British rider James Toseland came tantalisingly close to becoming only the third rider in history to claim a debut MotoGP pole position at the end of a dramatic qualifying session in Qatar tonight.
Instead that honour went to Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo, who denied Toseland a fairytale start to his premier class career under the Losail International Circuit floodlights.
The Tech 3 Yamaha rider first jumped to the top of the timesheets with only 19 minutes of the hour-long session completed when a lap of 1:54.562 moved him 0.171secs clear of reigning world champion Casey Stoner.
Lorenzo snatched the lead with just over 20 minutes remaining when the double world 250 champion clocked a 1:54.219 to move 0.343secs clear of Toseland.
But the double World Superbike champion retaliated immediately, surging back to the top of the timesheets with a 1:54.182 on his second Michelin qualifying tyre.
That looked set for a sensational pole position, only for Jorge Lorenzo to snatch top spot in the final minutes, just as he did at last week’s two-day IRTA test to deny James Toseland.
Lorenzo’s fastest lap of 1:53.927 edged Toseland into second place by just 0.255secs, with Tech 3 team-mate Colin Edwards completing the front row in third.
James Toseland though was disappointed not to have completed a sensational start to his MotoGP career, which would have seen claim the first pole position by a rider making his debut since Max Biaggi at the 1998 Japanese MotoGP in Suzuka.
On his last Michelin qualifying tyre, Toseland looked on course to better his fastest lap when he lost vital time trying to pass Gresini Honda duo Shinya Nakano and Alex de Angelis.
James Toseland said: “I didn’t think I’d be in this position tonight. But why not do it again tomorrow?
“I had three qualifying tyres and used one quite early. I didn’t know whether the humidity would get to a stage where there was a bit of moisture on the track like we had in the test last week.
“I wanted to make sure we got a decent lap in. On my fastest lap unfortunately I caught a couple of riders in a difficult part of the track in the last split and did a 54.1.
“I knew on a perfect lap there was a 1.53 in there but with one minute to go I could still see my number 52 at the top of the scoreboard. Credit to Jorge though for actually doing that 1.53.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow and I will give it out best shot.”
James Toseland praised both Yamaha and Michelin for his stunning first MotoGP qualifying appearance, and also the French-based Tech 3 team.
“The team has been brilliant with me to teach me how to ride a MotoGP bike so fast in such a short space of time. It has been awesome.
“I had seven years of a great life and a great career in World Superbikes and to become champion twice was amazing.
“Fortunately I made the gamble to come to MotoGP from that comfort zone and I wanted this success. But I know it can’t come without a great team behind you.
“The Tech 3 team has had a coupe of difficult years, but definitely not because of the team principal and mechanics.
“They are a great team and to have Colin (Edwards) also on the front row shows what quality we have.
“This is my first time working with this manufacturer and they have showed what effort they are putting into MotoGP.
“Michelin had a difficult year last season but they have worked really hard through the winter to get this success,” added Toseland.