PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA, OCT 27 – The Australian Grand Prix will be historic, regardless of the result. Whether favored son Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda) wins the race for a record sixth time or whether Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo clinches his second MotoGP World Championship, the race won’t soon be forgotten.
The race on Phillip Island has been marked on the calendar ever since Stoner announced earlier this MotoGP season that it would be his last. There were races many wanted to see, but none had the appeal of Phillip Island. Stoner and the track have a connection like few others. Before Stoner won five in a row Valentino Rossi had run off five in a row. In between the two Marco Melandri won the race for his one and only time. If he wins for a sixth time, it will be yet another marker Stoner can put between himself and Rossi.
When Stoner was forced to undergo surgery following his MotoGP qualifying crash in the Red Bull Indy GP, he penciled the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as the race for his return, but mostly to get race fit for Phillip Island. Neither Motegi nor Sepang were satisfying. And despite the passing of time, his surgically repaired right ankle has gotten worse. But Philip Island is mostly lefts—dirt trackers, and Stoner is a former dirt tracker, love it—with only two rights.
Stoner managed to fall in one of the rights about 20 minutes into the MotoGP qualifying session. Ironically it was in the Honda hairpin right. An engine braking glitch was the culprit, Stoner would later say. The crash came as he was entering the corner on an out lap. The bike somersaulted down the track with Stoner making sure to avoid it. The bike was heavily damaged, Stoner walked away.
Despite his injured ankle,...
Despite his injured ankle, Casey Stoner easily took pole position for tomorrow's Australian Grand Prix.
“We were going extremely slow, and something locked again to do with engine brake on the way in,” he said about his MotoGP qualifying crash. “I don’t know if I was going too slow on the out lap or what, but it completely came around on me; there was no way to stop it, so the crash could have been a lot worse, I could have hurt myself a lot more. So I'm thankful nothing happened to my foot.”
And he got back on Phillip Island circuit within five minutes. Stoner had gone to the top of the order just over four minutes into the MotoGP qualifying session, held in typically, cold blustery weather, and never left that perch. Three times in the final half hour he lowered his time and might have lowered it even farther had a light rain not shut down the session in the waning minutes.
“I thought I could have gone a little quicker there with the last tire, but unfortunately it started to rain,” he said. “So, it was good. We got a banker in and we managed to still have that gap to stay on pole, so we’re pretty happy.”
Stoner had his fifth pole at Phillip Island with a gap of 0.517 seconds on Lorenzo, with teammate Dani Pedrosa another 0.435 seconds back and nearly a second down on the Australian.
“It has been interesting since I came back,” he said. “I've been slowly getting better and better and more confidence. And, you know, we’ve felt good here all weekend at Phillip Island. It’s just nice to be back on this track and nice to just actually open these bikes up a little bit, have them moving and sliding around. And, you know, it’s not something we get to actually do during most of the year, because most of the time you’re trying to keep the bikes very well in line and get as much speed out of them. But it actually works around here. So it’s really nice just to ride these machines around this track. And I've been enjoying every minute of it.”
And his fans have responded in kind. The crowd on Friday was a record and Saturday’s was even bigger.
“To be honest, the whole weekend, to see the amount of support we’ve got here has just been fantastic, and I know that because it’s my last year here is why we’ve got such big crowds, but I still appreciate the fact that so many people have come down to watch me ride this last time and hopefully we can put on a good show tomorrow. But by no means is it going to be an easy race. I’m hoping for some nicer weather, a little bit more consistent. But the atmosphere is always nice down here. It’s very different from a lot of grand prixs, but it’s something that I enjoy.”
Stoner had been 0.885 seconds faster than Pedrosa on Saturday at Phillip Island; the gap today in MotoGP qualifying was much less, but still impressive.
Jorge Lorenzo qualified in...
Jorge Lorenzo qualified in second spot, a little more than half a second behind Stoner.
“Yes, yes, we all knew that here would be difficult to fight with Casey, but I was really surprised, no, with his pace,” Lorenzo said. “He was going really, really fast.” Lorenzo noted that Stoner’s injury didn’t seem to be slowing him down “and he’s just one step ahead. In the qualifying we just get a little closer, only half a second. I try my best with the two qualifying tires and I make a really two good laps. So yeah, we are close to our goal, but we must be keep calm tomorrow.”
