Valentino Rossi was the only one of the three MotoGP title contenders not to be heading for the medical centre at the end of qualifying at Laguna Seca, after huge accidents for Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner.
Both suffered highsides in the closing minutes of the hour, while holding first and second, but - despite their absence - Rossi was only able to gain one place before the chequered flag, passing Stoner for second on the grid behind Fiat Yamaha team-mate Lorenzo.
“Firstly I want to say that I hope Lorenzo and Stoner are okay for the race tomorrow, because it should be a great battle between the three of us,” said Rossi.
Rossi, who had been fastest in Friday practice, dropped to third in Saturday practice and had been down in 14th after 20 minutes of the qualifying hour.
The reigning six time world champion was unable to find the perfect setting for his M1, noticeably losing time in the final sector of the 3.6km track, and spent much of the session in third before his last flying lap put him within 0.167secs of Lorenzo.
“I am happy about this session because we have had two practices today when we haven't been in perfect shape and we have struggled in some areas, especially in the last sector where we are still not strong enough,” he confessed.
“I was finding it quite hard to ride at the maximum there today and control the bike how I wanted, so we need to try to improve a bit more. It depends how the other two are but I hope they're okay and then we can have an exciting race,” Rossi repeated.
“The first row is positive but we still have some small improvements to make for the race tomorrow,” confirmed team manager Davide Brivio. “It will be hard to check our changes in the warm-up because it will be cold, but we will try our best! Jorge and Casey both had big crashes but luckily it doesn't look like anything too serious so we hope that they will be fit to race tomorrow. We wish them both our best!”
Lorenzo has been diagnosed with a separated shoulder and bruised foot but will try and race, while Stoner was declared 'OK' but may have hurt his groin.
Rossi, who has won the last two races, including his 100th grand prix victory last time out at Assen, will start the eighth race of the year five points in front of Lorenzo and nine ahead of Stoner.