MotoGP champion Casey Stoner set the pace in the opening practice session of the season in Qatar, but only after a tough battle with the Yamahas.
With Jorge Lorenzo's Yamaha just behind the Australian's Honda in second and Nicky Hayden putting his Ducati third, all three works teams had a presence in the top three at the end of the close-fought session.
Ben Spies had set the pace for most of the first half of practice on the other works Yamaha, before his 1m57.606s was pipped by just 0.005sec by the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha of Cal Crutchlow. Spies regained the top spot with a 1m57.285s six minutes later, though he was then swiftly deposed by a 1m57.256s from Stoner.
The final few minutes saw a flurry of changes, as first Spies returned to the head of the list with a 1m56.982s, then Lorenzo popped up to first on a 1m56.648s, before Stoner delivered an unbeatable 1m56.474s. Hayden had briefly been second behind Lorenzo, before Stoner's time pushed them back to second and third, ahead of Spies.
Dani Pedrosa made late gains to take fifth on the other factory Honda, as Crutchlow's impressive evening ended with sixth place.
Alvaro Bautista (Gresini Honda), Andrea Dovizioso (Tech 3) and Hector Barbera (Pramac Ducati) filled seventh to ninth positions, while Valentino Rossi's year kicked off with a quiet 10th for Ducati.
Randy de Puniet was the fastest CRT runner for Aspar, though only after swapping places with Forward Racing's Colin Edwards a few times. Moto2 graduate Michele Pirro was right behind them despite his lack of preseason mileage on Gresini's CRT entry.
Under Qatar's unique four-day schedule, MotoGP's second and third practice sessions both take place on Friday night, before qualifying on Saturday.
Pos Rider Team/Bike Time Gap
1. Casey Stoner Honda 1m56.474s
2. Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 1m56.648s + 0.174s
3. Nicky Hayden Ducati 1m56.924s + 0.450s
4. Ben Spies Yamaha 1m56.982s + 0.508s
5. Dani Pedrosa Honda 1m57.130s + 0.656s
6. Cal Crutchlow Tech 3 Yamaha 1m57.395s + 0.921s
7. Alvaro Bautista Gresini Honda 1m57.512s + 1.038s
8. Andrea Dovizioso Tech 3 Yamaha 1m57.547s + 1.073s
9. Hector Barbera Pramac Ducati 1m57.912s + 1.438s
10. Valentino Rossi Ducati 1m57.914s + 1.440s
11. Karel Abraham Cardion Ducati 1m57.939s + 1.465s
12. Stefan Bradl LCR Honda 1m58.934s + 2.460s
13. Randy de Puniet Aspar Aprilia 1m59.985s + 3.511s
14. Colin Edwards Forward Suter-BMW 2m00.044s + 3.570s
15. Michele Pirro Gresini FTR-Honda 2m00.322s + 3.848s
16. Aleix Espargaro Aspar Aprilia 2m00.720s + 4.246s
17. Ivan Silva Avintia FTR-Kawasaki 2m01.138s + 4.664s
18. Mattia Pasini Speed Master Aprilia 2m01.261s + 4.787s
19. Yonny Hernandez Avintia FTR-Kawasaki 2m01.276s + 4.802s
20. Danilo Petrucci Ioda-Aprilia 2m01.352s + 4.878s
21. James Ellison Paul Bird Aprilia 2m03.421s + 6.947s