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Stoner rules at dry Losail

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Casey Stoner on the way

If there was ever any doubt that running a Grand Prix at night is stupid, last weekend’s Moto GP at the Losail Circuit in Qatar certainly helped prove the case. Qatar is a desert peninsula sticking from Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf; normally a dry wasteland of sand, it can get some heavy rain a few days a year from storms coming off the Gulf. No big deal, the bikes have rain tires, no?

Well yes, but they can’t use them at Losail, because the floodlit night-time surface turns into a mirror when it gets wet, making the track unusable. That happened during a test session in February, and it washed away both the 125 and Moto GP races this past Sunday. The 125s got in four laps before the deluge hit; the race was red-flagged and awarded half-points. The Moto GP bikes were on the grid ready to go when the rain moved in again, and everything was postponed 22 hours to the next night.

Makes a joke out of the new so-called cost-saving regulations, but hey, that’s showbiz.

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Umbrella girls busy as rain strikes Losail

In the event, it didn’t matter much to the results, since Casey Stoner took his Marlboro Ducati to a ridiculously easy victory. Healing wrist and all, he was fastest in every practice and qualifying session, and in the race cleared off at more than a second a lap before easing off toward the end and cruising to a 7.7 second win over Valentino Rossi on the Fiat Yamaha. By no coincidence at all, Rossi had been the fastest guy behind Stoner the whole weekend.

He was followed into third by his team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, with Colin Edwards in hot pursuit on his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, with Andrea Dovizioso on the first factory Repsol Honda in fifth.

The walking wounded, Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden, grittily rode to 11th and 12th, Pedrosa still recovering from knee surgery only a month ago and Hayden suffering cuts, bruises, and contusions from a massive 200+ km/h highside in qualifying. He was very lucky to get away with that one and in spite of his lousy weekend — he had nothing but trouble with electronics and engines prior to the crash — said he believed he and the team had better figured out how he and the finicky Ducati could get along; his fastest laps of the weekend were the final half-dozen of the race.

Marco Melandri, on The Bike That Used to be a Kawasaki, surprised everyone by his performance. He was in the points; only 14th but considering that he ran off the track early and rejoined nearly 10 seconds behind last place the result was a good one.

Suzuki was pretty much nowhere; Chris Vermeulen came seventh while Loris Capirossi crashed, both riders complaining about front end chatter that hadn’t cropped up before (a problem that a number of riders commented on after the race).

The next race is in Japan at the Motegi Circuit April 26, and pretty much everyone will be glad to get away from Qatar and back to daylight running. Stoner and his Ducati have to be odds-on favourites after the dominant performance at Losail (not to mention in pre-season testing), but the Aussie said, "Yeah, but we led the world championship at this time last year as well. So from there it took a turn for the worse … And tonight was one of those times, you know, it really did everything right for me." He added that he wasn’t back up to full fitness yet because of the recovering wrist injury, which isn’t great news for the rest of the field.

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