|Desert roar kid: Stoner is becoming the rider to beat at Losail [AFP]
Casey Stoner's Ducati proved the only streak of lightning as the Australian shrugged off a desert storm to win his third-straight Qatar MotoGP.
The 2007 champion started on pole and romped home more than seven seconds ahead of reigning champ Valentino Rossi under the lights at Losail International Circuit outside Doha.
Rossi said it was either "finish second or try to crash" after struggling with front-tyre grip on the sandy Losail surface, as he survived a three-way tussle in the first lap and eventually finished nearly nine seconds ahead of the field in the season opener.
Veteran rider Loris Capirossi was one of those who took on Rossi and lost, with the 36-year-old later being sent careering over the gravel after a lowside fall chasing his 100th podium.
Jorge Lorenzo finished third behind Yamaha teammate Rossi after the 2008 Rookie of the Year had duelled with his illustrious partner in the early exchanges.
The only night race in the calendar was moved to Monday after a freak electric rainstorm had lashed the desert minutes from starters orders the night before.
A day contest could still have gone ahead – but glare from the lights on the track made racing impossible.
"This was one of those nights the bike did everything right for me," Stoner said after the race, adding that he hoped Qatar would remain a floodlit competition.
1 C Stoner (AUS) Ducati 
2 V Rossi (ITA) Yamaha 
3 J Lorenzo (ESP) Yamaha 
4 C Edwards (USA) Yamaha 
5 A Dovizioso (ITA) Honda 
6 A de Angelis (SMR) Honda 
7 C Vermeulen (AUS) Suzuki 
8 M Kallio (FIN) Ducati 
9 T Elias (ESP) Honda 
10 R de Puniet (FRA) Honda 
11 D Pedrosa (ESP) Honda 
12 N Hayden (USA) Ducati 
13 S Gibernau (ESP) Ducati 
14 M Melandri (ITA) Kawasaki 
15 Y Takahashi (JPN) Honda 
16 J Toseland (GBR) Yamaha
17 N Canepa (ITA) Ducati
[Indicates championship points]
"There's no problem with night races," he said.
"That's as unlucky as we could get last night, we've been coming here for years and I haven't seen it rain once."
Qatar experiences on average eight days of rain a year, with most of it seemingly falling in Sunday's deluge.
"Maybe for the next 20 years it will not rain," said Lorenzo.
A Losail crowd made up of mainly Spanish, Italian and Australian fans made the race a raucous affair, with the first cheers going to Kawasaki rider Marco Melandri after he rejoined the race having left the track on the first lap, later finishing 14th.
Briton James Toseland spun off after seven laps to finish 16th, while Capirossi retired after skewing off under pressure from American Colin Edwards on lap eight.
Dani Pedrosa, third in the 2008 championship, was almost knocked over after a wheel nudge from Alex de Angelis on lap 10 to finish 11th.
Stoner's dominance left supporters ruing the lack of a front-field duel, being satisfied instead with the 23-year-old's grandstand wheelie finish.
"We lost a bit of time to fight with Loris and Jorge but after that I was able to ride fast and make some good laps," said Rossi afterwards, having gained on Stoner before fading in the second half of the race.
|There's more to come from Rossi [AFP]
"Already this night I was very, very close to crashing one times, two times, and had to decide whether to take second or try to crash.
"Second place is good for us, and a better start to the season from last year."
Yamaha's Edwards finished fourth after overtaking Andrea Dovizioso, who had been third for several laps in an aggressive start.
Finland's Mika Kallio finished best of the three rookies on the grid in eighth behind De Angelis and Chris Vermeulen.
Eight-time world champion Rossi has few records still to beat, although in the two times of asking he has yet to win a night race.
That's one ailment that "The Doctor" will certainly want to perform surgery on under lights next year.
The next MotoGP is on April 26 at Motegi, Japan.