Reigning world champion Valentino Rossi claimed his first pole position of the 2010 MotoGP campaign in Le Mans this afternoon.
In an exciting climax to the decisive qualifying session, 31-year-old Rossi topped the timesheets with a best lap of 1.33.408 on his 28th of 30 laps.
Just over 90 seconds remained when the Fiat Yamaha surged to the top for the first time in over 20 minutes. And team-mate Jorge Lorenzo was unable to counter attack in the final moments.
Lorenzo finished second to maintain his 100 per cent front row starting record in 2010 and he was just 0.054s adrift of Rossi with a best time of 1.33.462.
Lorenzo will start tomorrow’s 28-lap race holding a slender four-point lead over Rossi in the early title hunt and he is aiming for a second successive triumph in Le Mans.
Completing the front row is Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard might have thought a second straight pole position was his when he occupied the top spot with just over two minutes remaining.
The triple world champion, who was a morale-boosting second in Jerez earlier this month, ended third with a best time of 1.33.573 to finish just 0.165s off pole.
Aussie Casey Stoner missed the front row of the grid for the first time this season as the factory Ducati rider had to settle for fourth place on the GP10 machine.
Stoner too had spells at the top of the timesheets throughout the session and he was quickest with just seven minutes remaining.
But a best lap of 1.33.824 was 0.416s slower than Rossi and 0.251s away from preserving his 2010 front row starting record.
Factory Ducati team-mate Nicky Hayden ended in an impressive fifth place on a Le Mans track that he has a dire record on.
The American looked like pulling off a shock when he followed Pedrosa in the closing stages to claim the third best time with over three minutes left on the clock.
A best lap of 1.33.845 eventually secured him fifth spot to equal his best qualifying result of the season.
Home favourite Randy de Puniet ended in sixth position with Andrea Dovizioso seventh.
Colin Edwards will start from the front of the third row in eighth as the Texan slipped down the rankings in the crucial final stages.
Edwards did lead the way with 25 minutes remaining when riders starting switching to the softer compound Bridgestone tyres, but a lap of 1.34.304 left him 0.896s off pole.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team-mate Ben Spies faces a tough French MotoGP debut after he ended qualifying in 12th place.
The reigning World Superbike champion suffered a left foot injury in a massive high-side crash during this morning’s final practice session.
He was passed fit and rode without the aid of painkillers and for a while he looked certain to claim a hard fought top ten.
But a best time of 1.34.920 left him over 1.5s away from Rossi.
Tomorrow’s race will only feature 16 riders after Alvaro Bautista withdrew because of a massive crash in the second practice session.
1 Valentino ROSSI ITA Fiat Yamaha Team Yamaha 1'33.408
2 Jorge LORENZO SPA Fiat Yamaha Team Yamaha 1'33.462
3 Dani PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team Honda 1'33.573
4 Casey STONER AUS Ducati Marlboro Team Ducati 1'33.824
5 Nicky HAYDEN USA Ducati Marlboro Team Ducati 1'33.845
6 Randy DE PUNIET FRA LCR Honda MotoGP Honda 1'34.074
7 Andrea DOVIZIOSO ITA Repsol Honda Team Honda 1'34.204
8 Colin EDWARDS USA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 1'34.304
9 Loris CAPIROSSI ITA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP Suzuki 1'34.306
10 Aleix ESPARGARO SPA Pramac Racing Team Ducati 1'34.514
11 Marco MELANDRI ITA San Carlo Honda Gresini Honda 1'34.523
12 Ben SPIES USA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 1'34.920
13 Marco SIMONCELLI ITA San Carlo Honda Gresini Honda 1'34.942
14 Hiroshi AOYAMA JPN Interwetten Honda MotoGP Honda 1'34.979
15 Hector BARBERA SPA Paginas Amarillas Aspar Ducati 1'35.323
16 Mika KALLIO FIN Pramac Racing Team Ducati 1'35.810