Strong winds force cancellation of Australia MotoGP qualifying

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Phillip Island (Australia) (AFP)

Qualifying for the Australian MotoGP was cancelled Saturday as fierce winds caused havoc at the beachside circuit, with riders deciding it was too dangerous after Tech3 Racing's Miguel Oliveira was "blown off" the track.

Phillip Island, known for its fast corners and long straights, is a favourite among the sport's stars, but is also renowned for notoriously unpredictable weather.

After wet and then dry sessions on Friday, the riders had to contend Saturday with not only more rain but blustery and cold conditions, making it hard to push the pace.

The winds whipping the circuit were such that 10 of the 22-strong field didn't even set a lap-time in Saturday's third practice session.

Fourth practice was then red-flagged when pit board numbers blew onto the track, just minutes after Oliveira lost control and came off his bike in a big crash on the approach to turn one.

MotoGP officials said he was "blown off the track", with the Portuguese rider stretchered away.

"From the morning to the afternoon the wind completely changed direction and was going sideways on the straight," Oliveira told the crash.net website.

"I rolled off to let Johann (Zarco) pass and when I braked, I braked completely sideways and the wind just pushed me out of the track."

A medical check showed no fractures but he said his hands were painful and a decision on whether he can race would be made on Sunday.

A safety commission meeting was convened and the 21 remaining riders voted to abandon the rest of the session and subsequent qualifying, which was rescheduled for Sunday.

"It was very dangerous. I mean they are very high-speed corners here and the wind affected it a lot," said world champion Marc Marquez, who admitted he was pushed to his limits.

"When you ride at 330 kph on the straight it (the bike) was shaking a lot. Tomorrow is another day and for the safely of the riders were decided to go back (to the paddock)."

The new timetable will see Q1 and Q2 held in the morning -- weather permitting -- with the race itself pushed back an hour.

If qualifying cannot be held, the grid order will be based on the current combined practice results.

That would put Yamaha's Maverick Vinales, who won in Australia last year and topped all three completed sessions, on pole ahead of Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso and Honda's Cal Crutchlow.

Marquez is currently sixth, a place ahead of veteran Italian Valentino Rossi, who will be riding in his 400th Grand Prix on Sunday.