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Stoner takes season opener

LOSAIL, March 21- Australia's Casey Stoner started his Honda career with a dominant display at the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix here on Sunday.

The Australian finished 3.440sec ahead of reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo, with team-mate Dani Pedrosa third at 5.051sec as Honda claimed their first win in the opening round of the season in eight years.

Stoner learnt from his mistake of last year, when he started from pole only to crash on lap six, by letting Pedrosa move ahead early on and even permitted Lorenzo to lead briefly after the Yamaha rider overtook both Hondas.

Multiple former champion Valentino Rossi started his Ducati career with seventh place in a tough race as he battles with a shoulder injury.

"I couldn’t have dreamt of a better start to the season, but I’m not going to get carried away and will continue to work," said 25-year-old Stoner.

"The first lap was very tough because of how my bike reacted with a full tank. Afterwards it was much better and the bike improved with every lap until the end."

Stoner moved ahead on lap two, followed by Pedrosa, who went on to lead from lap seven to 12 before being reeled in during in a battle between the Spaniards and the Australian.

"When I saw Dani (Pedrosa) starting to have problems, I attacked strongly, I overtook him and took the lead. After that I just tried to control the race," said Stoner, who previously won here in 2008 and 2009, and claimed the 31st victory of his career.

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Honda did not have it all their own way despite topping the times in each of the eight testing sessions at Sepang in Malaysia and then here in Qatar over the past week, and Stoner admitted he had never underestimated Lorenzo.

"I always say you can improve the whole time and Jorge proved that his weekend. In the race, he showed us what he was capable of," said Stoner, adding that he was expecting a battle at the second Grand Prix at Jerez in Spain on April 3.

"It risks being less easy for us in Jerez on a track where I haven’t had much success in the past. I’m even looking foward to going there this year to battle against two rivals of very high level (Lorenzo and Pedrosa)," added Stoner.

France’s Randy de Puniet crashed out of race in the first lap as reigning Moto2 champion Toni Elias of Spain, who has stepped up to MotoGP this season, had a nightmare race, from his start at the back of the grid to his fall at the end of the race.

Germany’s Stefan Bradl won the Moto2 category on a Kalex.

Starting from pole position for the first time in his career, Bradl beat home Italy’s Andrea Iannone on a Suter, while Swiss rider Thomas Luthi was third, also on a Suter.

It was Bradl’s second Moto2 success after Portugal last year.

Spaniard Nicolas Terol lead an Aprilia sweep of the 125cc category, ahead of Germany’s Sandro Cortese and Spaniard Sergio Gadea.

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