The Ducati Marlboro star suffered some form of mechanical problem during the opening part of the hour, but preferred to wait patiently for it to be fixed rather than ride his spare bike.

By the halfway stage Stoner was sitting second behind team-mate Loris Capirossi, before seizing pole by almost one second with 14 minutes remaining. His rivals, unexpectedly lead by reigning world champion Nicky Hayden, soon closed that down but Stoner calmly confirmed pole with an even faster lap set four minutes from the end.

The impressive Hayden closed to within 0.280secs on his Michelin shod Repsol Honda, while team-mate Dani Pedrosa took a late third to complete a front row covered by 0.295secs.

Rizla Suzuki's John Hopkins, closest to fellow Bridgestone rider Stoner on race tyres during free practice, fell after low-siding from his GSV-R on his final lap and will start fourth on the grid - alongside Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet, who leapt from tenth to fifth in the closing seconds.

That came at the expense of Valentino Rossi, who will start Sunday's race 44 points behind Stoner and five places behind him on the grid after spending much of the session outside the top ten. Barring a sudden set-up breakthrough, the Fiat Yamaha superstar looks like he'll need all his skills just to stay within sight of the Australian on Sunday.

Capirossi slipped from provisional pole to the head of row three, alongside 2008 team-mate Chris Vermeulen and Yamaha's Colin Edwards, while Sylvain Guintoli - the surprise of the weekend - rounds out the top ten after again leading the timesheets.

One rider missing this afternoon was Marco Melandri, who has been forced to withdraw from the remainder of the weekend due to pain in his neck and shoulder and a total lack of strength in his arm. Melandri's Honda Gresini team-mate Toni Elias, returning this weekend from a broken femur at Assen, will start 14th out of the reduced 18 rider field.

Qualifying:

1. Stoner
2. Hayden
3. Pedrosa
4. Hopkins
5. de Puniet
6. Rossi
7. Capirossi
8. Vermeulen
9. Edwards
10. Guintoli
11. Nakano
12. Checa
13. Barros
14. Elias
15. Tamada
16. West
17. Roberts
18. Silva