Former world champion Kenny Roberts caused one of the biggest shocks of the season by grabbing pole position in the final qualifying session for the Cinzano Rio Grand Prix in Brazil this afternoon [Saturday].

Riding the Bridgestone-shod Suzuki, the American led the way and was joined on the front row by the Hondas of Italian Max Biaggi and American Nicky Hayden. It was Robert's first pole position for nearly four years at the Autodromo Nelson Piquet circuit where he clinched the world 500cc title in 2000.

"It's been a long road back for me and Suzuki but, at last today, we have found a little sunshine," said the delighted American, who will join Suzuki in starting from the front of the grid for the first time since Valencia in 2000.

Roberts set pole position with a stunning new lap record, his 1min 48.418secs effort not only representing a new mark for the Brazilian venue, but also the second ever pole position for tyre manufacturer Bridgestone since they joined MotoGP.

"Bridgestone came up with a great tyre that allowed me to make time up in the corners which we lose down the straightaways," he commented, "We've had a new motor for the last couple of races and we're making progress, just trying to make it back to where we know we can ride. It's a long road but, at least today, there was a little sunshine."

Meanwhile, it was a disappointing day for current championship leaders Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau, neither of whom went fast enough to qualify on the front row.

Rossi will start from the third row after qualifying eighth, while Gibernau could not improve his Friday time and dropped a couple of tenths off Roberts' pace. The Spaniard starts from the second row, in fourth place. Whilst Rossi struggled to adapt his Yamaha to the Jacarepagua track, Gibernau ran out of time when returning for a soft tyre at the end of the session.

Gibernau is joined on on row two by Honda colleague Alex Barros and Ducati rider Loris Capirossi, who recorded his best grid position of the season so far in sixth. Makoto Tamada, who scored his only podium here last year, heads up the third row from Rossi, who was comfortably the highest Yamaha of the day in eighth place, and Shinya Nakano on the Kawasaki.

It was another tough day for British riders, with Jeremy McWilliams leading the way in 18th, followed by Neil Hodgson 19th and Shane 'Shakey' Byrne 20th. Geordie Chris Burns qualified in 23rd, moving ahead of WCM team-mate David de Gea.

More to follow...

Combined qualifying:

Kenny Roberts
Max Biaggi
Nicky Hayden
Sete Gibernau
Alex Barros
Loris Capirossi
Makoto Tamada
Valentino Rossi
Shinya Nakano
Troy Bayliss
Colin Edwards
Carlos Checa
Marco Melandri
Alex Hofmann
Norick Abe
Ruben Xaus
John Hopkins
Jeremy McWilliams
Neil Hodgson
Shane Byrne
Nobuatsu Aoki
Kurtis Roberts
Chris Burns
David de Gea