The 2012 MotoGP™ World Championship got underway at Losail on Thursday with the first practice session of the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar, and immediately into the groove was reigning World Champion Casey Stoner. His best lap of the session – a 1’56.474 – headed the opening 45-minute run of the weekend as the new 1000cc machines made their first outing of the season.
The Australian did not have it all his own way however as the leading spot changed hands a few times in the closing minutes of the session, Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing) being one rider who led before settling in second at just 0.174s off Stoner with a 1’56.648.
Making it three different bikes in the top three Nicky Hayden rode his factory Ducati to a best time of 1’56.924, whilst Ben Spies on the second Yamaha Factory Racing machine was fourth and the final rider under 1’57”.
Dani Pedrosa (Respol Honda) was just under seven-tenths of a second off his team-mate Stoner as the Spaniard ended the session fifth, and Cal Crutchlow put in an impressive showing on his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 machine to secure the highest satellite position of sixth in a time of 1’57.395. The Brit was also the final rider to get inside a second off Stoner’s benchmark.
Álvaro Bautista (San Carlo Honda Gresini), Andrea Dovizioso (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Héctor Barberá (Pramac Racing), all riding for new teams in 2012, and Valentino Rossi (Ducati Team) completed the top ten. The Italian was fractionally under a second off his team-mate Hayden.
Rookie Stefan Bradl, the 2011 Moto2 World Champion, finished his first MotoGP session in 12th place as he began setting up his LCR Honda RC213V machine for Sunday’s race, and the debut of the CRTs witnessed Randy de Puniet (Power Electronics Aspar) lead the pack as he timed in 13th quickest with a lap of 1’59.985 on his Aprilia.
Colin Edwards was just 0.059s off the Frenchman on the Suter-BMW machine of the NGM Mobile Forward Racing team, with Michele Pirro (San Carlo Honda Gresini) and Aleix Espargaró (Power Electronics Aspar) close on De Puniet’s trail as the new CRT machines laid down their first World Championship practice session laps.
The MotoGP class returns to the track on Friday for its second and third practices, but the Moto2™ and Moto3™ classes both ran two sessions on Thursday.
Earlier on Thursday MotoGP riders Crutchlow and Barberá were joined by Moto3 youngster Viñales and Moto2 wildcard Nasser Al Malki as the quartet took part in the official pre-event. Embarking the ‘Magnifico’, the riders took in the Doha skyline and had a tour of the luxury vessel, before posing for photographs and discussing their expectations for the weekend