Johann Zarco blitzed the opposition with a new record lap as he battled Tom Luthi for pole in qualifying for the Moto2 Grand Prix at Motegi, as injured title rival Rins could only manage 22nd.
The Ajo Motorsport man became the first rider to dip under the 1m 50s barrier with a superb 1m 49.961 lap, breaking his old lap record, a supreme performance only blotted by a rare crash on what should have been a warm-down lap after the chequered flag.
Zarco again looked comfortable at the round where he sealed his 2015 world title, and with just one point separating himself and Alex Rins every performance is now crucial and unfortunately for the Paginas Amarillas HP 40 rider, the pain from his practice crash after having already previously broken his collarbone earlier in the season seemed a fall too far with the Spaniard giving his all for 22nd.
Tom Luthi set his best lap on his last for Interwetten, and though he fell just short of Zarco, the Swiss rider remained confident in his race pace despite missing out on pole.
The front row was completed by Franco Morbidelli, the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS rider had set the early pace, but never bettered his early lap, which held firm for third.
Sam Lowes had his Gresini sideways as he gave everything he had for fourth, with Sandro Cortese (Dynavoly Intact GP) also riding strongly for fifth. Axel Pons held on to a second row start despite a late fall, and will start sixth.
Taka Nakagami had been hotly topped for a home pole but fell short for Idemitsu after impressing in practice, the Japanese rider starts seventh.
Alex Marquez looked to be building on his second at Aragon but a lack of improvement on his early pace saw him drop down the timesheets to eighth on the second Marc VDS machine.
Jonas Folger secured ninth on the second of the Dynavolt entries, while Mattia Pasini put in some fast late laps to move into the top ten for Italtrans.
Luca Marini lasted ten minutes before becoming the first to crash, swiftly followed by his team-mate Lorenzo Baldassarri. Both bikes finally returned to track thanks to the teams fast working mechanics, but the damage was done. Baldassarri starts 14th and Marini 26th.
Iker Lecuona returns to the paddock for the ousted Dominique Aegerter at Interwetten, he is set to start 28th just ahead of the Japanese wild-cards in Moto2, Naomichi Uramoto took his Kalex to 29th , while Taro Sekiguchi, riding a TSR, qualified at the back of the grid in 30th.
Despite starting the weekend, Miguel Oliveira will take no further part in Motegi due to severe pain from the injury he sustained in Aragon.