Rossi wins Qatar MotoGP

Bruce Hepburn

Johannesburg - Reigning MotoGP world champion, Valentino Rossi (Fiat Yamaha), won the Qatar MotoGP Grand Prix on Sunday after race leader Casey Stoner (Marlboro Ducati) crashed out. 

Stoner had dominated the practice sessions, qualifying and Sunday's warm-up and took the lead on lap three of the season-opening race being held under floodlights, but just two laps later the Australian was trudging back to the pits after throwing it all away.

The win gave 31-year-old Rossi a huge psychological advantage over Stoner at the start of the 18-round championship as he chases his tenth world championship title.

Jorge Lorenzo made it a Fiat Yamaha 1-2 after a late charge carried him through to second place. Behind him, Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) took the final podium position by just 11/1000th sec after a charge to the line with Nicky Hayden (Marlboro Ducati) who was fourth.

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) made the best start of all, blitzing his way from the third row to hit the first corner ahead of the pack. Rossi was hot on the Spaniard's heels with the Ducatis of Hayden and Stoner right behind, but by the fourth corner, Rossi had barged through into the lead and began to get away at the front. Dovizioso moved past Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki) into sixth as Rossi, Pedrosa, Hayden and Stoner completed the first lap at the front.

On the second tour, Pedrosa got past Rossi to regain the lead while Stoner went on a charge - passing his team mate for third and then getting past Rossi too a couple of corners later. The Australian was all over the back of Pedrosa, looking for a way past as Rossi closed right up on the pair of them.

As they started the third lap, Stoner hit the front followed by Pedrosa, Rossi, Hayden, Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Ben Spies (Monster Yamaha), Capirossi, Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) and Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda). Dovizioso got past Lorenzo and closed up on Hayden, while Mika Kallio (Pramac Ducati) crashed out without injury.

On lap three, Stoner set the fastest lap of the race - 1'56.008 - while Rossi got up the inside of Pedrosa to take second, 0.9 sec behind Stoner, and Hayden got past Dovizioso into third.

On the next lap, Stoner improved his time to 1'55.537, but he was pushing too hard and he lost the front end of the Ducati in turn four and crashed out without injury. The Australian had won the last three races at Qatar, and had dominated proceedings up to this point of the race weekend, but would take nothing away from the race.

Lorenzo barged up the inside of Pedrosa into fourth while just behind, Spies was closing up and fancying a move on the Spaniard too.

On lap eight, Dovizioso got past Hayden again into second while MotoGP rookie Aleix Espargaró (Pramac Ducati) returned to the garage and retirement.

the pace at the front was competitive and frantic, with the top seven riders covered by just 2.9 sec.

On lap nine, Spies got past Pedrosa at turn 14 into fifth, but the Spaniard's Honda was quickest down the straight and he drafted past the Kentuckian down the straight, but Spies outbraked him at the first corner and went ahead again. De Puniet was close behind the pair and then pounced on the unsettled Pedrosa and got past. Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha) got past fellow veteran Capirossi, in his 300th GP, into eighth.

As the race reached half distance, Rossi held a 0.2 sec lead over Dovizioso followed by Hayden +0.5, Lorenzo +1.3, Spies +3.6, de Puniet +3.9, Pedrosa +4.5, Edwards +5.7, Capirossi +10.5 and Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda) +11.5.

Hayden was closing up on second-placed Dovizioso who in turn was closing the gap between himself and race leader Rossi/

Álvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki) and Héctor Barberá (Aspar Ducati), old 250cc sparring mates, were battling it out over 13th place, a lap down on the leaders.

At the start of lap 15, Dovizioso got alongside Rossi and tried to outbrake him, but the reigning world champion held onto the racing line and the lead. Dovizioso got past on the next lap and led down the straight, the Honda clocking an 11km/h faster top speed than the Yamaha, but Rossi outbraked him into turn one to regain the lead, while Hayden watched from half a second back. The Texan was close enough to overlap wheels with the Italian before getting past before the end of lap 17.

But Dovizioso just powered down the main straight and back into second place again - one second behind Rossi who set his personal best lap of 1'56.130.

On the penultimate lap, Lorenzo got past Hayden into third, then three corners later he muscled up the inside of Dovizioso into second place and managed to make his Yamaha as wide as possible down the main straight to hold the position.

Hayden managed to mount one more challenge on Dovizioso to get third place on the final lap, but Dovizioso got past again on the line by just 11 thousandths of a second!
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