World Champion Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) held off a trio of determined riders to win the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit outside of the Qatari capital of Doha. Rossi's teammate Jorge Lorenzo was second, with Repsol Honda's Andrea
Dovizioso speeding to the final podium position with a fine third place finish to start his season.
The race began with Rossi leading, but under pressure from Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa, who made a lightning fast start from seventh on the grid. Pedrosa took the lead on the second lap before being passed by Ducati rider Casey Stoner.
Stoner, starting from the pole, then sped away and held over a two second lead when he crashed in turn four on lap six.
That put Rossi at the point of the spear, but under pressure from Nicky Hayden (Ducati) and Dovizioso. Not far back were Pedrosa and Rossi's teammate Jorge Lorenzo.
Rossi controlled the pace well past half distance when Dovizioso used Honda power to draft past the world champion on the front straightaway. Rossi soon regained the lead, while Dovizioso and Hayden fought over second. Dovi took the spot on the 19th of 22 laps and was on his way to second when Lorenzo passed him on lap 21. Dovizioso was under the threat of missing out on the podium when Hayden passed Dovi on the last lap. But the second year Repsol Honda powered out of the final corner to take third by .011 secs.
Pedrosa would encounter handling problems and fall back to seventh place, one spot behind LCR Honda's Randy de Puniet. De Puniet, who'd qualified fourth, the top Honda rider, rode a mostly solitary race to sixth, his best result since finishing on the podium in last year's rain-hit British Grand Prix.
After overcoming a difficult start, Interwetten Honda MotoGP's Hiroshi Aoyama was involved in a spirited three-way fight with veterans Colin Edwards (Yamaha) and Loris Capirossi, the Italian who was racing in his 300th grand prix. Aoyama was happy to reach his goal of a top ten finish and looked forward to his home grand prix in two weeks at Motegi.
Finishing one position behind Aoyama came San Carlo Honda Gresini's Marco Simoncelli, another GP debutant. Simoncelli was happy to finish well into the points after a difficult testing season. The rookie admitted that he needs to better understand the race rubber so as to be more of a threat in the second half of the race when the tyres start to fade.
San Carlo Honda Gresini's Marco Melandri finished 13th in what he felt was one of the most disappointing races of his career. A problem with the connection between the throttle and the rear tyre made for a long night for the veteran rider. However, Melandri was confident the team could find a solution and put it into place for the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi in less than two weeks time.
Honda rider quotes.
Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda: 3rd. "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, LCR Honda: 6th. "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, Repsol Honda: 7th. "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, Interwetten Honda MotoGP: 10th. "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, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 11th. "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, San Carlo Honda Gresini, 13th. "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."