Qatar MotoGP: Casey Stoner edges out Valentino Rossi

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Casey Stoner continued to lead the way in the build-up to tomorrow night’s MotoGP opener in Qatar after the factory Ducati rider finished fastest at the end of free practice this evening.

Stoner’s advantage though was reduced compared to his dominance last night and the 24-year-old was 0.340s quicker than reigning world champion Valentino Rossi.

He had been over half-a-second quicker than 31-year-old Rossi on the opening night of the new 2010 campaign.   

Earlier in the second practice session it had looked like being another romp from Stoner, who goes into tomorrow’s night’s 22-lap clash hunting a fourth consecutive victory at the Losail International Circuit. 

In warm but windy conditions at the 3.343-mile circuit on the outskirts of Doha, Stoner was over 0.8s clear of the field at one stage before Rossi did his best to reduce the deficit with a series of blisteringly fast laps on his factory Fiat Yamaha YZR-M1.

Stoner ended free practice with a best of 1.55.501, which was just 0.001s slower than his best time set last night and the 2007 world champion was one of only three riders who failed to better their lap times from last night.

Rossi logged a fastest time of 1.55.841 at the halfway stage and he was as close as 0.091s to Stoner before the factory Ducati rider put in a late surge.

Stoner and Rossi, who have won 39 out of 53 races in the 800cc era, were well clear of the chasing pack and remain the only two to drop below the 1.56 barrier.

Randy de Puniet was the surprise package on the LCR Honda.

The French rider ended tonight’s session in third spot after a lap of 1.56.350 set with just over a minute remaining. The 2009 British GP podium finisher then immediately ran off track at the first corner but finished 0.509s slower than Rossi.

On combined times, the former factory Kawasaki rider was fourth overall and tonight he was the only other rider to lap inside of a second of Stoner’s pace.

Jorge Lorenzo was fifth tonight but third overall after the Spaniard struggled to make any impression at the top of the leaderboard for much of the session.

Still recovering from a broken right hand he suffered in February, Lorenzo was outside of the top ten for most of the 60-minute session before he moved into the top six with a best lap of 1.56.646.

Another surprise performance tonight came from Finnish rider Mika Kallio. His best time on the Pramac Racing Ducati GP10 of 1.56.664 left him sixth on combined times.

Spanish rookie Hector Barbera was 15th fastest tonight after he walked away unhurt from a crash on the Aspar Ducati. Windy conditions meant it was treacherously dusty off the racing line and the 2009 250GP runner-up lost the front of his GP10 at a left-hander in the final ten minutes.

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt