crutchlow Great Britain Yamaha +34.539
12. Hector Barbera Spain Ducati +34.829
13. Karel Abraham Czech Republic Ducati +37.957
NC Toni Elias Spain Honda +4 laps
NC Loris Capirossi Italy Ducati +21 laps
NC Randy de Puniet France Ducati
NC – Not classified
Fastest lap: Stoner, 1:55.366, Lap 13; Pole lap: Stoner, 1:54.137

***

POINTS

Riders: Stoner 25, Lorenzo 20, Pedrosa 16, Dovizioso 13, Simoncelli 11, Spies 10, Rossi 9, Edwards 8, Hayden 7, Aoyama 6, Crutchlow 5, Barbera 4, Abraham 3.

Manufacturers: Honda 25, Yamaha 20, Ducati 9.

***

PODIUM QUOTES

CASEY STONER (Repsol Honda Team, winner): “After a great preseason, we came into this race weekend, and everything kept getting better and better for us. This morning in warm-up we had a few issues getting a good feeling with the bike carrying a full tank of fuel, and this issue also affected us in the early part of the race. But we knew as the fuel level decreased and the tires aged that our bike would come back to us. Dani came past, and we decided to follow to see where he was strong and where I was weak. Then when I started to feel more confident with the bike and had more grip and better turning, we decided to push forward and take advantage. Tonight the bike was fantastic, as it has been for all the sessions, and I'm very proud to be racing for Repsol Honda and to take my first victory in the first race. It is a great way to start the season. I'm really happy with how everything has gone and the way the team has all worked together. A big thanks to Honda, and my best wishes to Japan in this difficult time.”

JORGE LORENZO (Yamaha Factory Racing, second): “I think maybe I am more proud of that podium than a race victory; that’s how I feel tonight. I feel very proud of myself and my team who never gave up and worked to give me the best bike that they can. I put everything I have inside into my riding on the track for the race from the start to the end and was on the limit every lap. I almost crashed on one corner, but I managed to stay on the bike and finished in second position, which is the best that I could do.

DANI PEDROSA (Repsol Honda Team, third): “I’m disappointed, not for the race I had, but for the physical problems I had again with my left arm. Already in practice I felt something, but I was not sure if it could be that bad, at the end I couldn't grab the handlebar. And in the last seven or eight laps, I couldn't use the clutch at all. I was just holding the arm, and I was suffering a lot. The bike was perfect all race. I had the chance to win, but I had a very hard time, one of the toughest races of my life. I don't know what can I do because should be OK after the rest I had this winter. I did the tests, and everything was in order. In the winter tests, I was a bit weak, but I felt all right, so I don't know what we have to do. I feel sorry for my team, as well, because the bike was very good, fast, perfect also in the corners. I'm proud of how I've been riding. I've been fighting with Casey in this circuit as nobody else did in the past, but at the same time I feel sad because I don't know what the future will bring. I know we will go to Jerez in two weeks, where the bike will run very well, and I'm very strong and fast, but I don't know what will happen.”

***

AMERICAN RIDER QUOTES

BEN SPIES (Yamaha Factory Racing, sixth): “That’s the first race of the year done and dusted. It wasn’t picture perfect and I got pushed out a bit in Turn 1, getting trapped behind Barbera and Rossi the first few laps. They were fighting together, which meant I lost touch with the guys in front. Other than that, it was a good race. I struggled to get by Valentino for a while. He was riding really well, and he’s not an easy guy to get around. Once we were able to get past, we set fast lap times, and the bike was feeling good. It was just the first part of the race that didn’t pan out; I didn’t get a lucky break on the start. We race in two weeks, so I’m happy to get back on it at Jerez. It’s the first race of the year. I didn’t make top five, but we got some points, so I’m happy.”

COLIN EDWARDS (Monster Yamaha Tech 3, eighth): “That was the best I could do, and I'm happy with t

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