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howing the smooth, steady progress that is his trademark—seventh after one lap, sixth after four, fourth after eight, third after 11, second after 12, back to third for two laps, up to second on lap 15, and finally into the lead on lap 18 of 22—Andrea Dovizioso shrugged off three second-place finishes in as many years at the Losail International Circuit on Sunday to give Ducati its first victory under the floodlights at the Qatari racetrack since Casey Stoner won the MotoGP season-opener way back in 2009. With three laps remaining, Dovizioso, Marc Márquez, and Valentino Rossi pulled away from Cal Crutchlow, pole-sitter Johann Zarco (credited with leading 17 laps), Danilo Petrucci, Dani Pedrosa, and slow-starting but fast-closing Maverick Viñales. The 39-year-old Rossi was unable to match the two-tenths-quicker pace of Dovizioso and Márquez, who took the race all the way to the final turn. Márquez dove under Dovizioso, but, like last season in Austria and Japan, the Italian won the sprint to the line. Margin of victory was 0.027 second.

“My strategy was to finish alone,” Dovizioso admitted, drawing a laugh at the post-race press conference. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t. I’m really happy because we confirmed today in the race the hard work we did this winter. In the past, we were competitive at this track but not like this weekend. I was able to make a really terrible start, gain a lot of positions, and in the same moment, save the tire and decide the strategy. It’s not so easy to have this chance in MotoGP. We confirmed we are more competitive than at the end of last year.”

Márquez experienced a sense of déjà vu. “First of all,” he began, “I’m really happy to have finished in second place at this racetrack because it is one of the most difficult for me on the calendar. It looks like we started the season like we finished: Last corner, with Andrea, go in, go wide, he wins the race. This will change in the future, I hope. He deserved the victory; he had more. My target was to try to control him because he was the fastest one. My plan was, when he passed Zarco, I go behind—doesn’t matter when or where.”

Rossi also finished third last year at Qatar, but the circumstances were different. “Last year was really a surprise,” he said. “This time I know I can do a good race. The problem is the first 10 riders have a similar pace, so you have to wait for the race to see if it is enough for the podium. To stay with [Dovizioso and Márquez] to the end is a good way to start. When Dovi go in front, I know they are able to change the rhythm, and that moment was the key for the podium. I had to overtake Zarco and give the maximum to try to go with them.”

Round 2 of the 19-race world championship, the Gran Premio de la Republica Argentina at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, is scheduled for April 8.

Courtesy of Ducati
Courtesy of Honda
Courtesy of Yamaha
Courtesy of LCR Honda
Courtesy of Pramac Racing
Courtesy of Yamaha
Courtesy of Honda
Courtesy of Yamaha Tech 3
Courtesy of Suzuki
Courtesy of Pramac Racing