Valentino Rossi robbed Ducati of a one-two in Phillip Island first qualifying this afternoon, the reigning world champion crossing the line almost unseen just seconds before the session ended - and snatching the early Australian advantage back to Honda on a day that also produced two unusual entries in the top ten.

Morning free practice had seen Aussie heroes Troy Bayliss and Garry McCoy give the home fans plenty of reason to cheer when they recorded the second and fourth fastest times respectively, but it was Rossi who once again lead the field - with a record breaking lap 0.233secs clear of the Ducati rider.

Nevertheless, McCoy's effort appeared nothing short of miraculous as he put his normally uncompetitive Kawasaki within 0.75secs of Rossi, but it later emerged he'd used a qualifying tyre... would that work for or against him this afternoon?

Meanwhile, Sete Gibernau had a lucky escape when he lost the front wheel of his RCV at high-speed, sending his Honda into a barrel roll, while the Spaniard slid through the Australian countryside, eventually coming to rest shaken but unharmed. Nobuatsu Aoki was not so lucky, and would sit out this afternoon's session to have his neck examined after falling.

Into this afternoon's first qualifier and within the first five minutes Marco Melandri high-sided, at low speed, from his Fortuna Yamaha. Although the Italian wasn't hurt, he still triggered a red flag to allow the marshals to recover his stricken M1 from the middle of the race track.

The session would restart two-minutes later with a shaven headed Bayliss on top by 0.5secs from Jacque, but once all riders had been able to record some fast laps it was the sister #65 Ducati of Capirossi which led the field by a quarter of a second, while Rossi worked his way up to second.

With 15-minutes gone the Desmosedici riders looked to be fighting back, as Bayliss moved back ahead of his team-mate, but Rossi put their efforts firmly into shade when he pulled a 0.45secs gap over the Aussie.

The #46 Repsol rider then improved his lap in successive runs, but only held a 0.259secs advantage over new nearest rival Capirossi by the 50th of the 60 minutes, when riders began leaving the pits with 'qualifiers' fitted - shaking up the order significantly.

First to shine on the super sticky rubber was home hero McCoy, who took fifth - 0.7secs adrift - as he matched his margin to Rossi this morning, then it was the turn of countryman Bayliss to grab the limelight, and indeed provisional pole position, by 0.085secs with 6mins still to run.

Biaggi was next to threaten, the Roman moving to third - a mere tenth from pole - before Rossi and Capirossi played their hand. The Honda rider surprised by slipping 0.072secs below Bayliss, but Capirossi would give Troy no such relief and instead snatched a considerable 0.436secs lead over his team-mate into the last two-minutes.

Bayliss stepped onto his Desmosedici visibly psyched and returned for his final run while Loris was recording that lap. The former WSBK champ would start slightly quicker than Capirossi's best, then lose two tenths in the middle section, before triming a few hundredths at the flag to sit 0.113secs behind the smiling #65, now watching from the pits.

But while Capirossi and his Ducati team were beginning to celebrate, Rossi had crept over the line almost unseen with just seconds to spare for one last attack: Vale matched Capirossi's pace through the first two thirds of the circulation, but would cruelly wipe the smile off his countryman's face as he nipped 0.09secs under at the flag, having beaten McWilliams' 2002 pole time by 1.288secs.

Nevertheless, Friday was a good day for Ducati, who returned to challenge the Hondas after losing their way slightly in recent events - while Bayliss is looking every inch capable of taking his first GP win on Sunday, providing it stays dry, which remains doubtful.

Behind the top three, Biaggi completes the provisional front row after a productive, but unspectacular session, while fellow RCV rider Gibernau put his morning tumble behind him to jump up to a late fifth ahead of Hayden and top Yamaha rider Checa.
Then came the main surprises of the day: McCoy finished the day eighth, by far Kawasaki's best ever qualifying performance, having been as high as sixth with 13mins to go. Garry thrilled his fans not only with his speed, but also some long slides out of the fearsome final corner. Team-mate and countryman Pitt was 12th to leave both sides of the team green garage smiling.

Fellow Island ace McWilliams also had his best session ever on his own normally uncompetitive four-stroke, the Proton KR V5, finishing ninth and beating factory Honda rider Tohru Ukawa.

After spending much of the session in the top ten, Suzuki rider Roberts would slip to fifteenth at the flag, two places ahead of team-mate John Hopkins, while Noriyuki Haga was left to carry Aprilia after Colin Edwards' RS Cube expired with five minutes to go.

Alex Barros and Makoto Tamada both struggled today, finishing 19th and 20th respectively, while David de Gea, Ryuichi Kiyonari and Chris Burns complete the provisional field.

Full times to follow...

1. Rossi
2. Capirossi
3. Bayliss
4. Biaggi
5. Gibernau
6. Hayden
7. Checa
8. McCoy
9. McWilliams
10. Ukawa
11. Jacque
12. Pitt
13. Nakano
14. Melandri
15. Roberts
16. Haga
17. Hopkins
18. Edwards
19. Barros
20. Tamada
21. de Gea
22. Kiyonari
23. Burns
24. Aoki (no time)



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