The clear weather prevailed for the 500cc Grand Prix final qualifying session that kept the Portuguese crowd on their toes for the entire 60 minutes. At the end of the day it was the pint sized Australian Garry McCoy who came from nowhere to take his first ever 500cc pole position on his Red Bull Yamaha.

Overnight pole position holder Kenny Roberts knew that he had a major task on his hands if he wanted to retain his provisional top slot as soaring temperatures pushed grip levels on the reconstructed Estoril track to an unprecedented high.

First to beat the American's time was Jurgen Van De Goorbergh on the works assisted Honda V-Twin. Despite being greatly underpowered against the mass of Four-Stroke machines, the flying Dutchman used the bike's better handling qualities to make up for his lack of grunt to move to the top of the time sheets where he stayed until Max Biaggi beat his time on the Marlboro Yamaha.

Biaggi and Van De Goorbergh had a coming together in Saturday morning practice and there was some definite needle between the two as they charged around the sun drenched track.

As the session reached its half way point, Roberts had still to improve and was down to third place when Carlos Checa demoted the Suzuki to the outside of the front row with a 1 minute 41.596 second lap. The Spaniard had been largely invisible on the second Marlboro Yamaha but managed to gather it all together for one flying lap although Tadayuki Okada would soon demote him.

The Japanese veteran was the best placed of the three Repsol Honda's and while Alex Criville and Sete Gibernau struggled with their set-up, Okada got the bike working well on the ultra soft qualifying tyres and was a threat all afternoon.

Moving into the last ten minutes, Van De Goorbergh sent the crowd wild as he hooked up a sensational 1:41. 2 second effort only to be beaten by Roberts who improved on his Friday best for the first and only time.

Roberts 1:41.150 second lap was still top of the charts with less than three minutes to go but as more and more riders opted for the super-soft qualifying tyres the atmosphere at the Portuguese circuit reached boiling point as first Van De Goorbergh and then the second Suzuki of Nobuatsu Aoki suddenly beat the American's time. Aoki was staring at his first ever 500cc pole and was cruising back to his pit when McCoy produced his masterpiece.

With his rear tyre protesting vehemently, the Australian rider backed his mount into each and every turn with the end result being a lap of 1 minute 40.736 seconds. Aoki was still delighted with his second place and on a weekend when many of Honda's top brass are in attendance, Van De Goorbergh proved why he should be on a factory bike next year.

Championship leader Roberts was a resigned fourth but still in a confident mood for the race while Biaggi and Okada faded to fifth and sixth respectively. Alex Barros had a low key run to seventh place while team-mate Loris Capirossi had two off course excursions as he tried to find the limit.

Leading grid positions for Sunday's 500cc Portuguese Grand Prix.

1. Garry McCoy AUS Yamaha 1 min 40.736secs.
2. Nobuatsu Aoki JAP Suzuki 1 min 41.111secs.
3. Jurgen VD Goorbergh HOL Honda 1 min 41.145secs.
4. Kenny Roberts USA Suzuki 1 min 41.150secs.
5. Max Biaggi ITA Yamaha 1 min 41.366secs.
6. Tadayuki Okada JAP Honda 1 min 41.396secs.
7. Alex Barros BRA Honda 1 min 41.520secs.
8. Carlos Checa SPA Yamaha 1 min 41.596secs.

15. Jeremy McWilliams GB Aprilia 1 min 42.472secs.
21. Phil Giles GB Honda 1 min 46.601secs.