Valentino Rossi has won three races since returning to Yamaha, but it took until the final round of this season for the Italian to claim his first MotoGP pole since 2010.

The result came under unexpected circumstances, with Rossi struggling in free practice and only ninth quickest as the top twelve riders left the pits for their final pole attack.

Rossi briefly featured on pole in the closing minutes, before countryman Andrea Iannone moved back ahead. Rossi then snatched pole position back from the Ducati rider by 0.132s on his last lap.

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Pole marks only the third time this year that Rossi will start from the front row of the grid.

"It was a great surprise," Rossi began. "I felt good in the qualifying, we improved the setting of the bike and with the first tyre was not so bad. We did a small modification for the second tyre and I tried to push a lot.

"With the second tyre I felt a lot of grip and very confident, but unfortunately I made a mistake at Turn 2 so then I slowed down before doing my final lap."

By slowing down Rossi feels he gained in two ways: He was able to preserve his rear tyre for the last lap and also found himself able to follow team-mate Lorenzo.

"It was a good procedure for the rear tyre, to slow down after one lap and then restart," Rossi explained. "I felt good grip and it helped me avoid a lot of wheelspin in acceleration, which we had been suffering. I was also lucky because Jorge passed me and was one second in front of me, so it was also a small help to have him in front."

Told that Lorenzo was annoyed at having given Rossi a tow to pole position, the Italian responded:

"Sincerely I was just lucky to be in the right place and I'm happy if he is a little bit nervous for this! It happens, and it's happened a minimum 100 times to me. It helps, especially with just 15 minutes in qualifying, it is very strategic.

"But I think Jorge is in a great shape and has a little better pace than me tomorrow, so to fight with him I need to do another step."

Rossi's Sunday battle with Lorenzo is for more than just race honours. The Italian is seeking to defend a twelve point advantage over the Spaniard, in order to finish second in the world championship. Both Rossi and Lorenzo have won two races this season.

"The pole position is important for the start of the race but it will be difficult because we have to work to try to make another step for the pace," Rossi confirmed. "A lot of riders are very close and for this reason it is important to start in front, but at the same time after some laps we lose performance so we need to improve the balance to keep a good rhythm."

Rossi will be joined on the front row by Iannone (Pramac Ducati) and Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa. Lorenzo will start from fourth place with reigning double world champion Marc Marquez fifth after falling in qualifying.

Rossi, who has won a record 82 premier-class races, has now taken 50 pole positions in the top tier.

"It's a great achievement because it's been four and half years. Usually in my career I prefer the races. I've won a lot more races than pole positions, but it's great because Valencia is usually very difficult for me."