Fiat Yamaha's Valentino Rossi began the defense of his 2008 MotoGP World Championship with an encouraging first session under the desert lights of the Losail International Circuit, site of Sunday's curtain-raising Qatar Grand Prix.Rossi finished the 45-minute night session .386 secs. behind 2007 World Champion Casey Stoner (Ducati Marlboro), but encouraged by his progress since the test here over a month ago. Rossi said the difference in track temperature meant he didn't feel like he was at the limit, and that there was time left in the bike and tires, and the track, which he felt was dirty. He'd come to Qatar worried about the gap to the dominant Stoner, who was fastest at the Qatar test and the follow-on test in Jerez, "but thinking and testing, also in Jerez, I know we have some cards to play. We play and it worked. I have a lot more grip with the bike. I'm able to accelerate faster and we are not far from Casey, that anyway remains first."But," he cautioned, "is just the first practice. I think is possible to go a lot faster between tomorrow and Sunday. So we need to be faster to set the bike and to follow the grip, the coming grip from the track. But I'm happy about the first exit."
Tonight was the first ever lone 45-minute session and the riders and teams were quickly adapting, not only to the time constraints, but the tire restrictions as well. Rossi said that "now is important also a lot the strategy, because is not possible stop, change the tire, or stop and work a lot on the bike. Now is more on the paper. You have to make the meeting to understand the strategy. You have just 45 minutes and you count lap by lap. You know if you make another extra lap after, you don't have the lap at the end. So, but is funny, is not so bad."Even in the shortened session, Rossi said the decision had been made to use the hard tire for the race, but he wanted to save a few tires for the qualifying session. What worried him was that the tire might not last the 22-lap race distance, "especially, because I think it's not possible maybe to go every lap at 110%. Because with the tire we are a bit at the limit, so we have to maybe conserve a bit. But we will see, because if the condition is coming better. Also the tires have less stress and less slide, but I'm happy."