The 2007 World Champion Casey Stoner will attempt to make it three consecutive season-opening victories in Qatar on Sunday having qualified in pole position at the floodlit Losail International Circuit on Saturday.
The superb Australian who blitzed his opponents in the opening races of the year in 2007 and 2008 was in hot form again in the first qualifying session of the new single tyre supplier era, setting a 1’55.286s best time near the end of the session, to keep him nearly half a second ahead of the chasing pack.
The ‘best of the rest’ was World Champion Valentino Rossi who registered his best time on his penultimate lap, a 0.473s margin behind Stoner. The Italian therefore starts his title defence second on the grid, a big improvement on his seventh place in qualifying at Qatar last year.
Rossi’s team-mate, 2008 poleman Jorge Lorenzo completes the front row, courtesy of his 1’55.783s time which was just 0.024s behind his Fiat Yamaha colleague’s best.
Like Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso was taking part in his first qualifying practice on Bridgestone tyres and the Italian youngster ended up in fourth spot. The new Repsol Honda rider will get away from the head of the second row on his factory debut as he attempts to match or improve on his impressive fourth place at Losail last year.
Loris Capirossi, meanwhile, who starts his 20th World Championship season this weekend, will be on his compatriot Dovizioso’s shoulder having put himself fifth on the grid on the new and improved Suzuki GSV-R.
Another experienced rider, Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards, completes the second row having lapped within a second of Stoner.
Randy de Puniet of the satellite LCR Honda team caused something of a surprise in seventh place, with a best effort of 1’56.358, just over a second off pole position pace.
Also slotting in on the third row, behind Frenchman De Puniet, are Australian Suzuki man Chris Vermeulen and San Marino rider Alex de Angelis of the San Carlo Honda Gresini team. Pramac Racing’s Mika Kallio completes the top ten as the best rookie qualifier.
Dani Pedrosa qualified in 14th position on his Repsol Honda RC212V, handicapped by his left wrist and knee injuries, but still giving himself a chance of scoring points on Sunday.
Comeback star Sete Gibernau is also riding injured, with an ongoing shoulder injury sustained in training in the winter, and he will start his first race in more than two years in 15th position.
A huge high-speed highside crash for Nicky Hayden on turn two at the end of the session saw him unable to move up from 16th on the grid on his Ducati debut and he was stretchered away for medical attention.