Nicky Hayden became the fastest rider ever to complete a lap of the legendary Phillip Island circuit as he obliterated the pole position record in today's single qualifying practice for the Polini Australian Grand Prix. The American set a time of 1'29.337 despite being held up by a slower rider just two corners from the end, his effort beating Valentino Rossi's previous record here by 0.731 seconds and holding off the Italian's own challenge by a single tenth.
"My goal was to lap below 1'29.5 but the qualifying tyres just got better and better and on the last one I was really going for it," said Hayden, who also started from pole at Laguna Seca and Sachsenring this season. "The bike is working well, the tyres have plenty of grip and that's when I love it. It's always nice to be on pole but it's tomorrow that counts. Everybody in the team is doing their bit and they're all right behind me so all I can do is try to put on good show and see what happens."
Rossi was also held up by a slower rider on his fastest lap, eventually abandoning a potential pole effort to change tyres and launch one final attempt with just two minutes remaining. However, the World Champion was unable to match his previous pace and had to settle for second place on the grid as he looks to score his fifth straight MotoGP victory at this circuit in tomorrow's race. Sete Gibernau gatecrashed the front row in third place at the expense of his Spanish compatriot Carlos Checa, who dominated for much of the session but will start from the front of the second row in fourth place.
Colin Edwards knocked almost two seconds off his best time from a problematic first day as he moved up to fifth place overall and secured a second row start between Checa and Max Biaggi, who flirted with the front row positions before eventually dropping to sixth. Marco Melandri will challenge Biaggi for second place in the championship from eighth on the grid after being out-qualified by rookie youngster Toni Elías, who continued his recent form after recovering from a wrist injury to record his best MotoGP qualifying position in seventh place.
Further back on the grid Chris Vermeulen will make his MotoGP debut as a replacement for the injured Troy Bayliss from fourteenth place after an impressive display. The Australian lapped within a second of his Honda team-mate Alex Barros and just 2.317 seconds off Hayden's pole time, the pace of which was highlighted by the fact that WCM rider Franco Battaini did not meet the official qualifying time after failing to lap within 107% of pole.
Vermeulen's compatriot Casey Stoner will start his home race from pole position after setting the fastest ever lap of this circuit by a 250cc machine with a time of 1'32.756 in the second qualifying session for the quarter-litre class. Stoner is targeting his third consecutive victory as he looks to close the 26-point gap to series leader and reigning World Champion Dani Pedrosa, who starts from the second row of the grid after qualifying sixth fastest. The Australian is joined on the front row by Jorge Lorenzo, who escaped unhurt from a high-speed crash in turn one just seconds after setting his fastest lap, Alex de Angelis and last year's winner Sebastián Porto, who failed to improve on his provisional pole time from yesterday after suffering from mechanical problems with ten minutes of the session remaining.
125cc World Championship leader Mika Kallio will start from the second row of the grid after seeing his nearest title rival, Thomas Lüthi, clinch pole position. Lüthi, who lies just two points behind Kallio in the current standings, clocked a time of 1'37.543 to seal his fourth pole of the season with a 0.161 second advantage over Mattia Pasini. Gabor Talmacsi and Marco Simoncelli complete the front row, with the top twelve riders separated by less than a second.
Source: DORNA COMMUNICATIONS
Photo: Honda Pro Image