Spain’s Dani Pedrosa set a Sepang lap record and seized his first pole of the 2015 season ahead of Sunday’s Malaysian MotoGP.
Pedrosa emerged victorious after a fierce battle for pole position in dry conditions with his Honda teammate and defending world champion Marc Marquez.
Pedrosa rocketed his Honda bike around the 5.5 kilometre Sepang circuit in a fastest ever lap time of one minute 59.053 seconds in Saturday qualifying, 0.409 seconds ahead of Marquez.
In third place was veteran rider and championship leader Valentino Rossi, who will start in the front row ahead of his Yamaha teammate and old rival, Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo.
Lorenzo finished fourth, 0.684 seconds behind Pedrosa.
Crowd favourite Rossi, who put on a stellar ride to the delight of his supporters, was 0.673 seconds behind Pedrosa.
“To start in the front row will help me in the tough race. Anything can happen,” the Italian told reporters with a smile.
Lorenzo, 28, had dominated Friday’s practice, but qualified in fourth and will start in the second row along with Honda’s Cal Crutchlow and Ducati’s Andrea Iannone.
It will be a nail-biting world championship battle: only Rossi and Lorenzo can win this year’s MotoGP crown in the final two rounds of the season.
Two-time world champion Lorenzo came in second at Philip Island in Australia last week and has narrowed the gap with Rossi to just 11 points.
For Rossi to win the title on Sunday, he would need to push his advantage up to 26 points.
Rossi, the oldest rider in the MotoGP entry list, risks a world title showdown in the season’s final race in Valencia on November 8 if he does not grab the title in Malaysia.
Sepang is one of the season’s most demanding circuits but is also Rossi’s favourite track as the Yamaha racer has won six times here in the premier class.
Temperatures can soar well above 40 degrees Celsius at the circuit, which lies outside Kuala Lumpur and is one of the longest in the season.