AUSTRALIA’S Casey Stoner, the 2007 world champion, began his campaign for a third Qatar MotoGP victory 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 preparing for tonight’s desert race.
Rossi, twice a winner here, was second fastest in 1:57.439 on his Yamaha, with Colin Edwards, also on a Yamaha, in third, 0.782s off Stoner’s impressive pace.
With all riders on Bridgestone tyres, Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, the pole-sitter here last year, took fourth just ahead of Honda’s Alex de Angelis.
"The bike is working very well," said 23-year-old Stoner.
"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 [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," he said. "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.
"So we are looking forward to starting the season and we will see how things go."
Rossi said his Yamaha was 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," said the eight-time world champion.
"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."
Meanwhile, on the eve of the Hamilton 400 in New Zealand, reigning V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup has declared he has unfinished business across the Tasman.
A year ago, the only black mark in an otherwise perfect campaign came for Whincup on the streets of Hamilton after he crashed out of the weekend during qualifying. Before hitting the wall, writing his Ford off in the process, Whincup had looked like the driver to beat after setting impressive times during practice and qualifying.
Instead, arch-rival Garth Tander went on to win all three races.
But Whincup said he was determined to make amends.
"Crashing out at the Hamilton was a big black mark on what was otherwise a fantastic year," Whincup said.
"At the same time, it was probably the event that really turned my year. We promised ourselves from there on in that we would do whatever it took to win the championship."