Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner had to wait a day before taking his third victory in a row in the Qatar Grand Prix, tonight’s win coming in a mostly processional curtain-raiser on a warm evening at the Losail International Circuit.The start of the 2009 MotoGP season had been delayed a day by a rare torrential downpour on Sunday night. The race was rescheduled from 11:00 p.m. Sunday to 9:00 p.m. Monday. The extra day certainly didn’t affect Stoner. In fact it may have helped. Stoner said he and the team came up with a small set-up solution overnight that he confirmed during the evening warm-up.And if there was any doubt about the fitness of Stoner’s surgically repaired wrist, he dispelled them without question. The 23-year-old Australian dominated every session of the weekend, gradually building up his consecutive lap count and always comfortably in front. And the race was even more lop-sided.Stoner had a lead of 1.262 seconds on Rizla Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi on the first of 22 laps and more than double that on lap two. The lead was similar by the time Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi took second from Capirossi on lap three.Rossi was taking out a tenth of a second a lap and made a run near the halfway mark, cutting the lead to under two seconds on lap nine and keeping steady on lap 10. And it was then that Rossi’s concerns about tire wear might have come into play. Both he and Stoner were worried that the Bridgestone medium race tire wouldn’t go the distance. Stoner’s clearly did, but Rossi wasn’t able to keep pace starting on lap 11 – the race’s midpoint. When Stoner upped the pace, Rossi had nothing, and the Australian breezed to victory.The margin of victory was 7.771 seconds.”We’re really happy with the way everything’s gone,” Stoner said. “The team’s done a fantastic job all weekend. We knew the wrist wasn’t 100 percent when we started testing this year and it’s been slowly getting better and better. We knew we could make the race distance. Mentally I feel very strong. Physically, my physical fitness could be better.”Third went to Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, the second place finisher from 2008. Lorenzo passed Repsol Honda debutante Andrea Dovizioso into turn one starting the eighth lap and built up a comfortable gap while losing time to his teammate.Dovi would come under pressure from Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards on the 13th lap, the Texan taking the Italian two turns from the end of the 14th lap to finish fourth, and third Yamaha in a row.Dovi held onto fifth, safely in front of San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Alex de Angelis. De Angelis would come under scrutiny from race officials after he ran into Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa as he passed him on the 11th lap. The Italian ran wide in a left-hander, with his satellite RC212V hitting Pedrosa on his left knee, the one that is recovering from recent surgery, and knocking him hard on the rumble strips. Pedrosa slid off the left side of the saddle, but somehow managed to save what would have been a terrifying tumble. He would continue to fall through the order and finish 11th.De Angelis then pulled away from Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen to hold a comfortable sixth, with Vermeulen seventh.Pramac Racing’s Mika Kallio (Duc) finished eighth in his MotoGP debut, just in front of Toni Elias, the Spaniard making his return to the San Carlo Honda Gresini team on a factory Honda RC212V.LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet was a lone 10th in front of Pedrosa, who came under pressure on the final lap from Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden. Hayden, still sore from a spectacular highside in Saturday qualifying, sped up in the latter stages of the race. His last lap was his fast lap on way to a 12th-place finish in his 100th Grand Prix.Spaniard Sete Gibernau finished 13th in his return after a two-year layoff from Grand Prix racing.Fourteenth went to Hayate Racing’s Marco Melandri. The Kawasaki rider overshot turn one on the second lap, dropping nine seconds behind the 17th rider in the field. He did well to finish in the points.Former 250cc rider Yuki Takahashi finished his MotoGP debut with the Scot Honda MotoGP team in 15th, the final rider in the points.Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s James Toseland ran off the track in the final corner on the eighth lap, dropping to the back of the field. He finished 16th.The final finisher was Pramac Racing’s Nicole Canepa in 17th.Capirossi crashed out of eighth lap when he lost the front end in a shower of sparks. The problem was traced to a defective front tire.After the race, Stoner commented on leading the World Championship after the opening round.”Yeah, but we led the world championship at this time last year as well. So from there it took a turn for the worse, but this year I think with our package we’ve made sure that it’s working at a lot of different circuits – it’s working well. And tonight was one of those times, you know, it really did everything right for me.”A little bit towards the end, I’m not sure, I think a lot of people had the same problem, but there was a lot of chattering on the front with about six laps to go. And maybe it’s a thing of the tires in these conditions – these conditions were very tough on the tires, basically. But no, we’re really happy with the way everything’s gone.”The team’s done a fantastic job all weekend. If the race was last night we were going into the race a little bit unknown, we weren’t 100 percent on the set-up we had. We made an adjustment for the race last night, which we tested in warm-up this evening. And everything seemed to work well so we went into the race with a little more confidence realizing that we were able to at least fight for the victory. So everything’s just worked so well and it’s now time to keep it up, go to the next race and see what we can do, but of course this is the best way to start the championship.”MotoGP:1. Casey Stoner (Ducati)2. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)3. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)4. Colin Edwards (Yamaha)5. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda)6. Alex de Angelis (Honda)7. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki)8. Mika Kallio (Ducati)9. Toni Elias (Honda)10. Randy de Puniet (Honda)11. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)12. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)13. Sete Gibernau (Ducati)14. Marco Melandri (Kawasaki)15. Yuki Takahashi (Honda)16. James Toseland (Yamaha)17. Nicole Canepa (Ducati)
Stoner Rules The Desert
Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor
Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.