Ducati Marlboro's Casey Stoner continued his domination of the season-opening Grand Prix of Qatar by setting the pace in Saturday night's warm and windy free practice in the desert east of Doha. But the cushion to second placed Valentino Rossi (Fiat Yamaha) was considerably diminished from Friday, with the World Champion less than a tenth back and the top six riders all on the same second.Stoner was strong almost from the start, with his only misstep coming at the start of the session. With a strong tailwind propelling him down the front straight, where his fastest top speed was 205.487 mph, he overshot turn one. He wasn't alone. Early in the session four others would follow him into the pebbles. Never in danger of falling, Stoner tiptoed through the gravel before rejoining the track. Then he got down to business.Quickly to the top of the order, the Australian steadily lowered his lap time, clocking his best lap of 1:56.310 mins. in the middle of a string of four laps in the 56's, his best the 11th of his 16 total laps. Stoner went .7 faster than he'd gone on Friday night, but only .096 secs. faster than Rossi.Rossi's best effort of 1:56.406 came late in the session, on the 16th of 18 laps. His time was more than a second better than he'd gone on Friday night, but he only had two 56's and his longest run was all in the low 57's.Rizla Suzuki's Loris Capirossi jumped from eighth to third with his fastest lap, which came on the 15th of his 16. He was only .192 secs. behind Rossi.Then came Rossi's teammate Jorge Lorenzo, the Spanish pole-sitter from 2008. Lorenzo's 17th and final lap was his best, and within .051 secs. of Capirossi's.Marco Melandri put the Hayate Racing Kawasaki into fifth, half a second behind Lorenzo, with Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso the final rider on the lead second.Both seventh fastest Chris Vermeulen (Rizla Suzuki) and eighth fastest Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) did their best laps one from the end, with LCR Honda's Randy de Puniet ninth in front of Edwards' teammate James Toseland.San Carlo Honda Gresini's Alex de Angelis was 11th in front of Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa, the injured Spaniard who greatly improved on his Friday effort.Pramac Racing's Mika Kallio (Duc) and San Carlo Honda Gresini's Toni Elias followed, with Ducati Marlboro's Nicky Hayden running into more machine trouble.Hayden had a spectacular, smoky engine failure on his fifth flying lap and just after he'd gone into the 59's. The motor blew as he was in turn two and he was alerted in turn three by Toseland, who happened to look back.  Hayden completed just nine full laps and finished 15th, two spots down from Friday night's 13th and 2.9 secs. behind teammate Stoner. He was the only rider in the 18-rider field to not improve on his Friday time.Friday's lone 45-minute qualifying session for Sunday's season-opening Grand Prix of Qatar begins at 11:05 p.m. local time, 4:05 p.m. EDT.

MotoGP Practice:1. Casey Stoner (Ducati) 1:56.3102. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1:56.5063. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki) 1:56.5984. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:56.6495. Marco Melandri (Kawasaki) 1:57.1356. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 1:57.2907. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) 157.5768. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:57.7149. Randy de Puniet (Honda) 1:57.97110. James Toseland (Yamaha) 1:58.12511. Alex de Angelis (Honda) 1:58.15212. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:58.34913. Mika Kallio (Ducati) 1:58.36114. Toni Elias (Honda) 1:58.61815. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1:59.22616. Yuki Takahashi (Honda) 1:59.34017. Nicole Canepa (Ducati) 1:59.56418. Sete Gibernau (Ducati) 2:00.256

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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.

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