Valentino Rossi clinched his third consecutive premier-class crown in the style this afternoon at Sepang, the Italian superstar comfortably beating Sete Gibernau to claim his fifth motorcycling world championship at the age of just 24.
Qualifying saw Rossi turn up the heat on his MotoGP rivals after taking the tactical decision to switch to a qualifying tyre just after midway through the session, rather than waiting until the end, as is usual practice.
That move took the pressure away from the Italian, and he set a scorching new lap record to start today's race – where he was expected to be crowned world champion for the fifth time – from the optimum position.
Carlos Checa came closest to threatening Rossi's superiority with a late charge to second place, improving his provisional time by around two seconds, despite crashing into team-mate Marco Melandri early in the hour. Makoto Tamada dropped one place from provisional second to third but starts from the front row for the second successive race, just ahead of last year's winner Max Biaggi, who starts from fourth.
Shinya Nakano continued his impressive qualifying form to seal his seventh second row start of the season in fifth, whilst Loris Capirossi dropped from the provisional front row to qualify sixth. Sete Gibernau, needed to take nine points from Rossi to keep his slim title challenge alive, qualified seventh fastest, with Tohru Ukawa completing the second row in eighth.
Nicky Hayden dropped to ninth, just ahead of fellow American Kenny Roberts who continued to impress on the Suzuki. Troy Bayliss was eleventh fastest for Ducati, with Yamaha rider Alex Barros completing the third row in twelfth.
Morning warm-up was led by Gibernau, by a fraction from Biaggi, but the main news was the weather – it was wet again, with lap times around 15secs slower than optimum, and although the track would soon dry after the session finished, it robbed the riders of vital test time.
Nevertheless, Rossi finished the session third; 0.5secs behind the top two, with Barros, Hayden, Roberts and McCoy completing a cosmopolitan top seven, while - as suspected - Olivier Jacque was absent as a result of his Friday fall, and wouldn't take part in today's race.
Into this afternoon, and when the lights went out at a scorching hot Sepang - the later start, due to the F1 finale, only adding to the heat problems - it was Checa who got the best jump from the front row, but by turn one Gibernau and Capirossi were ahead of the Fortuna machine.