Tuesday, April 14, 2009

MotoGP Qatar: Stoner Reigns In The Desert at Night

Casey Stoner made a perfect start to this year's MotoGP campaign, crushing the opposition at Qatar in one of his trademark lights-to-flag victories. The race took place 22 hours late, after the original running was cancelled just seconds before the parade lap due to torrential rain. Ironically, the real problem was not the flood water, but the floodlights that were illuminating this night race. The glare and reflections from the lighting make the track unrideable in wet weather. This was also the first race for the new control tyre rule, so all riders were on the mandatory Bridgestone rubber.

When the lights eventually went out, Stoner fired his Marlboro Ducati off the line to lead into turn one. Loris Capirossi was in second on the Rizla Suzuki, ahead of the FIAT Yamaha pair of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. The two team-mates battled around the first lap, with Lorenzo passing his team leader for third, only for Rossi to take the place back from the young Spaniard later in the lap. At the front, Stoner was looking ominously fast. His red Ducati was glistening under the artificial lights, and he was easily pulling away from Capirossi's powder blue Suzuki.

Marco Melandri had impressed in practise and qualifying on the Hayate Kawasaki, but his luck ran out as the field entered the first corner on lap 2. The Italian outbraked himself and ran off the track at high speed, but managed to stay onboard and set off after the disappearing tail enders.

Having dealt with his team-mate, Valentino Rossi quickly closed down the gap to his fellow Italian Capirossi, and passed the veteran on lap 3. Andrea Dovizioso took his Repsol Honda past Lorenzo for 4th position. Now Stoner was well in front, ahead of a four-way scrap between Rossi, Capirossi, Dovizioso and Lorenzo, with Rizla Suzuki rider Chris Vermeulen behind them in 6th, followed by Monster Energy Yamaha's Colin Edwards. The two ex-Superbike racers were fighting amongst themselves, with Edwards passing Vermeulen to take 6th position. Loris Capirossi could not maintain his early pace, and lost 3rd place to his much younger countryman Dovizioso.

Things started to get exciting on lap 7. Jorge Lorenzo outbraked Dovizioso to nick third place, the pair almost touching on the start finish straight. James Toseland on the second Monster Energy Yamaha then ran off the track at turn one, much the same way as Melandri had earlier. Loris Capirossi was struggling for pace, and with Colin Edwards breathing down his neck, the Italian slid off the track in a right-hander. What would be a fairly standard lowside crash was transformed into an amazing night-time spectacle, as the Suzuki scraped down the track throwing up a massive shower of sparks. Little Capirex was uninjured, and trudged away unaided.

At the front, Valentino Rossi had chipped away at Casey Stoner's lead, with the gap down to just 2 seconds...

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