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Honda claims victory in season opener

Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V) continued the excellence he’d shown all weekend by leading a Honda onslaught in his first race as a member of the Honda family in the season-opening Grand Prix of Qatar under the desert lights of the Losail International Circuit. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) interrupted the Honda parade by finishing a distant second, with Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) finishing third, Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) fourth, and Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) a fighting fifth.

Stoner had showcased his abilities on the Honda RC212V throughout pre-season testing, as well as in the run-up to the race. On the first race weekend of the 2011 MotoGP World Championship, Stoner was fastest in all three practice sessions before taking the 27th pole position of his career with a blistering lap of the 5.380k circuit outside the capital of Doha.

Though Stoner was on the pole, it was Pedrosa who got the jump and Lorenzo who was in front by the end of the first lap. But that was the only one he’d lead. Stoner led the next lap, but wasn’t able to get away, with Pedrosa applying constant pressure. The Spaniard made a pass on the sixth lap as the pair put a second on Lorenzo.

The complexion of the race changed dramatically early in the second half as the fuel load went down and the tyres were worn. His confidence growing every lap, Stoner took the lead into turn 12, the first of the triple rights, and went to work. He set the fastest lap of the race on the 13th, a 1:55.366, with Pedrosa now 1.307 secs. back. More ominously, Lorenzo took .6 out of Pedrosa, who was in danger of losing second.

Stoner pounded out the fast laps to the end, winning the opening round of the 2011 MotoGP World Championship by 3.440s.

The win was Honda’s first in the opening round of the championship since 2003, when Valentino Rossi started the season with a victory at Suzuka en route to the title.

The win was Stoner’s fifth at this track, with four in MotoGP and one in 250cc. It was also his 31st career victory and 24th in the MotoGP class. The victory puts him equal with three-time 500cc World Champion Wayne Rainey for seventh overall on the premier class wins list.

Stoner began the 800cc MotoGP era by winning the World Championship in 2007 and, with engine displacement increasing to 1000cc in 2012, Stoner would like to finish the era with another world championship.

Lorenzo caught and passed Pedrosa, but Pedrosa used the visibly superior power of the Honda RC212V to power by on the front straight. The scenario would unfold again and again, but eventually Pedrosa couldn’t keep the pace because of physical problems with his left arm and had to slow. Still, he finished on the podium.

Just missing out was the third member of the Repsol Honda team. Andrea Dovizioso battled hard with fellow Italian Marco Simoncelli before seizing fourth decisively on the 17th lap. Dovi closed fast on Pedrosa at the end and was unhappy about missing the podium, but that opportunity was lost earlier while fighting with Simoncelli. Despite losing fourth place, Simoncelli was an ecstatic fifth after proving that he can run with the fastest riders in the world.

Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) finished tenth in the first race of his second MotoGP season after an emotional start. The Japanese rider, and the rest of the MotoGP grid, observed a minute of silence prior to the race to honor the victims and survivors of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The return to the MotoGP class wasn’t a successful one for Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP). The 2010 Moto2 World Champion continued to struggle to get heat into his rear tyre on a cool evening. His night ended with a nasty crash on the 20th lap. Elias was slow to get up, though it was soon clear he wasn’t injured.

Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V): 1st
"After a great pre-season, we came into this race weekend and everything kept getting better and better for us. This morning in warm up we had a few issues getting a good feeling with the bike carrying a full tank of fuel and this issue also affected us in the early part of the race, but we knew as the fuel level decreased and the tyres aged, that our bike would come back to us. Dani (Pedrosa) came past and we decided to follow to see where he was strong and where I was weak. Then when I started to feel more confident with the bike and had more grip and better turning, we decided to push forwards and take advantage. Tonight the bike was fantastic, as it has been for all the sessions and I'm very proud to be racing for Repsol Honda and to take my first victory in the first race. It is a great way to start the season! I'm really happy with how everything has gone and the way the team has all worked together, a big thanks to Honda and my best wishes to Japan in this difficult time.”

Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha M1): 2d
"I think maybe I am more proud of that podium than a race victory, that’s how I feel tonight. I feel very proud of myself and my team who never gave up and worked to give me the best bike that they can. I put everything I have inside into my riding on the track for the race from the start to the end and was on the limit every lap. I almost crashed on one corner but I managed to stay on the bike and finished in second position which is the best that I could do."

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V): 3rd
“I'm disappointed, not for the race I had, but for the physical problems I had again with my left arm. Already in practice I felt something, but I was not sure if it could be that bad, at the end I couldn't grab the handlebar and in the last seven-eight laps I couldn't use the clutch at all. I was just holding the arm and I was suffering a lot. The bike was perfect all race, I had the chance to win but I had a very hard time, one of the toughest races of my life. I don't know what can I do because should be OK after the rest I had this winter. I did the tests and everything was in order. In the winter tests I was a bit weak, but I felt alright, so I don't know what we have to do. I feel sorry for my team as well, because the bike was very good, fast, perfect also in the corners. I'm proud of how I've been riding, I've been fighting with Casey (Stoner) in this circuit as nobody else did in the past but at the same time I feel sad because I don't know what the future will bring. I know we will go to Jerez in two weeks, where the bike will run very well, and I'm very strong and fast, but I don't know what will happen.”

The MotoGP World Championship now returns to its European roots for the first race on the Continent in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain on the first weekend in April.

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