Motorcycling: Stoner stuns veterans to claim Qatar pole

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Casey Stoner, a 20-year-old Australian in only his second race in the Moto GP class, stunned more experienced rivals by claiming pole position for the second round of the championship in Qatar yesterday.

Stoner took his LCR Honda round the 3.34-mile Losail circuit in 1min 55.283sec, just under four hundredths of a second faster than Italian Loris Capirossi on the Marlborough Ducati.

He had previously won four grand prix races in 125cc and 250cc classes, but his pole position on the 215mph Honda justifies the Japanese company's new youth policy as it struggles to regain the Moto GP championship from Valentino Rossi.

Spaniard Toni Elias, 23, took third place yesterday, the American Nicky Hayden was fourth and Dani Pedrosa, the 20-year-old Spanish sensation, was fifth, giving Honda four of the six grid positions on the first two rows.

"I expected it to take a couple of years to be up here on pole position, not in just my second race," Stoner said. "When I saw the other riders challenge, I thought I couldn't keep pole and I would have been happy with a place in the top six."

But Capirossi, who leads the championship, is unlikely to be worried by the slender gap that separates him from pole. The 33-year-old will count on superior track-craft gained from 17 years in grand prix racing to get him ahead of Stoner. "On my final fast lap, I tried too hard in the last part of the track and the bike slid a couple of times," he said. "I lost a few tenths and missed my second pole of 2006."

Capirossi now finds himself leading the senior category for the first time. Ducati, the only manufacturer capable of challenging the Japanese factories, also finds itself leading the Moto GP constructors' championship for the first time, helped by an alliance with Bridgestone, who have vastly improved their tyres for this season.

Rossi and his Camel-Yamaha team have resolved some of the wheel chatter problems that marred his first outing in Spain, where he crashed on the first turn and remounted to claim 14th place. The Italian finished less than four-tenths of a second behind Stoner, but will still start on the second row in sixth place.

Leon Haslam will attempt to revive his attack on the Bennetts British superbike championship at Donington Park tomorrow. The 22-year-old Derbyshire rider trails title rivals, Gregorio Lavilla and Ryuchi Kiyonari after crashing out of the first round.