Qatar Heroes

Photo Gallery: MotoGP at night.

Qatar Heroes

Proving he's not afraid of the dark, Casey Stoner began the defense of his world title with a convincing win at last weekend's Qatar Grand Prix, the first-ever nighttime MotoGP. Carved out of the desert and lit with NASCAR-style super-speedway lights, the race held several surprises.

First, it took the rapid Mr. Stoner and his Ducati more than half the race to assume the lead. Early on, the race was led by Valentino Rossi, riding on Bridgestone tires after a disappointing 2007 on Michelins. Rossi, though, would fade back to fifth, afterward confessing confusion as to why he didn't do better on the new rubber. Winner Stoner was Bridgestone-shod.

Another surprise was Jorge Lorenzo—Rossi's teammate on the Fiat Yamaha team but running Michelins—who finished second in his debut MotoGP ride. A two-time 250 champ, he led the race then kept Stoner close for a while after the Aussie passed, but at the checkers was 5.3 seconds adrift.

"That was a fantastic race and I really enjoyed it—it was like being back in 125s!" said Stoner afterward. "The first few laps were really hectic, there were guys bashing fairings and I just tried to stay out of the way. When I got my chance to get through I took it, and from there I just focused on setting my pace. Jorge rode brilliantly. It wasn't an easy race by any means, especially at the start; over the first few laps, I was struggling a bit for grip but then the tires got up to temperature and improved. We knew we had a pretty good package for the race but obviously we couldn't be sure that things would go as well as that."

MotoGP rookie (but 2007 World Superbike champion) James Toseland was also impressive first time out on his Tech 3 Yamaha (on Michelins), finishing just behind Rossi, despite running a conventional valve-spring motor instead of the A-team's pneumatic setups.

American John Hopkins, longtime Suzuki rider, now wears the green-and-black of Team Kawasaki. Good-looking graphics on the Ninja ZX-RR.

The start of a beautiful relationship? Rossi greets a Bridgestone official.

Green light! First half of the race was a real shootout. That?s Colin Edwards (5), mixing it up in the middle on his new Tech 3 Yamaha ride. He was top American in seventh.

Praying for pneumatic valves? Brit James Toesland won the WSB title last year for Honda, now rides for the Yamaha B-team in MotoGP.

Like jet jockeys, roadracers can?t explain without using their hands. Stoner demonstrates.

Lots of sand at the Losail International Circuit.

Not a lot of smiles in the Hayden-Honda camp. Nicky was 10th at the finish.

Clear faceshields meant you could see the whites of riders? eyes. Rizla Suzuki?s Chris Vermeulen finished a disappointing 17th, out of the points, thanks to a front tire change mid-race.

Er, elbow-sliders, Hopper?

Rossi looked like a winner early in the race, but would work his way back to fifth at the end.

Hopkin?s 12th-place finish was not the debut he had in mind, but it wasn?t for lack of trying. Here, he battles eventual 10th-placer Hayden. A sliding front tire and a nagging leg injury slowed him.

Cue the lights! Teams set up shop on the front straight.

Pre-race, the Kawasaki team rook a day off for some desert sightseeing. That?s rider Anthony West on the far-right camel.

Qatar is one of the few MotoGP venues where the Marlboro Ducati can run its cigarette logos. Marco Melandri, smokin? hot on the Honda last year, struggled to finish 11th in his maiden race on the Desmo V-Four.

Qatar?s best (left to right), Lorenzo, Stoner and Pedrosa.

After years on a Ducati, Loris Capirossi took his familiar #65 to the Rizla Suzuki squad. He carded an eighth place.

Wait a night?!

No big complaints from the riders about the lighting. It was flat without too many distracting shadows.

Repsol Honda?s Dani Pedrosa and Fiat Yamaha?s Jorge Lorenzo do battle early on, eventually finishing third and second, respectively. Both are former 250cc aces.

A world champion?s style. Too early to tell, but it could be a long season for everybody else. Certainly, Stoner?s not lost any speed.