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Stoner pulls the strings as he triumphs in Qatar

Australia’s 2007 World MotoGP champion Casey Stoner won his third successive Qatar Grand Prix here on Monday in a race that had to be held over from Sunday because of heavy rain.

Stoner eased home on his Ducati ahead of 2008 reigning champion Valentino Rossi of Italy who was second on a Yamaha while Rossi’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo of Spain was third.

The 23-year-old victor professed himself to be happier with his overall physical condition than he was last year.

”I’m not quite there yet but I am almost at 100% fitness,” said Stoner.

”However, I am not surprised by winning here as I felt great physically and definitely better than last year. However, at the end of the race I was suffering a little, bit especially my right leg because of the constant braking.”

”Everything went really well for me except in the last six laps when the front wheel started to suffer wear and tear.”

For his part Rossi was satisfied enough with his first race.

”We have made worse starts to a season than this, so I have to be content with the performance,” said the charismatic Italian, who has won the title eight times.

”I was fast enough and able to stay within two seconds of him [Stoner] but the front wheel was really badly worn and I nearly fell two or three times.

”Therefore I decided to slow down. The second-half of the race wasn’t great but I am still happy.”

Lorenzo, runner-up here in this category last year but a winner three times in Qatar in the less powerful categories, was disappointed by the overall performance of his bike.

”We weren’t competitive enough to win. It was really frustrating to be so far in arrears of the two leaders in particular on this circuit in which I have had quite a
lot of success,” added Lorenzo.

Stoner led from the start with Rossi dropping back to third, though the latter’s compatriot Marco Melandri paid for trying to overdo it at the corner of the home straight after the first lap and ended up ploughing into the dirt.

He rejoined the race but found himself at the back of the 18 rider field.

Rossi moved into second with 20 laps remaining and with a two second deficit on Stoner.

The Australian managed to keep it around the two second mark for the next three laps while the duo of Italy’s Andrea Dovizioso and Lorenzo had their own duel for third and were a further second adrift.

Loris Capirossi came to grief in spectacular fashion with 14 laps remaining as with Colin Edwards challenging him for fifth spot he crashed and bounced several metres into the gravel — picking himself up gingerly to walk back to the pits.

Rossi brought the gap between him and Stoner down below the two second mark for the first time after nine laps of the 22 as the duo looked to have put enough distance between themselves and the rest of the field.

Indeed with 12 laps remaining Rossi in second had an eight second advantage over third-placed Lorenzo but Stoner was not allowing the Italian to close any further on him and with 10 laps to go he had almost a three second lead over him.

He was up by three seconds with seven laps remaining and Rossi seemed powerless to do anything to reduce it but the Italian known as ‘The Doctor’ was safe and sound in his runner-up spot as Lorenzo was well back nearly 15 seconds adrift.

From then on Stoner had no problems in extending his overall lead as with three laps remaining it stood at over five seconds and he cantered home to victory to land the first blow of what promises to be a thrilling battle for the title.

Finland’s MotoGP debutant Mika Kallio produced a promising showing as the 26-year-old two-time 125cc title runnerup finished eighth and picked up eight points, while Japanese debutant Yuki Takahashi was always in the back division but nevertheless gained one championship point by finishing 15th of the 17 finishers.

Two-time MotoGP title race runner-up Sete Gibernau didn’t have the best of returns to the championship after a two year hiatus which saw him get married and then go through a divorce as the 36-year-old veteran could finish only 13th. – Sapa-AFP

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