Marlboro Yamaha Team rider Max Biaggi gave the mighty YZR-M1 its first pole position at Catalunya today, crowning several weeks of flat-out work by the team and Yamaha's engineers. Team-mate Carlos Checa looked like joining Biaggi on the front row until he tumbled at the end of the session. The Spaniard was unhurt and will start tomorrow's race from the second row.

"This is the first pole for the M1 and that's fantastic," said Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio as he congratulated other members of his crew. "Pole isn't a win but it shows the incredible progress we've made with this bike. It's a good boost for everybody, it's just a shame that Carlos was out of luck once again, because he should also be on the front row."

Yamaha YZR-M1 project leader Ichiro Yoda revealed the final detail preparations that helped Biaggi to pole. "Overnight we made a few small changes to geometry and offset because Max wanted lighter handling, more front end feel and more rear traction," he said. "As always in racing, it's a compromise, and we still want to improve turning. Now we will keep working to choose the best tyres for the race."

Max Biaggi came out on top at the end of a particularly entertaining final qualifying session at Catalunya this afternoon, bettering closest-rival Tohru Ukawa (Honda) by 0.336 seconds. The Marlboro Yamaha Team rider's outstanding final lap bettered last year's Catalunya 500 pole position by almost a whole second.

"I think we made a very nice lap, it was unbelievable!" smiled Biaggi, who is in ever-improving form, having finished third at last month's French GP and second in Italy two weeks ago. "I was pushing as hard as I could, I kept pushing and then this lap came. I was already on the limit and the tyres were starting to go away because I was on soft rubber, but I'm very pleased to be on pole. It's going to be difficult tomorrow but we were the best today, so for the moment we should just enjoy pole position. The team and Yamaha are working so hard, we're trying everything we know, and even if we're not fastest over race distance, the M1's first pole is still good. I'd like to dedicate this lap to everyone in the team and at Yamaha."

There is little doubt that Carlos Checa is one of the fastest MotoGP riders of the moment, but the Marlboro Yamaha Team man was once again out of luck this afternoon. Checa was in dazzling form at Catalunya this afternoon, moving up to second fastest a few minutes from the end of the session, then slipping down the order before preparing for his final run. But all was not right when the Spaniard went out for his last two laps, and he tumbled at the final corner of his final lap, returning to the pits dusty but uninjured.

"I was feeling good and ready for a good performance," explained Checa. "But when I started my last run the rear tyre felt strange but I pushed anyway. It still felt a little strange when I was trying my maximum on that last lap, and then I lost the front. It's a big shame but the bike has been pretty good here and I think we can have a good race tomorrow, so long as I can get away well from the second row."