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Stoner savors Qatar hat-trick

AUSTRALIAN Casey Stoner ran away with the delayed MotoGP season-opener from pole position on Monday to complete a hat-trick of wins at the Qatar Grand Prix in Doha.

Racing in warm dry conditions after Sunday's start was postponed due to heavy rainfall at the desert track, the 23-year-old Ducati rider beat world champion Valentino Rossi of Italy into second place. Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo was third.

The Australian produced a near-perfect race under lights to win the 22-lap race in a time of 42 minutes, 53.984 seconds at the 5.38 kilometer Losail International Circuit.

Rossi crossed the finish line 7.771 seconds behind Stoner.

"I now feel I'm stronger than at the end of last year," said Stoner, the 2007 champion who is still recovering from wrist surgery last November.

"It is now time to keep it up, go for the next race and see what we can do. This is the best way to start the championship." Stoner, overall runner-up last season, had not completed any race distances since undergoing the scaphoid surgery but he said the wrist was getting better and he did not expect any problems at the next race in Motegi, Japan, on April 26.

Yamaha's Rossi, who had qualified second, tussled at the start with teammate Lorenzo and Italian Loris Capirossi, who later crashed out of the race on the seventh lap.

"Unfortunately I lost a bit of time after the start to fight with Loris (Capirossi) and Jorge (Lorenzo)," Rossi said.

"I had to decide if I ride second or crash and I decided to slow down a bit. The second place is a good result for us and the start of the season is better than last year."

The Italian has won twice in Qatar but never at night.

American Colin Edwards came in fourth on his Yamaha, followed by Andrea Dovizioso of Italy on a Honda and Alex de Angelis also on a Honda.

Stoner's American teammate Nicky Hayden started his 100th grand prix after suffering back pain and a chest injury in falling during Saturday's qualifying.

With MotoGP moving to a single tire supplier this season, all 18 riders were on Bridgestone.

"This is a little bit of a new era with the tires," said Rossi, 30. "I had to try to modify a little bit the style and setting of the bike."

The Qatar race, the only night-time event on the MotoGP calendar, became the first race in 29 years to be postponed due to bad weather when heavy rain lashed down on Sunday.

Saturday's qualifying had already been difficult with dust, sand and wind.

The 250cc and 125cc races took place on Sunday but were shortened due to rainfall and visibility problems.

The 125cc race ended after just four of 18 laps, the shortest race ever in the world championship, while the 250cc event was shortened to 13 laps from 20.

"If something like this happens next year, then maybe they have to think about it," said Stoner, referring to the timing of the race at night. "It is quite strange, but I'm sure it won't happen again."


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