On the eve of his first chance to settle the 2009 MotoGP title, Valentino Rossi took an all-time record-equalling 58th grand prix pole position with a record-breaking last lap during scorching hot conditions at Sepang in Malaysia.
The reigning six-time MotoGP world champion, who only needs to finish fourth even if team-mate and title rival Jorge Lorenzo wins the penultimate race of the season on Sunday, traded the top spot with Casey Stoner early in qualifying - before powering to the top throughout the second half of the hour.
The Italian continued to improve his time before a stunning last flying lap saw him beat his own pole position record, set on a 990cc Yamaha in 2006. After struggling for much of the session, Lorenzo claimed a late second place, but was 0.569sec behind Rossi.
"I am so happy about that final lap!” said Valentino, after his seventh pole of the season. “I couldn't believe it when I saw it on my dashboard, I thought it was possible to go faster but not by that much!
“My team and I have worked very well here and we've had a good strategy with Bridgestone, which left us with plenty of time at the end to try for the pole. It's very important to be on the front row here so we have done our job well, plus I am confident about our setting and our race pace.
“We're in good shape. It's incredibly hot and tomorrow will be hard for everyone, as it always is here, but we have a good advantage and I am really looking forward to the battle. Let's see where we are at this time tomorrow!"
"What a lap!” added team manager Davide Brivio. “We broke the best lap record with an incredible time from Valentino, who really wanted that pole position today. We're in good shape and we're excited, let's hope tomorrow can be a good day for us!"
Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa will complete the front row, with fourth placed Stoner (Ducati) the last rider within one-second of Rossi.
Rossi is now tied with Mick Doohan on a record 58 grand prix poles, although the Australian five-time 500cc champion took all of his poles in the premier-class.
The Doctor now has 48 500cc/MotoGP poles to add to five in 250 and another five in 125.