Andrea Dovizioso, whose MotoGP future is still to be officially decided, reminded Honda of his talents by taking his first ever MotoGP pole for the team's home race at Motegi in Japan.
Just one day after team-mate Dani Pedrosa
was eliminated from the title fight by a broken collarbone, following a technical glitch with his RCV's throttle, Dovizioso claimed his first pole since 2007 (in the 250cc class) by just 0.054sec from reigning world champion Valentino Rossi.
Dovizioso, whose only MotoGP win came last season at a damp Donington Park, looks likely to be forced out of the factory Honda team - and into Gresini Honda - by Casey Stoner's 2011 arrival, but no official decision has yet been made.
“I'm really happy to be on pole position and also surprised because I didn't expect to get so close to going under a 1m 47s lap here," said the Italian. "This is like my second home race because it's the home of the team, which makes it even more special to get my first pole position here.
"I'm also so happy about the performance of the RC212V. We've got the electronics working really well here - the anti-wheelie system in particular - and also the power is very strong which helps a lot.
"We're looking good for the race because my style is usually not to go at my absolute maximum pace in practice and qualifying, so I'm hopeful for tomorrow.
"It's the race tomorrow that really counts though, so we'll be concentrating hard to make sure we have a strong race.”
Team manager Toshiyuki Yamaji is confident Dovizioso can be a contender for victory whatever the weather on Sunday.
“After Dani's accident yesterday, this is a welcome boost for the team," he said. "However, the important day is tomorrow of course, and Andrea's race pace is also looking promising.
"The weather on the other hand doesn't look so good, so we will be ready for any conditions.
"Andrea can be fast in wet and dry weather though, and we are looking for a really strong team performance in front of all the Honda fans here at the Grand Prix of Japan.”
Pedrosa has returned to his home city of Barcelona and is expected to undergo surgery to plate the double fracture in the collarbone. He is the only rider that can still beat Jorge Lorenzo
to the 2010 title.
Lorenzo will start fourth on the grid, but must wait until at least Sepang next Sunday to wrap up the championship.