PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA, OCT 16 - Ducati Marlboro's Casey Stoner celebrated his 25th birthday with a pole position in his home race at Phillip Island, south of Melbourne, Australia.Stoner had arrived home with mixed emotions. He'd won the past three races at the 2.76-mile circuit above the Bass Straits, but he'd crashed on the first lap of the previous Malaysian Grand Prix a week earlier.The crash had followed a pair of wins, first in Aragon, Spain, where he'd started from the pole, and then in Motegi, Japan. He'd also taken the pole in the season-opener in Qatar, but had crashed out of the lead.Stoner held the top time  for most of the session, first losing it to Ben Spies from the 19th to the 27th, and briefly to Jorge Lorenzo in the 47th minute. As a light rain began to fall, and others were called it quits, Stoner put in a mad rush at the end to lower his time. His fastest lap of 1:30.107 mins. came with just under three minutes to run.Though the session was held in a cold, biting wind, it was sunny most of the time, the only session with consistent conditions all weekend. It did begin to drizzle with about ten minutes to go, but that didn't affect Stoner. But he admitted that the weather could be a deciding factor on Sunday."I mean, it's thrown almost every different condition we can imagine over these two days," he said. "So we've got to wait and understand what the weather's going to be tomorrow and see how we're going to have to have the bike set up and if there's going to be a flag to flag race."So far we've done, I think, the best work we can do in every conditions. We're quite happy with the settings and the work, but unfortunately even our wet session wasn't a true wet session. It was slowly drying over the course of the session. Unfortunately we couldn't get a good reading on what we needed with the bike. These last two sessions have been pretty good for us. we improved a lot this morning in the last 30 minutes of the session. And then, yeah, this last one we were trying to improve the bike, but just couldn't get it much better until probably with 30 minutes to go, then we made a big step forward. We were able to keep improving to the end. And then, yeah, with the last two soft tires we were able to improve our lap time substantially, so we're very happy with the way things are going and I suppose we're in the best position we can be for tomorrow."The gap to second placed Jorge Lorenzo (Fiat Yamaha) was .688 secs. Lorenzo was happy to be there and happy to be on the front row. He described the conditions as "really risky," mostly because "track is so cold, the wind is pushing a lot, so for us is difficult to keep on the bike."That said, Stoner was "happy with the pace I make here, because normally this track is not so good for me in MotoGP, especially. And apart from Casey (Stoner)-he's really, really quick-we have done the second best pace today. So let's hope tomorrow the weather keeps more or less like this. Not rain, and let's see what happens."Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Ben Spies went to the top at the 18:28 mins. mark and held it until Stoner took him down just over eight minutes later. For the rest of the hour he was in second or third and finished at the end of the front row despite sitting out the last ten minutes. He'd sat out most of Friday's practice, held in rapidly changing, but horrid conditions, and it turned out to be the smart move. Today he chose to call it a day early when a light rain began to fall in the early corners, including the very fast Turn 1 Doohan Corner. But by then he'd gotten the most out of his Yamaha and would start on the front row as he tries to sew up Rookie of the Year honors. Spies leads Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini) by 60 points and needs to leave Australia with 50 in hand to take the title."Yeah, it went better than expected for sure," Spies said after his third front row qualifying effort of the year. He was second fastest in the Czech Republic and on the pole in Indianapolis. "We went out and did some laps and tried to work on the bike a little bit and turned our quickest lap on the end of our kinda race run and then came in to start putting all the tires in, trying to go faster for the last 25 minutes."We kinda just had a little bad luck. Every time we were pulling out of the pits and warming the tires up, there was no drops coming down or anything. And every time I went into turn one and was on a decent lap, it started spitting through turn one and two. Just couldn't quite time it right at the end. And then the last ten minutes, we just, we called it quits. We just couldn't get the lap in."Yeah, but, I'm happy that it put us on the front row, surprised. So we'll just see how it goes. It's going to be a tough race. These conditions are really hard. And surprised we're on the front row, happy."Simoncelli ended up on the row two pole with by far his best qualifying effort. His best before today was eighth fastest, which he'd been five times. Not only was it his best, but he was the top Honda rider.Simoncelli shared the second row with the other two Americans, Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Nicky Hayden (Ducati Marlboro). Being fifth fastest tied Edwards' best of the season, which he'd also run in Mugello and Motegi.Hayden was on the second row for much of the hour, but lost any hope of moving to the front row when he crashed with less than five minutes to go.LCR Honda's Randy de Puniet was the second fastest Honda back on the row three pole and just in front of Fiat Yamaha's Valentino Rossi. Rossi's best chance at a fast lap was ruined when he came up on Pramac Racing's Aleix Espargaro (Ducati) late in the hour."Yes, is quite bad practice and also unfortunately at the end I had bad luck, because with the first tire I had Espargaró on the line and I was on the red helmet in the T1. And with the second tire unfortunately Hayden crashed in front of me, the bike remained in the center of the track and when I try for the last lap it starts to rain," Rossi said. "So unfortunately I cannot do a real attempt. If not I think I can make stay with Colin and Spies."Anyway, we are not very fast and is important start in front, first of all, fourth place. But we have to start from eighth, unfortunately. But we have to improve also our setting. Try to make better tomorrow and see what's happened."Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso, who'd started the session quite slowly, gradually improved to ninth fastest. Teammate Dani Pedrosa qualified 15th, still hindered by the left collarbone he broke in the Japanese GP two weeks ago. Then, after thinking about it, the Spaniard withdrew from the race.MotoGP Qualifying:

1. Casey Stoner (AUS) Ducati 1:30.107

2. Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) Yamaha 1:30.775

3. Ben Spies (USA) Yamaha 1:31.386

4. Marco Simoncelli (ITA) Honda 1:31.402

5. Colin Edwards (USA) Yamaha 1:31.415

6. Nicky Hayden (USA) Ducati 1:31.530

7. Randy de Puniet (FRA) Honda 1:31.554

8. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Yamaha 1:31.627

9. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA) Honda 1:32.018

10. Marco Melandri (ITA) Honda 1:32.367

11. Aleix Espargaro (SPA) Ducati 1:32.542

12. Mika Kallio (FIN) Ducati 1:32.816

13. Hiroshi Aoyama (JAP) Honda 1:1:33.190

14. Alvaro Bautista (SPA) Suzuki 1:33.224

15. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Honda 1:33.384

16. Hector Barbera (SPA) Ducati 1:33.390

17. Loris Capirossi (ITA) Suzuki 1:34.269

MotoGP Headlines

Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.

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