Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo did what not many thought was possible tonight under the lights at the Losail Circuit in Qatar - he beat Casey Stoner.
Lorenzo ran down Stoner late in the race with the Repsol Honda rider saying later that he was suffering from arm pump. But whatever Stoner's problem, Lorenzo deserves credit for never giving up, the Spaniard passing the Australian late to earn his first MotoGP win in Qatar in the season opener.
At the finish line, Lorenzo was .852 seconds ahead of a Repsol Honda rider, but it wasn't Stoner as Dani Pedrosa also got past his teammate, pushing the World Champion down to third.
"What an amazing race," Lorenzo said. "I put everything I have, all my energy into the track, this victory is victory is because I never gave up, kept pushing and trying. Casey [Stoner] was very strong at the beginning and opened a gap. Fortunately for us he struggled at the end and dropped his pace where I could keep mine so I managed to pass him. I am very grateful to Yamaha because they have made a big step this winter on the YZR-M1."
Stoner's pace did so and that allowed Lorenzo and Pedrosa to claw back.
"It wasn't really the way we wanted to finish the race weekend here, after FP3 and qualifying it was always going to be a tough race for us, but in the end it came in the wrong areas," Stoner said. "The bike was working well for us, I definitely had the package and the pace to lead the field, which was really positive. However, I suffered from really bad arm pump. After three or four laps I felt it, but it gradually got worse; I tried to pull a little gap from Jorge and Dani and put in the minimal effort possible to retain the gap and try and win, but as the race continued it got worse and worse and eventually the muscles had nothing more to give. I couldn't hold onto the handle bars properly and it made things really difficult so it was a disappointing race for this reason, but for many other technical reasons it was very promising."
Pedrosa's race was a complete turnaround from qualifying, the diminutive Spaniard getting a flying start from the third row to slot into second into the first corner behind Lorenzo. From there he battled throughout, staying in the top three for the duration and also moving past Stoner when the Aussie slowed.
"I'm very happy with this result because we have been able to turn around all the problems we had during the weekend," Pedrosa said. "After a good pre-season we got here and everything went wrong: I had flu and a fever, I crashed on Friday, then the qualifying practice was a disaster... So, it's very good to leave here with this podium, even if I feel little bit sad because I thought I could win this race; I had it in my hands for a while. The team did a fantastic job and we saw things very different after warm up; then I managed a perfect start that was a key moment in the race, and I was able to stay with Casey and Jorge. In the end, with four laps to go I tried to take the lead, but Lorenzo was cleverer than me this time and choose a better strategy. I passed him but he overtook me immediately and also Casey, then I was behind Casey for one lap and lost contact with Jorge. Anyway, it's a good start to the season and we will try to do better in Jerez."
Fourth place went to Brit Cal Crutchlow, the Monster Energy Tech 3 rider impressive throughout and eventually getting the better of his teammate Andrea Dovizioso as those two were tied together for the duration.
Dovizioso held on for fifth, right on his teammate's tailpipes and well clear of a battle for sixth that went to Marlboro Ducati's Nicky Hayden.
That battle saw Hayden in a race-long scrap with several riders, but in the end it was the 2006 World Champion coming out on top of a scrum with Honda Gresini's Alvaro Bautista by just .33 of a second.
"I felt we had the potential to run with Dovizioso and Crutchlow, but considering my injuries and limited testing over the winter, I guess sixth is pretty good," Hayden said. "I lost some positions at the beginning because I got hung up behind [Ben] Spies and wasn't very good on the brakes, but as the race went on, I managed my tire well and got stronger. That group I was in was fighting hard, and I was happy to bring Bradl back and come out on top of that battle. We put some good points on the board, got some data and learned a lot from riding with other people. I'm excited for the season. I think if we improve some things, we have the potential to put up some good results. I'd like to thank the team, the sponsors and everybody back at Ducati for all their work, because we've clearly taken a step forward since last year."
Another second behind came the impressive Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda, last year's Moto2 World Champion holding down sixth for most of the race until being caught by Hayden and Bautista. Bradl held steadfast for eight with Pramac Racing Ducati's Hector Barbera ninth and some two seconds clear of the factory Ducati ridden to 10th by Valentino Rossi.
"Unfortunately, I lost a lot of time in the beginning because when I had new tires with good grip, the rear pushed a lot, making it very difficult under braking," Rossi said. "Then [Hector] Barbera pushed me off the track and I lost five or six seconds. Otherwise, I could have stayed with that group. As the tire became used and began to slide, I started to ride a bit better and to do better times, to the point that I matched my best time on the last lap. By that point though, it didn't count for much."
The next two across the line were Americans - with Yamaha's Ben Spies struggling the entire race and finishing 11th, just one spot ahead of NGM Mobile Forward Racing's Colin Edwards on the first of the CRT machines.
1. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
2. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
3. Casey Stoner (Honda)
4. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha)
5. Andrea Dovizioso (Yamaha)
6. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
7. Alvaro Bautista (Honda)
8. Stefan Bradl (Honda)
9. Hector Barbera (Ducati)
10. Valentino Rossi (Ducati)