He finished ahead of Yamaha Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow and team-mate Valentino Rossi.
Thursday’s sole practice for the premier class not only launched the 2013 campaign, but also helped mark the tenth anniversary of the sport in Qatar. Also, for the first time ever, the session had a direct bearing on qualifying, as the new format this year means the combined top ten from across the opening three practices will go on to make up the Q2 qualifying line-up on Saturday.
It looked as though Britain’s Crutchlow was the favourite to take top spot, having put the hammer down towards the end of the ession, but Lorenzo moved ahead with a last-gasp 1m 56.685s. This left the top three separated by just 71 thousandths of a second but Rossi was also leading at the halfway mark.
Reigning Moto2 world champion Marc Márquez came in fourth while Andrea Dovizioso put in a terrific performance on his Ducati to come fifth.
Due to the extremely dusty track surface and riders pushing to find the limits, an assortment of names veered onto the run-off area at Turn 1. PBM’s Yonny Hernández’s was the first rider in MotoGP to suffer an accident in the new year, as the Colombian lost the front end of his ART bike but he fortunately managed to walk away with solely scuffed leathers.
It was an encouraging start to the campaign for Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista, who completed the night in sixth spot from the LCR Honda MotoGP of Stefan Bradl.
Bautista, who had mostly recovered from a finger injury obtained in Jerez testing, cited that it had been aggravated once more, and will have to assess his injury on Friday.
It was also certainly a low-key start for expected title challenger Dani Pedrosa as the Repsol man ended up in eighth place, having run off the track twice.
As Nicky Hayden confirmed a double top ten finish for the Ducati Team, Aleix Espargaro raised eyebrows by ending his evening ninth quickest on the leading CRT bike of the Power Electronics Aspar outfit, just 1.1 seconds off Lorenzo’s leading time.
British newcomer Bradley Smith in the Tech 3 team was just outside the top ten, but ahead of Pramac Racing duo Andrea Iannone and Ben Spies.
The rest of the 24-bike field was filled by CRT representatives, with Héctor Barberá and Hiroshi Aoyama in respective 14th and 19th places for Avintia Blusens.
Between them were Aspar’s Randy de Puniet, Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham, NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards and the aforementioned Hernández.
Forward rookie Claudio Corti was 20th and almost a second slower than team-mate Edwards in these early stages, with Danilo Petrucci leading the Came IodaRacing Project attack from 21st.
Petrucci and debuting Czech teammate Lukas Pesek sandwiched Gresini newcomer Bryan Staring of Australia, as Britain’s Michael Laverty completed the field while continuing early development work on the in-house PBM machine.