Valentino Rossi got his title defence off to a perfect start by taking the first win of the season in Qatar after polesitter, Casey Stoner, crashed out of the lead just five laps into the race.
Front row qualifiers Stoner, Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo all got good starts, but it was Dani Pedrosa on the Repsol Honda who led the field into the first turn, after a lightning start from the third row of the grid.
Pedrosa and Rossi swapped the lead for two laps, before Stoner pushed his way to the front and started to pull away from the chasing group. The Ducati Marlboro rider posted the fastest lap of the race on his fourth lap, as he tried to open a gap on his pursuers. The Australian was still pushing hard when he made an uncharacteristic mistake, lost the front and crashed out of the lead on the very next lap.
With Stoner gone and a clear track in front of him, Rossi upped the pace and tried to pull away from the field. Nicky Hayden on the second Ducati Marlboro Desmosedici and Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso rode hard to stay in contact with the reigning World Champion and, on lap 16, Dovizioso managed to squeeze his way past the Fiat Yamaha to briefly take the race lead.
Rossi retook the lead on the following lap and held it to the line, ending Stoner’s run of three successive victories in Qatar.
“I got a fantastic start, but I wasn’t quite fast enough and was suffering on the straight,” said Rossi. “I lost some time passing Pedrosa and by then Stoner was quite far from me. I thought then that it was going to be hard to catch him! Then he made a mistake and crashed, which was bad luck for him but crucial for us.”
Dovizioso was very strong and we had a good battle. I did three or four laps at maximum and managed to stay in front, but it wasn’t easy. I haven’t won at the first race since 2005 and these 25 points at this stage are like gold dust, it’s a fantastic result for the team to make a 1-2 at race one. I ran out of fuel on the slow down lap, but it was very funny to come to Parc Ferme ridinga scooter” added the reigning World Champion and race winner.
A hard charging Jorge Lorenzo, passed both Hayden and Dovizioso on the penultimate lap to make it a Fiat Yamaha 1-2 on the podium. After getting the better of Dovizioso on the final lap Hayden looked all set to secure the final podium place, but the Italian rider managed to slingshot past the American on the run to the line, denying the Ducati rider by the narrowest of margins.
Ben Spies finished an impressive fifth on his debut as a full-time MotoGP rider with the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team. LCR Honda rider, Randy de Puniet, finished in sixth place ahead of Dani Pedrosa, who had faded back through the field after an impressive start to the race.
Colin Edwards took eighth place on the line with Loris Capirossi, in his 300th Grand Prix, just one second further back in ninth. Hiroshi Aoyama rounded out the top ten on his MotoGP debut, finishing ahead of Marco Simoncelli, Hector Barbera and Marco Melandri.
Expectations were high ahead of the first ever Moto2 race in Qatar tonight and the new four-stroke class certainly didn’t disappoint. After a race that saw pitched battles fought out from the front to the back, 19-year-old Japanese rider, Shoya Tomizawa, wrote his name in the record books by taking the first ever Moto2 win.
Toni Elias made a great start from pole position to lead the 41-strong field into turn one. By turn two he was the only rider who qualified on the front row left in the race, as Alex De Angelis crashed out and took Stefan Bradl with him in turn one and Julian Simon retired his RSV machine after cooking the clutch at the start.
Elias was ousted from the lead by a hard charging Jules Cluzel on lap two, which prompted a fairing bashing battle at the front as Elias, Cluzel, Alex Debon and Tomizawa all fought it out to take the honours in the first race of this new World Championship class.
Tomizawa eventually fought his way to the front on lap six and was never headed for the remainder of the race, as the other Moto2 combatants held each other up fighting for the privilege of leading the chase for the Japanese rider. Elias eventually succumbed to the pain of his injuries, sustained in a testing crash just two weeks ago, settling for fourth place and leaving Debon and Cluzel to sort out the two remaining podium positions between them. At the line it was Debon who took second, with Cluzel a very close third.
Roberto Rolfo brought his Italtrans Suter MMX machine home in fifth place, closely followed by Mattia Pasini, Thomas Luthi, Simone Corsi and Gabor Talmacsi, who’d battled together throughout the 20-lap race. Sergio Gadea rounded out the top ten aboard his Pons Kalex machine.
The 125cc grid may be smaller this year, but tonight’s race in Qatar was as close and exciting as ever, as Nico Terol overcame four hard charging Derbi riders to take the race win aboard his Bancaja Aspar Aprilia.
Efren Vazquez got a lightning start from the front row of the grid to take the race lead as Marc Marquez, Terol Tito Rabat and Pol Espargaro continually swapped positions behind him.
