The meaning of a hot lap took on a new dimension in sizzling Malaysia today as Valentino Rossi endured crippling conditions to lap four tenths of a second faster than his nearest opposition - putting him firmly on target to clinch the 2003 title tomorrow.

Rossi's record pole time of 2min 02.480secs looked untouchable as soon as it was set, as early as the halfway stage of the hour: The Italian recorded the time on super-sticky qualifying tyres and while others tried to match it on equally grippy minimal-endurance rubber at the end, Rossi had timed his move perfectly. He was 'fresh' and had a reasonably clear track.

As the 24-year-old edged closer to GP title number five he found it hard to hide his satisfaction.

"I'm very happy because we did good work and tried to change our tactics a little bit for the session," he said. "With two qualifying tyres we put one on early because when you use two together it can be difficult to calculate the time remaining in the session.

"Also, because it is so hot I'm fresher when it counts," he added. "We make a great result and I'm very happy. Now we wait for the race. We need to make our tyre choice (carefully) and then we hope for a good result."

Yamaha rider Checa and fellow Honda riders' Makoto Tamada and Max Biaggi will join Rossi on tomorrow's front row. The only man who can deny Rossi of the 2003 world crown, Sete Gibernau, will start the race in seventh.

In other news, Rossi's 2004 contract situation now appears unlikely to be resolved for the next few days at least. Vale has given the impression - if nothing else - that Honda's latest offer won't be looked at until Sunday's race, and perhaps the world championship, has been decided.

Meanwhile, his Repsol team-mate Nicky Hayden managed ninth on the grid. He had been suffering from a cold and was feeling better about his chances.

"From the third row it ain't going to be easy," said the American rookie. "I've got to make a good start and get up there with the boys, but it'll be another great race from me to learn from."

 

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