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GP Week : Issue 77
VALENTINO Rossi made the perfect start to his quest for a tenth World Championship with a copybook victory in the opening round at Qatar. His 104th race win came after Casey Stoner (Marlboro Ducati) crashed out on only the sixth lap. And it may be considered a gift, for the Australian had dominated practice, started from pole position, and was leading by more than two seconds when he lost the front and slid to earth. "When you are on the limit, it happens," said new Ducati team chief Vittoriano Guareschi, before consoling the bitterly disappointed rider. But Stoner's absence didn't make it an easy win, with both Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) and a surprising Nicky Hayden (Marlboro Ducati) putting the Fiat Yamaha rider under severe pressure. Dovizioso even took the lead briefly on lap 16, using the power of his very rapid Honda to ride past on the straight. "I thought it would be hard to catch Casey, but he crashed -- which was bad luck for him but crucial for us," said Rossi, who before the race had said he would settle for second. Dovizioso had surprised him, but "then I did three or four laps at the maximum and was able to stay in front." It was his first opening-round win since 2005.: "At this stage," 25 points are like gold dust," he concluded. This trio had a clear margin as the closing laps approached, but there was more to come, in an exciting season-opener. Jorge Lorenzo (Fiat Yamaha) had been hanging back in fourth, but then -- overcoming both his hand injuries and a sliding rear problem -- he closed up on the two ahead even as team-mate Rossi put on a well-timed final spurt to draw safely clear for the win. On the second-last lap Lorenzo passed both the Ducati and the Honda, to make it a convincing Yamaha one-two: "I was on the limit physically and Casey Stoner had pole and the lead ... but then it all changed. MICHAEL SCOTT reports on the MotoGP opener Moto GP RACE >> 23