Casey Stoner’s quest for a fourth straight victory in the Qatar MotoGP race started in dominant fashion tonight when the Australian topped the timesheets in the opening practice session of 2010.
Stoner was untouchable once the 24-year-old hit the top with just 12 minutes of the hour-long session completed when he moved ahead of title rival and reigning world champion Valentino Rossi.
Stoner, who is undefeated at the Losail International Circuit since 2007, was so dominant that at one stage shortly before the halfway mark he led the field by close to a second.
A lap of 1.55.500 put the 2007 world champion 0.906s clear of Rossi and that time was never surpassed for the remainder of the session.
Stoner’s best though on the new Big Bang GP10 Ducati was marginally slower than his best time when he topped the timesheets at last month’s night test in Doha.
But he still finished a massive 0.526s clear of the field with Fiat Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo finishing second fastest.
The Spaniard showed no signs of a lingering right hand injury slowing him down as he steered his factory Yamaha YZR-M1 to a best time of 1.56.026.
Lorenzo posted that time with just four minutes remaining but he was involved in late drama after a crash in the dying moments.
The 22-year-old though was able to walk away unscathed and finish ahead of team-mate Valentino Rossi by just 0.002s.
Rossi had led the early minutes of the session under the floodlights at the Losail International Circuit.
But he ended up third quickest ahead of Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso, who denied Nicky Hayden a morale-boosting top four on his penultimate lap.
British GP winner Dovizioso ended with a best time of 1.56.698 to beat Kentucky rider Hayden by just 0.095s.
Factory Ducati rider Hayden staged an impressive fightback in the final quarter of the session after the 2006 world champion had been left languishing down in 16th position at one stage.
Just six minutes were left on the clock when he moved into fourth and he ended up beating fellow American Ben Spies by 0.025s.
Texan Spies was sixth fastest with a best lap of 1.56.818 after the reigning World Superbike champion had occupied third on the timesheets in the early exchanges of the 2010 campaign.
Spies, who completed the double in Doha at last year’s World Superbike clash, finished well clear of fellow Texan and Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team-mate Colin Edwards. Edwards was left down in 12th place with a best lap of 1.57.167 that was some way off his pace at the recent night test.
Alvaro Bautista made an impressive debut on the factory Suzuki GSV-R when he logged a best time of 1.56.998 to claim seventh.
He was close to 0.4s faster than experienced team-mate Loris Capirossi, who had a troublesome start to his record-breaking 300th Grand Prix appearance.
The 37-year-old was only 13th fastest and he escaped injury when he crashed heavily with 22 minutes remaining.
And Dani Pedrosa’s problems continued tonight as the Spaniard was unable to post a time good enough to secure a top ten finish.
The triple world champion has had major issues in adapting to Ohlins suspension and has also found Honda’s 2010 RC212V chassis difficult to set-up.
Pedrosa was testing a revised chassis tonight with extra stiffness to bolster his confidence but he ended up 11th with a best time of 1.57.133.