Qatar test: Casey Stoner fastest after dazzling display in night test

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Former world champion Casey Stoner continued his incredible record at the Losail International Circuit tonight as he ended the night test in Qatar nearly one second clear of his rivals.

Stoner, who has won the last two MotoGP races at the Middle East venue was in stunning form again tonight, the Aussie logging a best time of 1.55.744 in his 31-lap stint.

Not even a crash just after 10pm at the second corner could stop Stoner’s charge as he was the only rider to break under the 1.56 barrier.

Despite track conditions being far from perfect with the Losail Circuit again hit by cold temperatures, Stoner was only 0.6s slower than his best race lap set in 2008 when he created history by winning the first MotoGP race to be run at night under floodlights.

Using a new carbon fibre swingarm for the first time to help cure a stability problem with the factory Ducati GP9 under acceleration, Stoner ended the test 0.989s clear of closest rival Jorge Lorenzo.

Lorenzo did 82 laps tonight but he was the only rider to lap within a second of the impressive 2007 world champion.

Fiat Yamaha rival and reigning world champion Valentino Rossi was a massive 1.228s slower than Stoner in third place as he struggled to find a setting on his YZR-M1 to suit the cool track temperatures.

While Stoner was in a class of his own, there was also some heartening news for new team-mate Nicky Hayden.

The American made a big breakthrough in his quest to adapt to the GP9 as he clocked the fifth best time with a lap of 1.57.225.

It was still 1.481s off Stoner’s blistering pace, but the 2006 world champion was only 0.001s off Chris Vermeulen’s best time in fourth place.

Suzuki’s factory GSV-R had another good showing tonight with Loris Capirossi managing to claim sixth place.

It was an expensive night for the Italian though after he crashed twice in quick succession, writing one V4 bike off and nearly destroying another.

He first crashed at Turn Six at 8.20pm when he lost the front at 100mph. And he crashed again as track temperature plummeted to below 15 degrees at 11pm.

There were gloomy faces all round at Honda too as the best RC212V was down in seventh places. Frenchman Randy de Puniet was the quickest on the LCR Honda with a best time of 1.57.401 in his 77 laps.

James Toseland was plagued by a vague feeling from the front end of his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YZR-M1 as he finished 15th quickest.

The British rider clocked a best time of 1.58.786 but he was still 3.042s away from Stoner, though he did go some way to restoring some of his battered confidence after a 125mph high-side during last month’s Sepang test in Malaysia.

Marco Melandri was behind Toseland in 16th as he posted a best time of 1.58.851 on the Hayate machine, which is just a re-branded factory Kawasaki ZX-RR.

The Italian will now sit down with Hayate management this week to decide whether he wants to continue racing in 2009, or whether he doesn’t have enough confidence that the bike will be competitive enough when the season starts in Qatar on April 12.

Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt