Marco Melandri will start from a World Superbike Championship pole position for the first time in his career after setting a searing pace at Motorland Aragon – but only after very nearly suffering the indignity of being eliminated in the first knockout phase.
The Italian has shown strong pace aboard the Yamaha YZF-R1 throughout the weekend and would display some tactical nous during the deciding Superpole session as he made sure to track Max Biaggi on his fastest lap.
Using his countryman as a guide, Melandri's efforts were rewarded as he came through with a lap time just over a tenth quicker than Biaggi.
Enough to keep him at the top of the timesheets, the result marks his maiden World Superbike pole position, as well as a first for Yamaha this season.
Even so, Melandri has Jakub Smrz to thank for him even getting the opportunity to challenge for pole position after he was left on the bubble in SP1. Indeed, after deciding to stay in the pit lane as others went for a final effort, Melandri could only watch as he dropped to 12th on the timesheets, with Smrz looking poised to dump him into the drop zone. In the end, an error by the Czech rider would instead leave him down in 13th, allowing Melandri to fight on.
Biaggi held on for second as the only rider to get close to Melandri, the pair some six tenths faster than third place man Leon Camier. Even so, having suffered for form in Superpole this year, a front row start for the Aprilia rider will come as a welcome boost.
Championship leader Carlos Checa was looking good for a pole position challenge, but a rare error on his fastest lap when he out-braked himself into the tight hairpin would leave him fourth, eight tenths adrift.
Fresh from his pole position turn at Misano, Tom Sykes was a strong fifth on a day when Kawasaki managed to get two of its bikes into the top eight, Joan Lascorz reaching SP3 for the first time on the way to seventh. Still, Sykes may be somewhat aggrieved to have missed a front row start after encountering a touring Biaggi at the hairpin on his flying lap.
Between the 'green machines', Eugene Laverty will start in sixth position, while BMW Italia rider Ayrton Badovini continued to fly the flag for the German manufacturer with a strong run to eighth quickest.
Of those to miss the SP3 cut, Noriyuki Haga will start in ninth, ahead of Sylvain Guintoli, Michel Fabrizio and Pedercini Kawasaki's Mark Aitchison, who put in a fine performance in his first-ever Superpole session to crack the top twelve.
With Badovini featuring in the upper echelons of the grid, it only served to magnify the issues facing the factory BMW team as both Leon Haslam and Troy Corser failed to make it beyond SP1, the pair starting 14th and 16th respectively.