Stoner Leads First MotoGP Practice At Qatar

MotoGP Class of 2012 - Courtesy MotoGP

MotoGP Class of 2012 - Courtesy MotoGP

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New motorcycles, new engines, new tire compounds--and the same result for the first practice of the 2012 MotoGP World Championship.

Casey Stoner rode his Repsol Honda to the fastest lap--a 1:56.474--in the closing minutes of the 45-minute flood-lit session at Losail circuit in Qatar.

"The track tonight wasn't so bad--I expected the conditions to be much worse but in general it was okay," Stoner said. "This is a positive point for the weekend but with such a short session and then nothing until tomorrow it's slightly strange. We'll have to wait for some real track time and with the conditions a little better to see where we are."

Stoner didn't have a smooth sail to the lead, being challenged by Jorge Lorenzo of Yamaha Factory Racing. The 2010 champion challenged the Australian for fastest lap and ended up second, just 0.17 seconds behind at 1:56.648.

“A quite good start," Lorenzo said, "but we are very far from the lap times of last year--that’s the same for everybody. I feel good, we are in the top close to Casey and we have improvements to come tomorrow. At the end we made a small change to gain some rear grip on all the corners which helped drop the lap time.”

Nicky Hayden - courtesy Ducati

Nicky Hayden - courtesy Ducati

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Yet another champion, 2006's Nicky Hayden brought the factory Ducati to third with a best of 1:56.924 and focused on race setup as he familiarized himself with the bike in its final trim. "It was quite dirty," he said of the track. "In general we were pretty fast and consistent--it's just one session and there's a long way to go." Teammate Valentino Rossi was 10th, working on his understanding of Bridgestone's new hard tire.

Fellow American Ben Spies timed fourth in the second factory Yamaha, the final rider under 1:50. “I was happy with tonight, we were generally pretty close to the top. The bike seemed to work pretty well; we made just two small changes to it and kept the same set of tires on the whole time," he said.

Dani Pedrosa in the second Repsol Honda was fifth, followed by Cal Crutchlow's Monster Yamaha Tech 3, Alvaro Bautista on the San Carlo Honda Gresini, Andrea Dovizioso on the second Yamaha Tech 3, the Pramac Ducati with Hector Barbera at the controls and Rossi.

The first CRT on the time sheets was Randy De Puniet on the Power Electronics Aspar ART, more than three seconds behind Stoner and the final motorcycle under 2:00. The field of 21 is separated by less than seven seconds.

Practice and qualifying are set for later today at Qatar with the race taking place on Saturday.

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