MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo, whose US MotoGP weekend looked in doubt after a huge highside in morning practice, took his second pole position of the season with an inspired performance at Laguna Seca this afternoon.
Riding with a sore hip, Lorenzo showed no sign of fear as he matched his best practice time in the opening minutes of the hour.
The Factory Yamaha star then set the fastest lap of the weekend on his sixth revolution, which kept the Spaniard on pole until the 45th minute, when team-mate and home hero Ben Spies nipped 0.032sec ahead.
Lorenzo quickly yanked pole back, then rebuilt his advantage to 0.357sec as the final ten minutes began.
The Yamaha one-two was thrown into jeopardy when Spies crashed at Turn 3, and Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa duly split the M1s with one minute to go.
Lorenzo guaranteed his second pole of the year with another small improvement on his final lap, while world championship leader Casey Stoner jumped up to second place - just 0.072sec from Lorenzo - after appearing to struggle for much of the session.
That pushed team-mate Pedrosa to third, with Spies dropping to fourth after watching the final minutes from the pits.
The Assen winner will nevertheless start as the top American, with countryman Nicky Hayden also falling on his way to ninth for Ducati.
Joining Spies on row two will be Honda riders Marco Simoncelli and Andrea Dovizioso, with Ducati's Valentino Rossi - who languished down in 13th for much of the hour - pulling seventh out of the bag on his 33rd and final lap
Then came the satellite Desmosedici of Hector Barbera, followed by Hayden and then rookie Cal Crutchlow - the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider out-qualifying team-mate and local star Colin Edwards by 0.135sec.
Suzuki's Alvaro Bautista walked away from a heavy lowside just after the halfway point on his way to twelfth, while Pramac Ducati's Randy de Puniet is feared to have been injured despite also walking away from a lowside fall.
37-year-old Ben Bostrom, making his MotoGP debut this weekend on Elias's spare LCR Honda, will start his first grand prix from 18th and last on the grid, having lapped 4.089sec from pole.
The Factory Yamaha team are riding in special red-and-white livery for the second time this season, continuing their 50th anniversary of grand prix road racing celebrations. Spies took his first ever MotoGP win in red-and-white at Assen.
15. de Puniet