The good news for Valentino Rossi is that he will start Sunday's Catalan Grand Prix from pole position - his fourth of the season - the bad news is that nobody has won a MotoGP race from pole for the past eight rounds, stretching back to the tail end of 2006.

But if anybody can break the mould it is Rossi, who has been expressing confidence in his Fiat Yamaha from the very first practice session this weekend - even if his qualifying advantage was a mere 0.061secs over Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet. The Italian is now aiming to smother Casey Stoner's nine-point world championship lead with his ninth victory at the Spanish circuit on Sunday, but expects a tough fight in tyre-melting temperatures.

"I'm really happy to have another pole position, this season our bike is working brilliantly with our Michelin qualifying tyres and at every race I have great fun during qualifying!" beamed Rossi. "Along with Mugello this is one of my favourite tracks and really I find it hard to decide which I like best! It's fun to have two great races together like this even if it's hard work without a rest in between.

"As usual it's going to be very important to start from the front tomorrow, but I think it's going to be a really hard battle anyway, especially in this heat," he warned. "Pedrosa and Stoner look very strong and also Hopkins has a good pace, so I think we can expect a great fight for the fans to watch! Anyway we're starting in the best position, my M1 feels very good and we will be looking for another victory."

"Valentino seems to be in good shape with his race pace as well but he needs to be very strong because it's going to be very competitive, with three or four riders looking very fast," confirmed team director Davide Brivio. "Let's see what happens but we're expecting an exciting race!"

Stoner, the fastest rider in free practice, will start fourth on the grid - behind Rossi, the injured de Puniet and home hero Pedrosa. The last rider to win a MotoGP race from pole position was Stoner's Ducati team-mate Loris Capirossi at the 2006 Japanese Grand Prix.