00051218 image - Rossi wins MotoGP opener

Valentino Rossi ended Casey Stoner's domination in Qatar as the Fiat Yamaha rider took victory in the opening round of this season's MotoGP World Championship.

Stoner had won every race at the Losail circuit since he joined the Marlboro Ducati team in 2007 and looked set to continue that record early on as he powered into the lead from pole position before he surprisingly crashed out.

That left the stage free for reigning champion Rossi to take the 104th Grand Prix win of a remarkable career.

Rossi is looking for his 10th championship in all classes this season and few would bet against the legendary 31-year-old achieving the feat after his excellent start.

Jorge Lorenzo was second ahead of Andrea Dovizioso with Stoner's team-mate Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies making up the top five.

Rossi said: "It was a tough race, very, very difficult."

"Stoner was incredibly fast and I thought he was going to win so when I saw him make a mistake I knew we had to continue to push."

"It was tough because we struggled with the engine and we were slow on the straights. Dovizioso was taking half a second a lap from me on the straight so I had to ride very hard on the infield."

"It is a bonus 25 points with Stoner not finishing and it is a great start to the season for us."

Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa made his trademark fine start from the third row of the grid to lead into turn one but Rossi soon muscled his way past before half a lap had been completed.

Stoner was fourth at the end of lap one right behind Hayden with Rizla Suzuki rider Loris Capirossi fifth on his record 300th Grand Prix start.

Pedrosa and Stoner both passed Rossi in quick succession and the Australian then moved to the front to take up a familiar position under the desert lights.

Stoner immediately began to pull away while Rossi bided his time before passing Pedrosa with a clinical move on lap five.

Stoner looked set to cruise to a repeat of the dominant victory he enjoyed last year but uncharacteristically lost the front end going into the first corner of lap six to crash out and leave Rossi in the lead.

Pedrosa's team-mate Dovizioso passed Hayden to take second spot after clocking a top speed of 201mph on the start/finish straight and the Honda man kept Rossi in his sights.

The front three bunched up as the race approached the last few laps and Dovizioso briefly nosed ahead down the straight only to be outbraked by Rossi going into the first corner.

That was a wake-up call for Rossi to produce a set of fast laps to stretch ahead before team-mate Lorenzo pounced to snatch third with a lap and a half to go by nipping inside Hayden.

Lorenzo - riding with a broken bone in his hand - had been way off the pace in the early stages but timed his charge to the front to perfection as he aggressively barged past Dovizioso on the penultimate lap to take second.

Photograph Copyright : Getty Images