Motorcycling-MotoGP riders absent from Qatar opener as Nagashima shines

March 8 (Reuters) - The motorcycle grand prix season started in Qatar on Sunday without MotoGP riders due to the coronavirus outbreak but their absence gave Tetsuta Nagashima a chance to seize the limelight.

The Japanese KTM rider Nagashima celebrated a surprise first grand prix win in the Moto2 category, in his 70th start and 10 years after the late Shoya Tomizawa triumphed at the Losail circuit.

"Shoya was like a brother to me. When I started racing we were always together and he taught me a lot," said Nagashima, who had started 14th, as he remembered his friend who died after a crash at the 2010 San Marino Grand Prix.

"I remember it well when he won the race here. My first time winning is unbelievable."

Italians Lorenzo Baldassarri and Enea Bastianini were second and third.

In Moto3, Spaniard Albert Arenas handed Austrian manufacturer KTM their 100th victory in grand prix racing across all classes, beating Scottish rider John McPhee (Honda) by a mere 0.053 seconds.

The floodlit MotoGP race, which usually enjoys top billing, was cancelled due to Qatar imposing travel restrictions on passengers from Italy among other countries.

Moto2 and Moto3 riders were not affected by the measures because they were already in Qatar for a previous pre-season test session.

Ducati and Aprilia are the main Italy-based teams while Italian riders include Yamaha's MotoGP great Valentino Rossi. Italian engineers and mechanics are also spread across the paddock while the media has a large Italian contingent.

Italy is the European country hardest hit by the virus, with the death toll on Sunday put at 366 with a 25 percent jump in cases to 7,375 from 5,883 on Saturday. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London Editing by Ian Chadband)