Australian Casey Stoner made the perfect start in his bid to reclaim the World MotoGP title and cast aside doubts over his fitness by winning his third straight Qatar Grand Prix on Monday.
Stoner led from start to finish on his Ducati ahead of reigning world champion Valentino Rossi and Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo in a race that had to be held over from Sunday because of heavy rain at Doha’s Losail circuit.
And in a ominous sign for his rivals, 23-year-old Stoner declared he was approaching full fitness again after recovering from a wrist problem that had threatened his season at one stage.
After undergoing scaphoid surgery in November, Stoner had yet to complete any full race distances heading into the season opener but said his wrist held up well.
“My wrist felt 100 per cent tonight but I still need to work on my overall fitness after the down time over the winter but I’m sure we can keep progressing,” Stoner said.
“I am not surprised by winning here as I felt great physically and definitely better than last year.
“I’m so pleased with this victory because it is fruit of the hard work done by everybody at Ducati over the winter.”
Stoner started from pole and built up a two second gap at the end of the first lap.
The 2007 world champion’s victory never looked in serious doubt as he controlled the race from the front following a dominant performance over the weekend.
Stoner’s winning margin was more than seven seconds at the end of a brilliant performance as he landed the first blow of what promises to be a thrilling battle for the title.
Rossi, meanwhile, was satisfied enough with his first race.
“We have made worse starts to a season than this, so I have to be content with the performance,” said the Italian, who has won the title eight times.
“I was fast enough and able to stay within two seconds of him (Stoner) but the front wheel was really badly worn and I nearly fell two or three times.
“Therefore I decided to slow down.”
Australian Chris Vermeulen equalled his best-ever result at Losail by racing his Suzuki to seventh place, after being among the leading group early on.
“It was not the result we wanted because we were hoping to be in the top five,” Vermeulen said.
The season continues with the Japan Grand Prix at the Motegi Twin Ring circuit on April 26.