Stoner rules in Doha

Pack leader: Honda’s Casey Stoner en route to his victory in the Qatar Moto GP. AFP

Starting from pole position after dominating all three practice sessions, Stoner beat Yamaha’s world champion Lorenzo by 3.44 seconds at the Losail circuit in a dream debut with the works Repsol Honda team.

The Australian, who raced for Ducati last year, has now won 24 Grand Prixs in the top category.

Spain’s Pedrosa, Stoner’s Honda team-mate, was struggling with a painful arm and looked exhausted after finishing just over five seconds behind the Australian, despite taking the lead on the opening lap and fighting an entertaining duel to the halfway point.

Valentino Rossi of Italy, winner of nine world titles across the classes but struggling with a shoulder injury, finished well off the pace in seventh in his first race with Ducati after leaving Yamaha.

“Definitely, it couldn’t be any better,” Stoner told reporters. Lorenzo had warned that Stoner and Pedrosa were the men to beat, with Honda fastest at every pre-season test, and had said he would be happy to be on the podium.

The Mallorcan exceeded his own expectations and his delight was evident as he punched the air repeatedly as he cruised down the pitlane after taking the chequered flag.

On the victory podium, the Spaniard appeared the happiest of the three with the two Honda riders waving Japanese flags in solidarity with the victims of the devastating quake and tsunami.

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