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Motorcycling: Stoner takes pole, as Lorenzo sniffs title

Honda MotoGP rider Casey Stoner of Australia rides during a free practice session ahead of the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip I
Honda MotoGP rider Casey Stoner of Australia rides during a free practice session ahead of the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip I

PHILLIP ISLAND, Australia (Reuters) - Australia's Casey Stoner shrugged off a lame ankle and an early crash in qualifying to take pole position at his final home Grand Prix on Saturday as Jorge Lorenzo remained on course for a second MotoGP title.

The retiring Stoner, bidding to extend his record to a sixth straight victory on his Phillip Island swansong, gave packed crowds a fright when he came off his Honda at the seaside circuit's hairpin turn 20 minutes into the session.

But the hard-bitten 27-year-old hobbled away from the crash and re-emerged from the pits on a spare bike that he rode to a pace-setting lap of one minute 29.623 seconds, before a rain shower doused the track in the closing minutes.

"Bit of an upset there in qualifying," the two-time MotoGP champion said in a televised interview. "I was on my out lap on a hard tire and the thing just decided to flip me.

"I was very fortunate we didn't come down on my foot," Stoner added, referring to a painful ligaments injury that dashed his title defense and has dogged him since his comeback at the Japan Grand Prix earlier this month.

"If it was the other way it would have been a different story.

"I'm just very happy to be in pole in my home Grand Prix and hopefully have something to celebrate tomorrow for everybody."

Spanish championship leader Lorenzo pushed his Yamaha gamely through gusty sea-breezes with dark clouds hovering menacingly overhead, but finished more than half a second behind Stoner.

VICTORY PARADE

The 2010 world champion was more than happy to be shaded by the Australian, however, and needs only to secure a podium spot ahead of compatriot Dani Pedrosa in Sunday's race to seal his second title and enjoy a home victory parade in the final round at Valencia.

"Well, Casey is unbeatable this weekend, if nothing strange happens, so for everybody, it's our target to be as close as possible to him," said Lorenzo, who leads Honda's Pedrosa by 23 points in the title race, with 25 up for grabs for the winner.

"But (I'll) mainly try to win second place... We'll try to keep calm and not make any mistakes."

Caution is certain to be the watchword for Lorenzo, who, barring a runner-up finish at the 2010 race, has had a drama-filled history at Phillip Island.

The 25-year-old's 2009 race ended at the first turn and he was unable to even compete last year following a sickening crash in morning practice that severed his finger and saw him rushed to a Melbourne hospital for emergency surgery.

Pedrosa, whose win at the Malaysian Grand Prix last week gave him his fifth triumph from six races, has delayed Lorenzo's coronation time and again, but his hopes of slugging it out with his countryman in Valencia may have washed away in the rain.

Pedrosa pushed hard in the closing stages to pip the champion-in-waiting, but the late shower put paid to his session and he will line up third on the grid.

"Anyway, (it's) front row, so just hoping to have good luck and do a good race tomorrow," he said.

Briton Cal Crutchlow qualified fourth on his Yamaha, with Ducati's seven-times premier class champion Valentino Rossi eighth.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O'Brien)

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