The new MotoGP season opened with Jorge Lorenzo claiming a superb victory under Qatar night sky at the Losail International Circuit.
The Spaniard, riding for Yamaha, took a hard fought win after a race long battle with the Repsol Hondas of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa. Even though Lorenzo converted his pole position into an early lead it was not long until Stoner asserted himself on the race.
The Australian fell behind his quick starting teammate, who moved from the third row of the grid to second at the first corner, but by lap three the Australian had made his way past and focused his attention on Lorenzo.
Coming down the pit straight at the end of lap three Stoner forced his way through an ever narrowing gap and took the lead. With the reigning world champion able to pull away comfortably it seemed that the battle was for second place.
Stoner quickly opened a two seconds lead ahead Lorenzo and settled into a consistent pace. With Pedrosa eager to move ahead of Lorenzo a thrilling battle for second looked set to be the focus of attention in the closing stages but suddenly Stoner’s commanding lead was reduced to nothing.
With Bridgestone having developed a new, less durable control tyre, that reacts similar to the Pirelli Formula 1 tyres, it was initially thought that Stoner had simply gone too hard, too soon and was now being punished by excess tyre wear.
Arm pump however was the real reason for his sudden loss of pace. The problem began in the early laps of the race and became progressively worse as the race progressed before becoming so bad that Stoner was defenseless to the attacks of his pursuers and ultimately fell back to third at the chequered flag.
When asked after the race about the cause of his arm pump Stoner was clearly surprised to having suffered from the condition which causes the arm to feek kumb and the rider lose the ability to accelerate and brake hard.
“It’s the second time Ive had arm pump,” said the reigning world champion. “I had it once in 2010 with Ducati at Silverstone and we managed to get rid of it then so hopefully we can get rid of it before the next race.”
Even with the issue it was clear that Stoner had the pace to win the race but the condition was so bad that for the closing stages the heavy effort of accelerating and braking made it impossible for him to ride the bike on the limit.
With Stoner hamstrung by his condition the race for second was suddenly reenergised into a fight for the win.
With Lorenzo closing on Stoner Pedrosa instinctively knew that this was his chance to win the race. He moved past Lorenzo into turn one but the ever crafty Lorenzo knew that it was imperative to keep the Honda behind him and within a lap he was back ahead and putting pressure on Stoner.
With four laps to go under the heavy braking into the first turn Lorenzo moved into the lead. There was nothing that Stoner could do to defend and with Pedrosa having endured a nightmare weekend finishing second was a good result for the diminutive Spaniard.
For Lorenzo however the weekend could not have been better with the former world champion claiming a first premier class victory in Qatar and starting the season in perfect style.
Speaking after the race it was clear that Lorenzo had enjoyed the hard fought race but also that the upcoming season will be very difficult against the exceptionally strong Honda riders.
“In the middle of the race I didn’t think I was going to make it,” said Lorenzo afterwards. “But I never gave up, I always kept pushing, always believing that I could make it always at the same pace for or less. As for Casey he lost a little bit of his pace so I take profit from him. Also it was not Casey that was the big problem. I wasn’t able to open a gap to Dani.”
The consistency of the leading trio flew in the face of what was expected to occur with the new tyres with each rider setting consistent pace and Pedrosa even setting a lap time almost as fast on the final lap of the race as his first flying lap.
The new tyres have promoted a more spectacular style of riding and in Qatar it was also clear that the new regulations, such as the introduction of 1000cc engines, will play a key role in helping to create more excitement races than those which blighted the 800cc.
The battle for sixth was a case in point with Nicky Hayden ultimately coming out on top after a race long battle with Alvaro Bautista, Stefen Bradl and Hector Barbera. For Bradl the race was bitter sweet with the reigning Moto2 champion holding sixth for much of the race before fading in the final laps.
Hayden however showed that his style of riding, which has always seen him at his most comfortable when the rear is sliding, should be well suited to the new tyres.
His teammate, nine times world champion Valentino Rossi, however struggled for much of the weekend was relegated to a bit part player in the race. The Italian clashed with Barbera in the early stages but lacked pace all weekend and finished in tenth.
Rossi was crestfallen after the race and clearly very disappointed and said, “”I can’t ride this bike, I can’t make the difference.”
For a rider of Rossi’s class to admit to such struggles shows just how difficult a season he is set to endure in the coming months.
Lorenzo, Stoner and Pedrosa will have no such thoughts with the trios attention now clearly focused on the next round of the championship at Jerez.
“Jerez is one of my favourite tracks, I won the alst two years there,” said Lorenzo. “But it is also one of the favourite tracks for Dani. So we must keep working to improve the bikes because they are really competitive.”
After the domination of Stoner last year such competition at the front is music to the ears of MotoGP fans.