Having slumped to just 15th fastest on Friday, Jorge Lorenzo was on superb form at Motegi on Saturday, when he took a shock pole position on his MotoGP debut at Yamaha's home event.
Overnight set-up changes to the 21-year-old's M1 produced immediate results and the Spaniard was in very different shape from this morning's final free practice session, which he finished second to only Casey Stoner.
This afternoon saw him sustain an even higher level of performance, improving with three out of four of his Michelin qualifying tyres and holding off Stoner, Nicky Hayden and team-mate Valentino Rossi to hang on to pole position.
With his challengers already back in the pits, Lorenzo had his fourth pole of the season in the bag by the time he began his final run, but was nonetheless able to improve once again, extending his advantage to 0.288secs.
Lorenzo began his MotoGP career with three straight poles, culminating in a win from the third one in Portugal. After a mid-season plagued by injury, the double 250cc world champion has qualified and finished third at the last two races - meaning he has finished on the podium every time he has qualified on the front row as a MotoGP rider.
"I'm so happy for this pole position because this is how I started my season and it shows that we are returning to how we were," confirmed Jorge. "It's the first pole since Portugal, when I won, and we have had a hard time since then until the last two podiums so this is a great satisfaction for me.
"I can say that now I'm in one of my best shapes in my life," declared the Spaniard. "I am riding so fast and also the bike and tyres are working good - if not I wouldn't be up here! The team is doing a great job with the set-up of the bike and this pole is fantastic. The most important thing is the race, so we'll wait and see for tomorrow, but this is just so good."
"Today, with more temperature in the ground and an improved set-up, we were able to be very fast and consistent," added team manager Daniele Romagnoli. "Many thanks to Michelin for very good qualifying tyres; they worked incredibly well today and gave Jorge the chance to fly. It was very exciting for the team to watch him riding like this. We are confident that tomorrow we will have the chance to fight for podium."
Should Lorenzo be able to beat Stoner and fifth on the grid Dani Pedrosa during Sunday's race, then it will help Rossi's chances of securing the 2008 world championship with three rounds still to go. If Stoner wins, Rossi needs to finish third or higher.