Casey Stoner will start the Iveco Australian Grand Prix on pole position for the second year running, after topping Saturday’s qualifying timesheet. The Ducati rider remains on course for a hat-trick of Phillip Island victories at his home circuit.
Having enjoyed wins in the past two seasons at the Australian track, Stoner’s best time of 1’30.341 on his Desmosedici GP9 was just 0.050s faster than nearest rival Valentino Rossi.
The battle with Rossi – who will take his place on the front row for the ninth consecutive race – throughout Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session was an engrossing affair, as the fastest time swapped hands towards the end of the session.
Dani Pedrosa survived a crash to secure third place, a 0.679s margin behind paceman Stoner, with a second bike, after his RC212V lost its nose going into Southern Loop, whilst Rossi’s Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo took fourth spot.
Lorenzo had third place snatched off him by the Repsol Honda rider Pedrosa by just one thousandth of a second, thus depriving the Majorcan of a front-row start for the first time this season.
Making up the second row on Sunday will be Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards – just 0.025s off Lorenzo’s time – and Alex de Angelis, who followed up impressive some practice times in sixth place, despite an early spill in qualifying.
Stoner’s Ducati team-mate Nicky Hayden, LCR Honda rider Randy de Puniet, Mika Kallio (Pramac Racing) and Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) all made the top ten as well.
Raffaele de Rosa will start on pole position in the 250cc class after beating World Champion Marco Simoncelli and Scot Racing team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama to the front of the grid.
The rain played havoc with the opening stages of the qualifying practice session, with both Alex Debon (Aeropuerto-Castello-Blusens) and Mattia Pasini (Paddock GP Racing Team) crashing on their first laps.
Héctor Barberá (Pepe World) looked to have sealed first place, but an exciting final few minutes of qualifying saw De Rosa post a 1’33.389 lap, with Simoncelli and Aoyama being joined on the front row by Debon.
Debon recovered from his crash to take fourth place, whilst Barberá will line up in fifth with Mike de Meglio (Mapfre Aspar), Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT SAG) and Pasini making up the remainder of the second row, all within a second of De Rosa. Héctor Faubel (Honda SAG) and Álvaro Bautista (Mapfre Aspar) completed the top ten.
Form rider Pol Espargaró will head the grid in the 125cc category after securing his first pole position of the year.
The Derbi Racing starlet – who has won two of the last three GPs, at Indianapolis and Estoril – was the fastest rider in free practice, and bettered his pace with a best lap of 1’37.770 on Saturday afternoon to secure only the third pole position of his career.
Hot on his heels was fellow Spaniard Nico Terol, who at 0.279s behind pushed Julían Simón down to third place. Simón, who is bidding to seal the world title this weekend, was a further 0.018s behind Terol to also secure a place on the front row of the grid.
Joining the Spanish trio, Simone Corsi (Fontana Racing) took fourth spot with a best time of 1’38.136 to make the front row for the first time this year, and heading up the second row is Simón’s Bancaja Aspar team-mate Bradley Smith who, before a late crash at Honda Hairpin, managed to take over 0.5s off his best practice time to claim fifth place.
Sunday’s racing at the Iveco Australian Grand Prix commences with the 125cc riders getting away at 1pm local time. The 250cc riders commence their contest at 2.15pm and the MotoGP race begins at 4pm.