Published: Friday October 26, 2012 MYT 4:09:00 PM
Stoner lays down marker in Australia
PHILLIP ISLAND (Australia): Home hero Casey Stoner dominated practice in front of record crowds on Friday as he chases a sixth consecutive Australian MotoGP victory this weekend in his farewell season.
The Repsol Honda rider, recovering from serious right leg injuries in a crash in August, was fastest by just under a second as the bikes took to the high-speed and blustery Phillip Island circuit ahead of Sunday's race.
Stoner again mastered his home track and was the only rider to go under 1min 30sec in posting a best lap time of one minute 29.999 seconds, ahead of Spanish world championship contenders and Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa (1:30.884) and Jorge Lorenzo (1:31.005).
Stoner is battling the effects of recent surgery on torn ligaments and fractures to his ankle, tibia and fibula he suffered in a crash during qualifying for the Indianapolis MotoGP in mid-August.
The Aussie's hopes of defending his world title were ruined by the track mishap and he is out of contention, well back in third spot on the championship standings with two races left this season.
Lorenzo leads Pedrosa by 23 points in the championship and can take his second MotoGP world title with victory on Sunday.
Stoner's final Australian MotoGP appearance is drawing huge crowds down to Phillip Island with the highest-ever Friday attendance at the track - almost 30,000 packed the stands. He was fastest in both practice sessions.
"I've been improving every day, but today helped me with some confidence," said Stoner, who walks with a noticeable limp.
"I've got to move on this track a lot less than (his comeback race) in Japan and Malaysia (last week), so I've had a lot less issues with the ankle on the bike."
Lorenzo, runner-up behind Pedrosa at the last three MotoGPs, found the notorious windy Phillip Island conditions difficult to adjust to after the Malaysian tempest last weekend.
"It's been really tough so far, the conditions are quite difficult," Lorenzo, who rides a Yamaha, said.
"It's been really windy which makes it very uncomfortable to ride. We are going to try and stay with Dani here and also Casey, but he is very fast, he's on another level at this track.
"I think we are close to Dani so our goal is to try and beat him. We're going to try and make the bike more stable tomorrow, to keep the wheels on the ground and make it more comfortable in the wind."
Yamaha's British rider Cal Crutchlow was fourth, overcoming flu-type symptoms he has been experiencing since leaving Malaysia.
Crutchlow's team-mate Andrea Dovizioso was fifth as he looks to find something extra to take third spot off Stoner in the championship this weekend.
Out-of-sorts nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi was down the charts with the eighth-fastest time of 1:32.030, just ahead of his Ducati teammate Nicky Hayden. Qualifying is on Saturday. - AFP