Daijiro Kato took overnight pole from Max Biaggi today at Twin Ring Motegi in a first qualifying session that saw the MotoGP debut of Kawasaki's ZX-RR and Alex Barros on a RCV.

After the initial reconnaissance laps it was the Gresini rider who swapped times at the top with Loris Capirossi, the Italian having set the pace in morning warm up on his NSR.

But all attention in the West Honda Pons pits was on his teammate Alex Barros - who'd never ridden a lap on an RCV before - but who had been an impressive third in morning practice, and was soon up (behind Kato) within the first ten minutes of the one hour session.

Newly crowned World Champion Valentino Rossi - wearing a new one-off helmet design - then steeped up and made it an all RCV top three by splitting Kato and Barros, while recently re-signed Suzuki star Kenny Roberts sat in fourth.

Kato though held firm at the front, while by contrast countryman Shinya Nakano was having a terrible day and sat at the bottom of the timesheets over 4secs slower than the Gresini rider.

As the halfway mark approached Capirossi - one of only two two-strokes in the top ten (the other being ninth fastest Abe) - was getting closer and closer to Kato, while MotoGP new boy Yanagawa was getting his Kawasaki in all sorts of exciting shapes as he slid the green machine under braking. The Japanese held a respectable thirteenth behind the injured McWilliams at that stage.

But continuing to turn heads was Kato, who after a strong run had set his advantage to 0.4secs from Rossi, Barros, Capirossi, Biaggi, Roberts, Checa and under pressure Ukawa.

23mins to go and Capirossi shot up to second on the stop-go circuit, while his team-mate Barros ran wide into the gravel after a stone thrown from Max Biaggi's Marlboro Yamaha split his radiator - but at the front Rossi, still suffering from a cold, was now setting the pace.

Kato immediately responded with fastest of all sector times on his way to a new lap record - and more importantly pole - by 0.286secs. And he wasn't finished yet - the #74 stars next lap was even better and the man who crashed out embarrassingly on the first lap in Rio pushed pole a further 0.141secs away from the MotoGP field.

6mins to go and the Roman Emperor looked set to upset the Honda domination as he put in an all time fastest third sector. The M1 rider - on his way to Honda next year - then punched out an even quicker final sector to go 0.334secs clear and upset the order.

Into the final two minutes and Rossi came into the pits for a tyre change - but his Repsol team didn't have enough time to fit the new rubber and get the Italian around before the flag, so a rather pale Vale climbed from his machine and watched the closing stages from the pits.

Meanwhile, Ulsterman Jeremy McWilliams was putting in yet another gritty effort and pushed his Proton up to eighth - but the last lap would belong to Kato and the reigning 250cc World Champion deprived Biaggi by just 0.110secs, while Carlos Checa booked a provisional front row start with his last circulation.

Further back Yanagawa took an overnight fourteenth on his ZX-RR after a promising - and trouble free - debut MotoGP session, but Regis Laconi was arguably man of the hour with tenth on his three cylinder Aprilia.

Full times to follow...

1. Kato
2. Biaggi
3. Rossi
4. Checa
5. Capirossi
6. Barros
7. Roberts
8. Ukawa

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