Casey Stoner clocked the fastest lap in first practice for the Qatar Grand Prix but the World Champion had to work very hard to beat Jorge Lorenzo. Stoner appeared to be in for a tough challenge as the Yamaha riders took turns at the top of the leaderboard but with one minute to go, he established his superiority.
With 20 minutes to go, the running order was headed by Cal Crutchlow on the Tech 3 bike, leading Ben Spies by a tenth of a second. The Briton held on for five minutes before Spies and then Stoner moved ahead of him.
Spies was the first man into the 1:56s in the final three minutes as Yamaha dominated the high-speed final sector of the lap, as proven by Lorenzo who nicked ahead of his teammate, but Stoner ensured that Repsol Honda would strike the first blow in the 2012 season with a 1:56.474, a tenth and half quicker than the man expected to challenge him for the title.
Nicky Hayden stunned everyone by going third fastest as Ducati showed an impressive turn of pace late on. The American trailed Lorenzo by a quarter of a second and led his teammate Valentino Rossi by a full second in one of the performances of the day.
Spies dropped to fourth in the end while Dani Pedrosa was a quiet fifth. Cal Crutchlow's early promise resulted in sixth place with Alvaro Bautista separating him from Andrea Dovizioso in the other Tech 3 Yamaha. Hector Barbera was ninth for Pramac ahead of Rossi with Karel Abraham and Stefan Bradl completing the list of factory and satellite riders.
The CRT runners had differing fortunes in their first official practice session with Randy de Puniet the fastest overall for Aspar. Colin Edwards and Michele Pirro were close behind but Aleix Espargaro and Mattia Pasini languished behind after running off track.
Paul Bird Motorsport's James Ellison also spent a lot of time off track but that was all in the pitlane as the British team hit problems. Ellison was the slowest man in first practice with seven seconds separating him from Stoner.