MotoGP Qatar Quali Report: Stoner Ahead of Everyone, Rossi to Start 9th

What Happens When the Season Starts at Night

2:07pm EST — Casey Stoner started the 2011 season off well, winning pole for the Grand Prix of Qatar by two tenths over teammate Dani Pedrosa, with Jorge Lorenzo completing the front row. Despite fighting for a place on the front row during much of the session, new factory Yamaha rider Ben Spies will start fifth, having been pipped by Marco Simoncelli, on on of those very quick Hondas, in the final minutes of the session. Hector Barbera, famous this weekend mainly by catching a tow from anyone available, will complete the second row. Bad form for Ducati continued, with Barbera the quickest for the Italian manufacturer and new hire Valentino Rossi only able to qualify ninth, with fellow factory rider Nicky Hayden thirteenth.

MotoGP racing got started in Qatar days before the race weekend with two days of premier class testing at the desert circuit. Stoner and his fellow Honda riders dominated throughout the testing and practice sessions in Qatar, seemingly able to set fastest times at will. Stoner was nearly effusive in his praise of the Honda, and pointed in veiled criticisms of the struggling Ducati, his former team. Rossi continued to post times well down in the pack while Hayden, who has some experience with the difficult Ducati, was occasionally faster than his still-recovering teammate. Reigning champion Lorenzo has a new teammate in Spies, who was sometimes faster than the Spaniard while both were left searching for pace behind the universally quick Hondas.

In even worse news, sole Suzuki rider Alvaro Bautista had a difficult crash during the final free practice, breaking his  femur and leaving the team without a rider. After his publicity laps during the test, reserve rider John Hopkins was already home in California while offers to Moto2 riders fell through. Suzuki will not race at Qatar, though Hopkins will race for the team in Jerez.

In qualifying, Stoner and Pedrosa were the early leaders, though Spies was third fastest fifteen minutes into the hour session, followed by teammate Lorenzo and Dovizioso as the fastest five.At the halfway point, Stoner had the provisional pole with a 1:54.841, followed by Spies, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Dovizioso, and Edwards as the first two rows of the grid. Rossi was down in eleventh, a second and a half off Stoner’s pace. Stoner was fast on the fewest number of laps posted than any of the other riders.

Pedrosa had taken over the top spot when qualifying was three-quarters over, leading his teammate by .083s, with Spies, Edwards, and Lorenzo the fastest five. De Puniet was still the fastest Ducati, then seventh fastest, with injured rookie Cal Crutchlow eighth fastest after a stint as fifth fastest. Rossi was still eleventh, just over a second and a half slower than the fastest Honda.

Stoner was soon back on top (1:54.375) as the two teammates traded fastest sector times under the lights. A bit further back, the Yamaha teammates also traded positions. The Hondas of Pedrosa and Stoner were far quicker than third teammate Dovisioso, while fellow factory Honda teammates Simoncelli and Aoyama were fifth and seventh fastest with ten minutes left.

Most riders were into the garages for a quick stop and tire change before the final moments of the session, with Spies one of the first back out at around the eight minute mark. The top five remained the same with five to go, but Crutchlow was sixth fastest, moving up from tenth. Stoner was up by a half second on Pedrosa, and nearly into the 1:53s, but Pedrosa continued to get faster. Simoncelli also sped up, taking the fourth starting position from Spies. In the end, Stoner kept his dominance going and will start on pole, with Pedrosa and Lorenzo beside him.

Provisional Starting Grid for the 2011 Qatar GP:

Pos. # Rider Team Time Gap
1. 27 Casey Stoner Repsol Honda 1:54.137
2. 26 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 1:54.342 +0.205
3. 1 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha Factory 1:54.947 +0.810
4. 58 Marco Simoncelli San Carlo Gresini Honda 1:54.988 +0.851
5. 11 Ben Spies Yamaha Factory 1:55.095 +0.958
6. 8 Hector Barbera Mapfre Aspar Ducati 1:55.223 +1.086
7. 4 Andrea Dovizioso Repsol Honda 1:55.229 +1.092
8. 35 Cal Crutchlow Tech 3 Yamaha 1:55.578 +1.441
9. 46 Valentino Rossi Ducati 1:55.637 +1.500
10. 5 Colin Edwards Tech 3 Yamaha 1:55.647 +1.510
11. 14 Randy de Puniet Pramac Ducati 1:55.656 +1.519
12. 7 Hiroshi Aoyama San Carlo Gresini Honda 1:55.724 +1.587
13. 69 Nicky Hayden Ducati 1:55.881 +1.744
14. 65 Loris Capirossi Pramac Ducati 1:56.323 +2.186
15. 17 Karel Abraham Cardio AB Motoracing Ducati 1:56.665 +2.528
16. 24 Toni Elias LCR Honda 1:57.992 +3.855

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