Valentino Rossi will start his quest for a sixth MotoGP victory at the Catalunya circuit from pole position tomorrow.
The Fiat Yamaha rider, who could give Yamaha a 150th premier class victory in tomorrow’s 25-lap race, set the fastest time of 1.41.840 in baking hot conditions at the Spanish track.
That was just 0.061s in front of shock second place qualifier Randy de Puniet, who produced a brilliant performance on Kawasaki’s fast improving factory ZX-RR.
The French rider logged a best time of 1.41.901 with 18 minutes of the session remaining, and in that lengthy spell only Rossi was able to better that benchmark.
Rossi snatched pole with a typically ruthless late challenge as he jumped to the top of the leaderboard with nine minutes remaining.
The 28-year-old, who has won eight times at the Catalunya track, goes into tomorrow’s race on the back of a brilliant victory in Mugello and he said: “I am not able to decide which is the best track for me between Mugello and Barcelona. To have these two races in the same week is very exciting.
"I’m happy because pole position is always a great pleasure and this year the Yamaha and Michelin qualifying tyres work very well. I can make a lot of good laps and I enjoy riding the bike.
"It is important to be starting from pole but the race is tomorrow and it will be a hard battle. Dani [Pedrosa] and Casey [Stoner] have a very good pace and maybe also [John] Hopkins."
Second place went to the gutsy de Puniet, who is being severely hampered by a left knee injury he suffered when he crashed out of the Italian GP in Mugello six days ago.
Despite the painful hindrance he still claimed his maiden front row start.
His knee though is still badly swollen and Spidi has been forced to make him a new set of leathers with 10cm more space around the joint to help.
“My knee is still very swollen and I have blood inside. We have tried to do something but it is very difficult. I like this track and the bike has worked well this weekend," said de Puniet, who has won two 250 races at the Catalunya circuit.
In a now customary move, de Puniet was the first rider to select a soft qualifying tyre and his 1.41.901 moved him 1.121s clear of series leader Stoner, who eventually had to settle for fourth on the grid.
The Australian looked like securing a place on the front row when he claimed third place in the closing stages with a 1.42.117. But moments later home favourite Dani Pedrosa bumped Stoner down to fourth to the delight of his huge local support.
Pedrosa clocked a best of 1.42.002 to claim his second successive front row start, while Stoner has now failed to make the top three in the last two.
Pedrosa, who trails Stoner 33-points going into his home race, left his challenge late as he jumped from eighth to third at the end. He said: “I am very happy to be on the front row. This is a good result but tomorrow the race will be very difficult.”
John Hopkins and Colin Edwards will join Stoner on the second row.
Factory Suzuki rider Hopkins kept his cool in searing 33 degree temperatures to claim fifth. He was languishing down in 13th before posting a 1.42.233. That left compatriot Edwards in sixth. The Texan’s best of 1.42.283 had briefly bumped him onto the front row of the grid.
Factory Kawasaki rider Olivier Jacque is a major doubt for tomorrow’s race. He missed this afternoon’s session having needed hospital treatment following a big crash in this morning’s final free practice session.
Jacque complained of neck pain and was put in a brace before he was transferred to a Barcelona hospital for precautionary X-rays after initial checks in the circuit medical centre showed no fractures.
Kawasaki staff said Jacque is due back in the paddock imminently where a further assessment will be made on his condition as he has also complained of vision problems having suffered concussion in the accident.