LOSAIL, Qatar, April 12 – World champion Valentino Rossi launched his title defence with victory at the Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday after bitter rival Casey Stoner crashed out.
Rossi, on a Yamaha, won by 1.022sec from teammate Jorge Lorenzo while his Italian compatriot Andrea Dovizioso, riding a Honda, was 1.865sec off the pace.
Australia’s Stoner, who was bidding for a fourth successive win at the floodlit desert venue, crashed out on the fifth lap having started on pole position on his Ducati.
"This is the first time since 2005 that I have won the first race of the season, so this win here especially on this track, and to get the 25 points, is like gold for me and Yamaha," said Rossi.
"When I saw that Casey had crashed, I thought it would become easier, but I was in more trouble. I was sliding and it was difficult to stay in front."
Stoner, who had dominated practice and qualifying at the season-opening weekend, was passed by Dani Pedrosa (Honda), who had started in seventh place, at the first turn.
Stoner reclaimed the lead but his race ended on the fifth lap of the 22-lap race when he lost the front of his machine.
That elevated Rossi to first place, with Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden, on another Ducati, behind him. Dovizioso briefly passed Rossi before the world champion hit back.
Lorenzo then made his move and went past Hayden before also squeezing out Dovizioso at the start of the final lap.
In the new Moto2 category, which has replaced the 250cc series, Japan’s Shoya Tomizawa clinched a memorable victory when he battled from ninth on the grid to take a four-second win.
Tomizawa, who had struggled in the 250cc class, finishing in 25th and then 17th place in the last two seasons, thrived on the more powerful Suter machine to finish ahead of Spain’s Alex Debon (FTR) and France’s Jules Cluzel (Suter).
"This is like a dream," said 19-year-old Tomizawa.
The two front-runners from qualifying crashed out in the early stages when former MotoGP rider Alex de Angelis collided with pole-sitter Stefan Bradl (Suter) on turn three.
As Debon and Toni Elias (Moriwaki), who was seventh in last year’s MotoGP championship, tussled for the lead, Tomizawa started to make his move.
The Japanese rider, whose best finish before this race was 10th in the 250cc race at Valencia in 2009, competed for the lead with Elias, Cluzel and Debon.
With three laps to go Tomizawa had opened up almost a three-second gap at the front, with Cluzel and Debon competing fiercely for the other two podium spots.
It went down to the final lap between the pair, Debon going through on Cluzel to ensure second place with the Frenchman taking third.
Elias, competing with the injuries he picked up in the final pre-season Test at Jerez, took fourth with Roberto Rolfo in fifth.
Spanish rider Nicolas Terol won the 125cc race. The Aprilia man beat home compatriots and Derbi riders Efren Vasquez and Marc Marquez.