Repsol Honda riders Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner outpaced pole sitter Jorge Lorenzo during morning warm-up for the Malaysian MotoGP at Sepang.
Pedrosa set the fastest time on his fourth of nine laps, then spent the closing stages soaking up information behind Lorenzo's Yamaha on track.
Lorenzo - who leads Pedrosa by 28 points heading into the race - pulled closely alongside Pedrosa for a practice start after the session had ended but, as at Motegi last weekend, stalled.
Stoner had struggled with set-up for much of the weekend - and will line-up fourth on the grid - but looked much more comfortable as he split the title rivals with a best lap just 0.218s from Pedrosa.
Lorenzo's quickest lap (2 of 10) was just 0.291s from the top, as the leading trio broke clear of the rest of the field.
Fourth place Andrea Dovizioso was over 0.9s from Pedrosa.
The Italian may well have closed that gap, but fell from his Tech 3 Yamaha in the closing minutes after getting out of shape into the final hairpin, then losing the front and sliding off.
Front row starters Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Dovizioso all expect to use the softer rear tyre - alongside the hard front - for the race, which was also the favoured tyre combination for morning warm-up.
Cal Crutchlow was fifth in the 20-minute session and the final rider within one-second of Pedrosa. Gresini Honda's Alvaro Bautista took sixth and Lorenzo's Yamaha team-mate Ben Spies seventh.
Crutchlow and Spies will join Stoner on the second row of the grid.
Valentino Rossi was the lead Ducati rider in eighth place this morning, but 1.430s from Pedrosa. Rossi will start just eleventh on the grid.
The struggling Ducati riders are most likely to consider 'gambling' on the hard rear tyre for the race... if it's dry.
The grand prix will start at 4pm local time, which fits in better with European TV viewers, but also increases the ever-present risk of rain storms, which have occured every day this week.
The air temperature for warm-up was already over 33 degrees.
Avintia's Yonny Hernandez, who dislocated his collarbone last Sunday in Japan, has withdrawn from the race due to pain from his injury.
1. Dani Pedrosa
2. Casey Stoner
3. Jorge Lorenzo
4. Andrea Dovizioso
5. Cal Crutchlow
6. Alvaro Bautista
7. Ben Spies
8. Valentino Rossi
9. Stefan Bradl
10. Hector Barbera
11. Nicky Hayden
12. Karel Abraham
13. Aleix Espargaro
14. Michele Pirro
15. Randy De Puniet
16. Colin Edwards
17. Roberto Rolfo
18. James Ellison
19. Ivan Silva
20. Danilo Petrucci