Marquez took the lead briefly on lap 7 and again on lap 12, before Terol pushed through to the front and, following an out of the seat moment for Vazquez that baulked the pursuing pack, managed to pull out an advantage that he held to the chequered flag.
Vazquez took second place on the line, with Marquez taking third and making it an all-Spanish podium for the first 125cc race of the new season.
Sandro Cortese got the better of Randy Krummenacher to take fourth place, with the Swiss rider followed home by a fading Rabat, Bradley Smith and Tomoyoshi Koyama. Alexis Masbou completed the top ten aboard his Ongetta Aprilia.
MOTOGP RIDER QUOTES:
Valentino Rossi: “I got a fantastic start but I wasn’t quite fast enough and was suffering on the straight. I lost some time passing Pedrosa and by then Stoner was quite far from me, I thought then that it was going to be hard to catch him! Then he made a mistake and crashed, which was bad luck for him but crucial for us. After that I expected it would be easier but in fact it was very hard to stay in front of Dovizioso, who was very strong. We had a good battle and then I did three or four laps at the maximum and was able to stay in front, but it wasn’t easy! I haven’t won at the first race since 2005 and these 25 points at this stage are like gold dust, it’s a fantastic result for the team to make a one-two at race one. It’s especially good to win here because it doesn’t suit our bike, we worked very cleverly throughout the practices and this is the reward, so thanks to all my guys. We definitely have some work to do but this is a good base to start from. I ran out of fuel on the slow down lap, I think I used more than expected early on because I was sliding quite a lot, but it was very funny to come to Parc Ferme riding a scooter!”
Jorge Lorenzo: “Today I had to disconnect my brain and just ride with my heart, and I am so happy about this second place. My hand was a bit sore but the bigger problem was the rear sliding, and early on with a full fuel tank I found it quite hard. My plan was to take it quietly and not risk too much, but after a while the adrenalin built up and I couldn’t do that, I had to ride at the maximum! Once I had less fuel it was easier and I started to get closer, but I was on the limit physically and with the bike, so it was quite risky! I made some good overtakes at the end and this is a fantastic result for our team, with Valentino winning as well. Now we go to Motegi, where I won last year, and I will be in better physical condition by then and ready to be even stronger.”
Nicky Hayden: “Man! I really didn’t expect to be so tough in the race but the team made a couple of small changes that made a huge difference and right from the warm-up lap I felt good. I got a great start and Rossi didn’t seem a lot faster than me. In a couple of places he was getting away but I just tried to stay in there and learn something – it’s been so long since I ran at the front. If you offered me fourth place, two seconds behind Rossi, before the race I would have taken it but to be so close to the podium and not actually up there… it hurts. Still, it’s a long season and there are a lot of opportunities ahead of us. I’m sorry for Casey but fourth place with all the other heavies in there has got to be my best result. We got some good points in the bag so we’ll take it, get out of here and move on. Big thanks to the team and everybody at Ducati for sticking behind me and for all their hard work this winter. I hope I can repay them this year.”
Casey Stoner: “The bike bogged at the start so I didn’t get away well but I felt good and I was able to pass the other guys. Once I got to the front I started to get into my rhythm but I lost the front end a couple of times in long corners so I made the decision to try to ride a bit smoother and not put so much pressure on the front tyre with the full tank. Unfortunately that is what led to the crash because looking at the telemetry I didn’t have enough load on the front, so I guess in hindsight I should have stuck to the way I’d been riding all weekend. It’s my mistake and I apologise to the team because we’d done a great job this weekend and we leave empty handed. Having said that it’s not a complete disaster because we’ve found this weekend that the bike has improved in areas where we have struggled in the past – for example the rear grip was unbelievable – and we have a long, long way to go. I’m pleased for Nicky because he had a great race and I think we can both be confident and optimistic about the rest of the season with this bike.”
Andrea Dovizioso: “I’m really happy about this podium – it’s a great satisfaction. It was so important to begin the season with a good result and I hope this is just the start. Today’s podium is the result of the hard work done by Honda, the technicians, the team and myself during the winter. I have to thank Honda, Repsol and all the sponsors for having believed in me also when the results were not coming. In fact, today I really believed I could get second position and it was a pity that I couldn’t keep it until the very end. My start was not so good but the first five laps were crucial for me to recover positions and glue myself behind Valentino. My Honda was very fast on the straight and I could use this advantage to compensate for our weaker points on the track. I can say that I lost my race in Turn 10. We struggled in T3 for the whole weekend but tonight I understood that we lost so much in the long left hand turn – Turn 10. When Valentino overtook me I tried to re-pass him, but he overtook me again and then I didn’t have the possibility to get back by. I did a masterpiece in the last corner of the last lap where I overtook Nicky on the inside and then I used all the power of the RC212V to get to the line first. Tonight I raced with my heart, and this result is a good motivation for myself and everyone in the Repsol Honda Team.”
