DOHA, April 10 (Reuters) - Australian Casey Stoner began his quest for a fourth consecutive Qatar Grand Prix victory with pole position in Saturday’s floodlit qualifying for the season-opener at Losail International Circuit.
Stoner, the 2007 World Champion, repeated his pole performance from last year with a lap of 1:55.007 on a warm night on the desert circuit outside the Qatari capital. It was his 19th pole in MotoGP.
The 24-year-old Ducati rider continued his form from 2009, when he won two of the final three grands prix, after health issues due to lactose intolerance forced him to miss three races just past mid-season.
“It’s a perfect way to start the season,” Stoner said. “We’ve been slowly getting stronger and stronger in testing.
“We have a lot more grip now, so we have started having the front end push wide in turns and it takes quite a lot of setting this bike up now. So at this point we’re very happy.
“It seems to be working really well around this circuit. We have to see what it can do on other tracks, but this is ideal.”
Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi began the defence of his MotoGP title by setting the second-fastest time.
The Italian was fastest during pre-season testing here a little more than two weeks ago, but was not able to match Stoner’s pace. He made a run with his final lap, coming up just short with a best lap of 1:55.362.
Rossi was encouraged by his pace, but sceptical that he could stay with Stoner in Sunday’s race.
“I’m so happy about the work with the team and at the end in this practice with the hard tyre and with the race setting I was very fast,” the nine-times world champion said.
“For sure, tomorrow will be difficult to stay with Casey, but we are not so far, so the second position is a good position for a start.
“Unfortunately, with the soft tyre I wasn’t able to improve enough to do the pole position because the rear slides a bit too much. So we suffer a little bit more than we expected. But, anyway, it is okay,” he added.
Rossi’s team mate Jorge Lorenzo rode with a damaged right hand to the final spot on the front row. Lorenzo was injured in a pre-season training accident, but said it wasn not bothering him as much as he had feared.
The Spaniard set his best time with his final lap of 1:55.520.
“Lucky for me the hand is quite good, is much better than the test,” Lorenzo said. “The problem is that the bike doesn’t work so well, especially in the rear tyrer.
“So now we are struggling quite a lot to get fast and to get close to Casey and Vale (Rossi). The bike is maybe not improving for tomorrow, so I have to fight with what I have.”
France’s Randy de Puniet qualified fourth on a Honda, the first of the non-factory riders lapping in 1:55.831.
He was joined on the second row by Suzuki veteran Loris Capirossi, who will race in his 300th grand prix on Sunday, and Italian Andrea Dovizioso on the first of the factory Hondas.
Editing by John Mehaffey; To query anything on this story email email@example.com