MotoGP world champion Casey Stoner has taken his first pole position of the 2008 season after edging out home hero Dani Pedrosa by just 0.083secs during qualifying for Sunday's Catalan Grand prix.

The pole is Stoner's first since last September's San Marino Grand Prix and marked an exceptional achievement - the young Australian was the only Bridgestone rider in the top seven and the only Desmosedici rider in the top twelve.

Stoner took a hard earned victory over Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa last year at Catalunya and will be chasing his first 2008 victory since the Qatar season opener on Sunday.

Home hero Pedrosa suffered a technical fault with one third of the session gone and was thus forced to take to his spare Repsol Honda. The #2 recovered by jumping from sixth to pole with six minutes remaining, only to be toppled by team-mate Nicky Hayden.

Pedrosa returned to the head of the timesheets on his very final lap, but Stoner's final charge was even stronger and the #1 took Bridgestone's second pole in succession by less than a tenth.

Third for Hayden marks the 2006 world champion's first front row start of a difficult year and came after a much better second day in Catalunya. Hayden was only ninth on Friday, but jumped forwards to second in Saturday morning's final practice session - suggesting the American could be in contention for a debut 2008 podium on Sunday.

Randy de Puniet also delivered a praiseworthy performance, the satellite LCR Honda rider battling at the front for much of the hour - and holding provisional pole at one stage - before being nudged back to fourth, 0.385secs from Stoner.

Surprise underachiever on Saturday was Rossi, who heads into this weekend's seventh round having won the last three events and holding a 12 point lead over Pedrosa. Rossi was a close third on Friday, fourth during final practice, but was never a pole contender this afternoon.

The Fiat Yamaha star, riding with a special 'football' crash helmet design in addition to the new livery unveiled on Friday, ruined one of his qualifying laps when he ran wide over the grass - and was just eleventh as the last laps began - before clawing back two positions on his final run.

Rossi was the slowest of the three remaining M1 riders in qualifying, following team-mate Jorge Lorenzo's withdraw. Tech 3 team-mates Colin Edwards and James Toseland took their Michelin-shod machines to a strong fifth and sixth on the grid, with Edwards holding pole leading into the final ten minutes.

Toseland's fellow MotoGP rookie Andrea Dovizioso put a tough Friday behind him with seventh for JiR Team Scot, whilst Chris Vermeulen was the top Rizla Suzuki rider in eighth.

Vermeulen and team-mate Loris Capirossi held a GSV-R one-two early in the hour, but dropped backwards thereafter with Capirossi - second to Pedrosa on Friday - left a disappointing twelfth.

A sore John Hopkins, who hurt his back during a heavy Friday highside, was passed fit to ride today and qualified in 14th position, just behind Alice's Toni Elias, while Stoner's team-mat Marco Melandri suffered a sudden lowside fall on his way to 16th - ahead of only Anthony West.

Qualifying:

1. Stoner
2. Pedrosa
3. Hayden
4. de Puniet
5. Edwards
6. Toseland
7. Dovizioso
8. Vermeulen
9. Rossi
10. de Angelis
11. Nakano
12. Capirossi
13. Elias
14. Hopkins
15. Guintoli
16. Melandri
17. West