The scene is set for a thrilling Australian Grand Prix after title rivals Sete Gibernau and Valentino Rossi qualified first and second for Sunday's race, in which Rossi could be crowned the 2004 world champion.

It would be an historic achievement; providing Rossi with his fourth consecutive premier-class crown, Yamaha's first since 1992 while 'Vale' would also become the first rider since Eddie Lawson to clinch back-to-back championships with different manufacturers.

However, to do so Rossi must keep his 30-point championship lead over Gibernau at 25 or above by the end of tomorrow's main event - and today Sete stole pole position back from the Yamaha star, increasing the pressure on his opponent, who has 25 friends and family ready to celebrate with him on Sunday night.

"Since the first practice session things have gone well here," said Gibernau. "I'm determined to stay calm and relaxed because it will be a long difficult race at a fast pace as it always is here at Philip Island.

"Now we have to concentrate on making a good start, setting our rhythm and thinking only about ourselves - give everything without thinking about what is going on behind," added the Telefonica Honda rider.

Meanwhile, Rossi was unable to beat his Friday qualifying time and admitted that he's not entirely happy with the set-up of his factory spec YZR-M1. He will start second on the grid tomorrow.

"Unfortunately we are not in pole position as we are not at 100% with the set-up," admitted Rossi, who can afford to finish second in the 27 lap race behind Gibernau and still clinch the title with one round remaining. "We spent time in the morning testing a new tyre but it didn't work.

"My rhythm is good, but the feeling with the bike is not perfect, especially from the front," he explained. "But it is difficult here to have the perfect set-up for the whole track. We will make set-up changes tomorrow morning. I hope it stays dry tomorrow with a few more degrees than today.

"As for the championship, fortunately I have good experience of being in this position, but every time is like the first. It won't be a problem sleeping tonight though," added the #46. "Sete is very strong here, and we know it will be a good contest."

"I think Valentino had the fastest pace on race tyres in this qualifying, but he is still not completely happy," confirmed team director Davide Brivio. "Jerry (Burgess) and the engineers are studying the situation now. We were running short of time and needed more practice time. But to be on the front row is a good thing for tomorrow, as it is a very important race for us."

Loris Capirossi, riding the Marlboro Ducati, improved his Friday times by nearly one second to complete the front row of tomorrow's grid.

 

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