Randy de Puniet: “All the weekend I was up there and I am very satisfied about this result. My start was not that bad, but with a bit of traffic I have got a little bit pushed out in the first corner. After that I lapped a smart race as my pace on race trim was really good like the top guys. At five laps to go we were five seconds behind the leader, which is incredible for us as a satellite team. The hard work we have made in the winter and the long run we have been made adjusting the race map have helped us to get this positive result in the first round of the season.”
Dani Pedrosa: “I made a good start and was able to stay at or near the front of the race for the first few laps. It really wasn’t easy though and we had a few handling issues with the machine that meant unfortunately it was impossible for me to maintain that pace. I fought as hard as I could to hold off the other riders but in the end there was no way I could keep them behind. On the one hand it’s encouraging that we could achieve this early pace because the winter testing has not been easy, but on the other it proves we still have a lot of work to do to get the machine the way I need so that I can be at the front at the end rather than the start of the race. This isn’t the ideal start to the season and I’d hoped to be able to fight for a podium here, but it’s a long season and we’ll stay focused and work as hard as possible to improve things. Congratulations to Andrea on the podium. We’ll come back fighting at Motegi – it’s a circuit I like and I hope to get a much better result there.”
Hiroshi Aoyama: “This is a good result, not great, but good. I pushed all the 22 laps and I did what I was able to do. I had a horrible start and lost some positions in the first few laps that I had to fight back. Therefore the 10th place is a good result for my first MotoGP race. If I would have had a better start I don’t know where I would have been then. Now I look forward to go home and see my family as I will go straight to Japan for a visit.”
Marco Simoncelli: “I’m pretty happy with what you could call a decent debut. After having struggled in the winter tests we’ve seen tonight that I am in shape to fight with the mid-pack, if not the front guys just yet. I’m happy with the first half of my race but when the tyres went off I couldn’t stick the pace with Capirossi and Edwards and had to ‘pull the oars into the boat’! It was tough for me to keep a fast pace when I was riding on my own so I slowed down. There were definitely positive aspects to take from this and now we move on.”
Marco Melandri: “That was a very disappointing race, one of the worst of my career. It was impossible for me to ride – I was struggling from the start and after a few laps it got worse, with the engine braking system cutting out which meant I couldn’t even brake properly. There was something wrong with the throttle connection and I couldn’t work out how much to open the gas – sometimes I was giving too much and the bike was moving around on the exits of the corners. It is a bad race to end a disappointing weekend. I just have to keep the faith that my team can help me find a solution. Unfortunately I am a very sensitive rider with a specific style and it seems this bike is not the best solution for me. I’m really upset.”
Loris Capirossi: “I am a bit upset about the result because we thought we would go better than that. We have worked hard all weekend, but we struggled with the conditions today, because it was so different to yesterday with a lot more humidity tonight. I struggled in the third section of the track and was not very fast there, but in other sections I was quite strong. My rhythm was not too good and in the end I was just trying to defend my position. We don’t need results like this; we need to be nearer the front, especially for all the effort that everybody is putting in. It was not easy, but we need to keep working well and feeling well. I feel sorry for Alvaro because he has had a tough weekend, but we will continue to work hard together and makes things happen.”
Alvaro Bautista: “This has been a disaster of a race for me! Seriously though, I had a bad start and Barbera pushed me out on lap two and I lost everything. I used the next part of the race like a practice because I had no other riders to fight with. In the middle of the race I got a better rhythm and it was not so bad. I caught two riders, but in the last corner I crashed. I feel like I cannot say that I have done my first MotoGP race because I never finished. The positive thing is that my rhythm was not too bad and for the next race we can only improve. We must continue to work hard and to try to make things better.”
Mika Kallio: “What to say ! Perhaps the worst start of my career. Frankly, even the most unlucky: I managed to gain some positions in the first turn, but in the second Spies touched me making me lose five positions. After a few curves also Barbera has accidentally hit me sending me outside the track. I managed to stay on my bike and came back in last position. I was trying to push hard to reach the group but I slipped and at that moment there was nothing else I could do. We have to forget this race, a long season is ahead of us.”
Aleix Espargarò: “In the first laps I had some difficulties, but when I felt that my feeling with the bike was improving I found myself with my back side on the ground. I was approaching the riders in front of me and I was very confident to reach them. I don’t have much more to say, we will have to earn the points lost here in two weeks time in Japan.”