MotoGP opener sees welcome wins

Spaniards dominate Qatar, with victories for Lorenzo, Márquez and Viñales

Jorge Lorenzo celebrates his MotoGP win in Qatar on Sunday.
Jorge Lorenzo celebrates his MotoGP win in Qatar on Sunday.STRINGER (EFE)

Spain’s motorcycle riders proved once more on Sunday that they are a force to be reckoned with on two wheels, with all three races at the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix won by Spaniards.

Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo took the checkered flag in the MotoGP race, which was the first to feature new 1,000cc bikes, upgraded from the 800cc engines used last year.

Having started the 22-lap race from pole, Lorenzo managed to hold on to the lead until the third lap, when he was overtaken by Australian Honda rider Casey Stoner. Lorenzo then proceeded to follow in reigning champion Stoner’s wake until the final stages of the race, overtaking him with just three laps to go, and grasping the lead to take the victory.

“It was a race similar to Jerez 2010 for me,” Lorenzo told the press afterwards. “In the middle of the race, I thought it was [going to be] impossible to win.”

Spaniard Dani Pedrosa, who hit the headlines last week after being caught by the Civil Guard in an alleged scam to cheat in a yacht captain’s exam, recovered from a difficult pre-race experience to finish second, also passing Lorenzo with just a few laps left to run. Pedrosa blamed handling and electrical issues for his poor Saturday form, as well as a loss of concentration.

“Second place is unbelievable after all the problems,” Pedrosa told the press. “Unfortunately it was not the win — it was there for me. But I have to thank the team.”

For his part, Stoner blamed his late lack of pace on a problem with his arm. “It started really early on in the race — about a lap before I got in the lead, I already started feeling my arm going numb and my right arm tightening up,” said the Honda rider.

The win was Lorenzo’s 18th in the MotoGP category, and stands him in good stead to take his second championship, after his victory in 2010.

Meanwhile, Moto2 rider Marc Márquez made a spectacular comeback on Sunday, after injury caused by an accident ahead of last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix saw him sidelined from October onward.

The early part of the 20-lap race was characterized by a huge group of bikes battling it out for the lead, with pole-sitter Thomas Luthi initially working his way into first place.

But the race soon developed into a three-way fight between Márquez, Andrea Iannone and Pol Espargaró, with Luthi eventually finding the lead once more on lap 14.

As the final lap began, Márquez went on the attack, sending Luthi onto the curb and leaving himself dangerously wide. Iannone took advantage of the scrap to move into first place, but Márquez managed to slipstream back in front on the final run to the checkered flag, taking the win by just 0.061 seconds.

The trio of wins was completed by 17-year-old Maverick Viñales, who was victorious in Moto3, which this year replaces the 125cc category.

Viñales’ main competitor was rookie rider Romano Fenati, who shot into first place at the start from sixth on the grid. The pair soon broke away from the rest of the pack, and battled it out at the front.

After a number of laps spent dicing, Viñales pulled away from the Italian, eventually crossing the line 4.3 seconds clear.

The second round of the championship will be run on April 29, on the Jerez circuit in southern Spain. With the extra impetus they are sure to get from their home crowd, the Spanish riders will no doubt be favorites to finish first once more.

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