Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa snatched a last gasp pole position in front of Valentino Rossi’s shell-shocked home fans at the Mugello circuit.
Pedrosa claimed his second pole position in the opening four races with a best lap of 1.48.819 in the final 20 seconds of a qualifying session that had been dominated by the Spaniard and compatriot Jorge Lorenzo.
Pedrosa, who was also on pole for the recent Spanish GP at Jerez, beat Lorenzo by just 0.177s with Lorenzo thwarted again in his bid to grab pole position.
He will start tomorrow’s 23-lap race from second on the grid for the third time this season having clocked a best time of 1.48.996 on his 24th of 26 laps.
Lorenzo though has been setting an impressive pace on Bridgestone’s race rubber and he will start tomorrow’s fourth round as a red-hot favourite.
Completing the front row is Australian Casey Stoner, who continues to use a set of 2009 spec Ohlins front forks on his factory Ducati to help cure a mystery front-end issue.
Stoner looked like he was going to struggle to claim a spot on the second row at one stage as he languished outside of the top six for long stages of the session.
But a best lap of 1.49.432 secured him his third front row start of 2010. The 24-year-old though was a massive 0.613s behind Pedrosa.
Ducati team-mate Nicky Hayden will head the second row after he qualified in fourth position.
Just six minutes remained when the Kentucky rider surged into second spot behind Lorenzo but he was unable to clinch his first front row start for Ducati.
A best time of 1.49.546 secured Hayden his best qualifying result of the season so far and he was only 0.114s adrift of Stoner.
Fellow American Colin Edwards also scored his best qualifying result of 2010 with a fifth place that suggests the double World Superbike is slowly finding some of his impressive 2009 form.
Edwards posted a best time of 1.49.683 to finish just under 0.3s off the front row and 0.054s ahead of Frenchman Randy de Puniet.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team-mate Ben Spies impressed again with the seventh quickest time. The Texan was slightly disappointed though that he wasn’t marginally faster and on the second row having logged a best of 1.49.861.
The atmosphere in Mugello this afternoon though was undoubtedly subdued with Rossi out of action for up to three months after he suffered a sickening high-speed high-side in this morning’s free practice session.
Rossi broke his right leg and underwent surgery this afternoon and thousands of yellow-clad Rossi fans were still in shock after the Italian hero saw his title hopes disappear.