Australia’s Casey Stoner, the 2007 world champion, began his campaign for a third Qatar MotoGP victory on Friday by setting the fastest time in practice.
The Ducati rider, runner-up to Valentino Rossi in the world championship last season, clocked 1 minute, 57.053 seconds, dazzling his rivals beneath the floodlights ahead of today’s night-time desert race.
Rossi, twice a winner in Qatar, was second fastest, enjoying a time of 1 minute, 57.439 seconds on his Yamaha with Colin Edwards, also on a Yamaha, in third place.
With all riders on Bridgestone tires, Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, the pole-sitter last year, took fourth just ahead of Honda’s Alex de Angelis.
“The bike is working very well,” 23-year-old Stoner said. “The settings that we found in Jerez seem to be working quite well here also, but we still need to improve a couple of things like everybody. The track conditions are not perfect yet, though by the time we arrive on Saturday for qualifying it should be fine.”
Stoner added he was happy with his recovery from winter surgery on his wrist.
“There’s no problem with my wrist. I would like to be able to do more physical training, but that is not an excuse and the wrist is not causing any issues,” the Australian said. “So we are looking forward to starting the season and we will see how things go.”
Rossi believes his Yamaha is improving all the time.
“This evening I am quite happy because at the test we were one second from Casey, but now the gap is much less,” the eight-time world champion said. “We had some ideas after the test to improve our pace and I am happy to say that they all seemed to have worked. I am fast, I have a good pace and I am happy with this opening session.”
Rossi will remember the victims of this week’s devastating Abruzzo earthquake today. He said his bike will bear a message to the families of the 290 people who died in the quake.
“This weekend I have a special sticker on my bike, which says ‘Forza Abruzzo,’” the Italian rider said. “It’s a message from us for the people of Abruzzo. It’s not so far from my home in Tavullia and I want them to know that we are with them at such a terrible time.”