LOSAIL // As the lights switch on in Qatar for the opening race of the MotoGP season, Casey Stoner, the pole-sitter, remains wary of complacency after setting the quickest lap on the Losail circuit.
In the eight years the MotoGP series has started under the floodlights in Qatar, only once as the pole-sitter won the race when Stoner triumphed in 2009.
The 2007 world champion has been untouchable in testing since moving to Repsol Honda over the winter and was again fastest with a final time of 1 minute 54.137 seconds.
The Australian's time was nearly a second faster than his pole time on a Ducati 12 months ago and he will be joined on the front row by his teammate Dani Pedrosa and the reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo.
Stoner won the opening race of the year in Losail on a Ducati in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and was leading by over a second when he crashed out last year.
He is firm favourite to add to that haul tomorrow but was keeping calm ahead of his racing debut on the factory Honda.
"We can't ask for a much better weekend, everything has gone well and the team have made all the right steps and gradually improved the bike as the weekend progressed," he said.
"Tonight I was able to achieve good, consistent lap times again on the hard tyre and this is important for the race.
"As ever, we will keep our feet on the ground as we've had good starts to seasons in the past and then they haven't played out as expected, we just need to keep working and ensure that we continue to progress.
"We've done all our homework and the best job possible, now I just want to get the season started."
The surprise of the session was Marco Simoncelli, who took fourth, just four hundredths of a second behind Lorenzo.
It was also a fine evening for British debutant Cal Crutchlow who exceeded expectations by putting his Tech 3 Yamaha in eighth place — out-qualifying his experienced teammate Colin Edwards and the nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi.
Crutchlow ground down the tip of his little finger in a crash last Monday night and is still recovering from shoulder surgery so was understandably pleased with his progress.
He said: "It feels great to have qualified eighth when you look at the calibre and record of some of the guys behind me, but I'm not going to be getting ahead of myself.
"I never would have imagined doing that pace a few days ago at the test but I'm not going to make a prediction for the race.
"I'd be happy to get a few points and have a strong race. It will be tough to finish where I've qualified but it has been a really positive weekend so far."
Rossi, who will debut on the Ducati today, is still struggling with a shoulder injury, was ninth quickest, with the Italian's teammate Nicky Hayden in 13th.
The field for Sunday's race was reduced to 16 after Rizla Suzuki's only rider Alvaro Bautista crashed in practice on Friday.
The Spaniard broke his left thigh bone and underwent surgery on Saturday. Germany's Stefan Bradl will start on pole for the Moto2 race, with Spain's Nicolas Terol occupying the front position in 125cc.