Birthday boy Stoner takes pole at home GP

Phillip Island: Australia`s Casey Stoner celebrated his 25th birthday by taking pole position at the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday as riders struggled during a damp and gusty qualifying session.

The Ducati rider delighted fans by clocking the fastest lap of one minute 30.107 seconds on the 4.45 km Phillip Island circuit before rain halted proceedings, giving himself every chance of clinching a fourth consecutive home victory.

Newly crowned world champion Jorge Lorenzo briefly threatened to spoil Stoner`s party when he recorded the fastest lap with less than 15 minutes remaining in the session, but the Australian bettered the time twice to underscore his mastery of the circuit.

Spain`s Lorenzo will start second on the grid for Sunday`s race with American Yamaha rider Ben Spies third.

"It was a little bit hard conditions with the rain and that coming," Stoner, who has won two of the last three rounds in a late-season revival, said in a televised interview.

"It was pushing a lot more wind at the end of the session so we were lucky to even drop the lap times.

"We were trying a few different things and got the rear of the bike to work a little bit smoother over the bumps but even then with that extra grip the bike still wanted to throw me off every chance it got."

After rain threatened to derail practice sessions, the sun emerged to dry sections of the track but not long enough to prevent crews working frantically in the pit with tyre changes and combinations.

Spies, sixth in the championship standings, left the circuit early to watch proceedings and was pleasantly surprised to finish on the front row.

"With these conditions it`s making it tough on everybody and luckily we got on the front row, I think it will make for a good race tomorrow," said the season`s leading rookie, who will become Lorenzo`s team mate next season.

Ducati riders Hector Barbera of Spain and American Nicky Hayden both crashed but emerged unscathed, while the usually buoyant Valentino Rossi was a picture of frustration after qualifying eighth.

The Italian seven-time premier class champion struggled to post a fast lap on his Yamaha and after returning to the pit, was unable to improve on his time as the rain fell.

Bureau Report

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