Sete Gibernau's sensational Friday time may have been enough to hand him pole position for tomorrow's Italian Grand Prix, but there was drama aplenty behind him when a fiery accident forced a red flag - then produced a nail biting final ten minutes.

Yesterday, world championship leader Gibernau sent a clear warning to the home heroes by lapping two-seconds inside the 2003 pole time while nearest rival Valentino Rossi was left a substantial 0.4secs adrift, and third placed Max Biaggi a frightening 1.2secs away.

Marco Melandri made it three Italians in a row by fighting back from a morning fall to finish an impressive fourth, just ahead of Rossi's factory Yamaha team-mate Carlos Checa.

Alex Barros and Repsol Honda team-mate Nicky Hayden took sixth and seventh, while Camel Honda's Makoto Tamada claimed top Bridgestone honours by edging out the lone Suzuki of Kenny Roberts.

Former Mugello winner Loris Capirossi was just tenth fastest for Marlboro Ducati, leaving him alongside Gibernau's team-mate Colin Edwards and Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano.

Into this afternoon and, despite the rumoured rain staying well away, Gibernau's Friday time never looked like being challenged without the aid of qualifying tyres, leaving all eyes on the traditionally frantic final ten minutes.

However, when that time came Proton KR's Kurtis Roberts fell from his machine at considerably speed, then slid through the gravel and into an airfence. Although unharmed the American's V5 suddenly erupted in flames, burning both itself and the nearby airfence.

The fire forced a red flag, to allow the burnt section of trackside protection to be replaced, while Roberts received a lift back to the pits from former AMA rival John Hopkins (watching nearby after being ruled out of the Mugello weekend by his broken thumb).

20-minutes later the remaining MotoGP competitors were lined up impatiently at the end of pitlane for what would now effectively become a two lap 'double Superpole' on one lap qualifying tyres.

When released, it was under-pressure Repsol rider Hayden who shone first, the former AMA Superbike champion snatching third from Biaggi before rapid improvements followed from Capirossi (up to fifth) and then Melandri (who took third from Hayden).

The majority of the field then made a quick tyre change, with three-minutes to go, after which it seemed to be the Bridgestone riders who threatened as Kenny Roberts took seventh for Suzuki, Tamada grabbed fourth for Camel Honda and Shinya Nakano took ninth for Kawasaki.

But, as is so often the case, the final grid order would only be decided after the session had officially finished, at which point both Repsol Hondas attacked: Barros snatched fourth, while Hayden - much to the relief of the watching HRC hierarchy - produced his best qualifying lap of the season so far to take second, 0.369secs from Gibernau.

The Catalan may not have improved on his Friday time, but it's worth noting that he was still the quickest man on track this afternoon, having been 0.002secs quicker than Hayden's best.

Meanwhile, an on-the-edge Rossi (he was kicked out of the seat several times by his M1) remained top Italian, having lapped just 0.004secs slower than his former team-mate to be placed on the outside of tomorrow's front row.

Two further home heroes - the impressive Marco Melandri (fifth) and a lower than expected Max Biaggi (sixth) - will start alongside Barros on row two.

Despite his earlier promise, Tamada slipped to seventh - but has produced several impressive race simulations - while Capirossi found almost a second to retain some Ducati pride from a third row start.

Suzuki's Kenny Roberts dropped two places to ninth by the flag, but kept Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano at bay. Both, along with Tamada, will be hoping to capitalise further on Bridgestone's apparent strength at the Italian circuit on race day.

Main losers this afternoon were Checa (down in eleventh), Edwards (twelfth), while factory Ducati rider Troy Bayliss (fifteenth) at least managed to find 1.5secs from Friday... but needed 2secs more to trouble Gibernau.

Further down the order, Shane Byrne claimed top Aprilia honours at his team's home event, having outpaced experienced team-mate Jeremy McWilliams by a few tenths. Fellow Brit Neil Hodgson will start 19th.

Aoki, Kurtis Roberts, Pitt and Fabrizio complete the qualifiers - WCM's Chris Burns having failed to meet the cut.

Fastest top speed of the session saw a tie between Biaggi's Honda and Capirossi's Ducati - both reached 338.6km/h.

Full times to follow...

Final qualifying:

1. Gibernau
2. Hayden
3. Rossi
4. Barros
5. Melandri
6. Biaggi
7. Tamada
8. Capirossi
9. Kenny Roberts
10. Nakano
11. Checa
12. Edwards
13. Hofmann
14. Xaus
15. Bayliss
16. Abe
17. Byrne
18. McWilliams
19. Hodgson
20. Aoki
21. Roberts
22. Pitt
23. Fabrizio
Burns