Saturday, October 16


By Michael Esdaile
Photos: Peter Geran

In dry but blustery conditions, Australian Casey Stoner celebrated his 25th birthday by storming to pole position at Phillip Island on Saturday, October 16 for Sunday’s Iveco Australian Grand Prix.

Stoner turned in a stunning 1m 30.107s on his pole winning lap, more than half a second clear of next fastest man, newly crowned world champion Jorge Lorenzo - and almost 1.3 seconds ahead of third fastest man Ben Spies.

Compared with the first practice session on Friday, Saturday’s qualifying was a dream – even with the blustery wind. To start with, the track was dry and there was no rain. On top of that, the track temperature was the warmest it had been for the MotoGP bikes all weekend, 22 degrees Celcius. Hardly blazing hot but a huge leap from the 10°C of Friday morning, or the 12°C of Saturday morning, when Stoner had also topped the time sheets with a 1m 31.243s effort.

The Australian Marlboro Ducati rider was in a class of his own even then, his best lap an astounding 0.757 seconds faster than the next rider, Texan Colin Edwards on the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 bike who managed a 1m 32.00s best lap. In that session Stoner was the only rider to break into the 1m 31s zone.

Edwards’ team-mate Ben Spies had a good outing on Saturday morning too, with third fastest time, 1m 32.101s, ahead of Lorenzo’s 1m 32.168s best.

But with the track temperature another 10°C warmer for Saturday afternoon’s qualifying, the times came down, but still no one could get close to Stoner’s effort.

Lorenzo was the only other rider to make it under the 1m 31s barrier, with a 1m 30.775s effort. Spies was again third fastest, with a 1m 31.386s effort, to round out the front row.

San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Marco Simoncelli pulled a fast time out of nowhere, snatching the front position on the second row of the grid with a 1m 31.402s effort at the last possible moment.

Alongside him Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden completed the second row while Randy De Puniet (LCR Honda) headed the third row from Valentino Rossi (Fiat Yamaha) and Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda).

Dovizioso’s team-mate Dani Pedrosa was probably wondering why he had bothered flying all the way from Spain after the operation on his left collarbone, struggling to get comfortable in the treacherous conditions.

In the end, Pedrosa was down on the the back of the grid, alongside the Paginas Amarillas Aspar Ducati of Hector Barbera and the Rizla Suzuki of Loris Capirossi.

But the Repsol Honda team announced at 6.00 pm on Saturday evening that Pedrosa had decided to sit out the rest of the weekend as he was unable to properly control his bike (see separate story).

But while Pedrosa was in some discomfort, Stoner was a very happy chap. Although he did not get close to his 2008 pole record of 1m 28.665s, he was satisfied with his performance in the difficult conditions.

“I always seem to celebrate my birthday here at Phillip Island but I guess there are worse places to be,” Stoner said. “We have had virtually every single condition you could imagine thrown at us this weekend do we’ll have to wait and see what happens tomorrow before we make any decisions on set-up, but so far I think we have done the best possible job in every condition.

“I am quite happy with the setting in the wet even though we had a fully wet session, which made it difficult to get a good reading from the bike. We have had two good sessions today, making progress in the last half an hour this morning and another big step again in the last half hour this afternoon. With the two soft tyres I was able to make a substantial improvement to the lap time and we’re in the best possible position for tomorrow, so I’m pretty happy.”

For the full list of qiualifying times, click on:

Stoner on his way to pole position at Phillip Island on Saturday, October 16. Note the generous sized holes in the nose of his Ducati's fairing, designed to reduce the impact of gusty side-winds.