That’s when he has the chance to win his second title. Lorenzo enters the 17th round of the MotoGP World Championship at Phillip Island with a 23-point lead on Pedrosa. He needs two points clinch the title; basically, he has to finish in front of him.
Dani Pedrosa stayed within...
Dani Pedrosa stayed within striking distance of title rival Lorenzo in third spot during qualifying.
Pedrosa acknowledged Stoner’s dominance, then added that the “race is the race and just try to keep focused and try to ride well, as we need, and I think we did some improvement in the last turn when I exit with the bike and this is positive. And just for tomorrow it’s one more race and that’s it.”
Valentino Rossi qualified...
Valentino Rossi qualified in eighth spot at Phillip Island.
Ducati Marlboro's Valentino Rossi qualified eighth on the MotoGP grid, which is worse than it sounds. His qualifying lap time of 1:31.661 was 0.040 seconds slower than Althea Racing's Carlos Checa ran to claim third on the starting grid for the World Superbike race here at Phillip Island in late February.
"At the end starting from the third row for tomorrow, our speed and potential is not so bad," Rossi said after the MotoGP session was over at Phillip Island. "I can do maybe seventh (in qualifying), but not a lot more. For the race I hope we can do a bit better, because I am able to stay with a quite good pace, also with the old tire. I did some good lap times with the tires at 15 or 18 laps and that will be very important for the race of tomorrow because after half the race for sure everybody will have to fight with the spin and it looks like we are not so bad, so we can try and keep a good pace for the second part of the race and try to achieve some position.
"(Alvaro) Bautista, (Cal) Crutchlow and (Stefan) Bradl come better at the end, but they are not very far, so the target is to try to do a good start and stay with the other guys and try to understand if my pace in the second half of the race is enough to improve and try to do some overtaking. We will see the conditions tomorrow because also it can be very difficult, also for the choice of the tire, but if the temperature doesn’t raise so much it is more for the soft tire."
Nicky Hayden struggled to...
Nicky Hayden struggled to qualify in 10th spot at Phillip Island.
Teammate Nicky Hayden was further down the order and disconsolate. The Phillip Island track is one of his favorites and it's the only one where he still holds the MotoGP lap record. That's certain to fall on Sunday.
"Yesterday was hard, but today’s been even harder," Hayden said after qualifying. "We really have struggled a lot. I mean, I haven’t really went a lot faster than I did halfway through FP1. Cannot really find a direction to get any edge grip. I break loose on the edge and it causes a lot of moving, a lot of pumping and still having a big problem with the bumps. When the front goes across the bumps it chatters and skips across and I lose the line, so was definitely not happy with how I went in qualifying. I didn’t really feel good. On my best lap I made a mistake in T1 and lost time, and I had a little…I finally did T1 a little bit better and then the rain came. So, sure, everybody would’ve been able to go a bit faster but was a shame the rain came when it did."
MotoGP Phillip Island qualifying results:
1. Casey Stoner (AUS) Honda 1:29.623
2. Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) Yamaha 1:30.140
3. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Honda 1:30.575
4. Cal Crutchlow (GBR) Yamaha 1:30.763
5. Stefan Bradl (GER) Honda 1:30.798
6. Andrea Dovisioso (ITA) Yamaha 1:31.200
7. Alvaro Bautista (SPA) Honda 1:31.490
8. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Ducati 1:31.661
9. Randy De Puniet (FRA) ART/Aprilia 1:31.667
10. Nicky Hayden (USA) Ducati 1:31.681
11. Karel Abraham (CZE) Ducati 1:31.910
12. Aleix Espargaro (SPA) ART/Aprilia 1:31.990
13. Hector Barbera (SPA) Ducati 1:32.231
14. Michele Pirro (ITA) FTR/Honda 1:33.050
15. Danilo Petrucci (ITA) Ioda-Suter/BMW 1:33.069
16. Colin Edwards (USA) Suter/BMW 1:33.450
17. James Ellison (GBR) ART/Aprilia 1:33.489
18. Roberto Rolfo (ITA) ART/Aprilia 1:33.577
19. Ivan Silva (SPA) FTR/Kawasaki 1:34.156