KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Spain's Dani Pedrosa seized his first pole of the 2015 season in dry track conditions ahead of Sunday's Malaysian MotoGP, after a fierce battle with his Honda team-mate and defending world champion Marc Marquez.
Pedrosa rocketed his Honda bike around the 5.5km Sepang circuit in a fastest-ever lap time of 1 min 59.053sec in Saturday qualifying, 0.409sec 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 team-mate and old rival, Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo.
Lorenzo finished fourth, 0.684sec behind Pedrosa.
Crowd favourite Rossi, who put on a stellar ride to the delight of his supporters, was 0.673sec 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 will start in the second row along with Honda's Cal Crutchlow and Ducati's Andrea Iannone.
It will be a nail-biting 18-race 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 Phillip Island last week and has narrowed the gap with Rossi (296 points) to just 11 points.
Despite crashing during the fourth free practice, Lorenzo looked resolute in attempting to catch up by securing front row in Sepang, but the Italian - cheered on by his die-hard fans - denied Lorenzo a prime place in the grid.
Rossi is hoping for a 10th career world title, but has yet to win the crown since in 2009.
On Friday, Lorenzo rubbished Rossi's allegation that 22-year-old rival Marquez had helped Lorenzo win the Philip Island race, following a similar denial from Marquez himself.
Lorenzo and Rossi were team-mates at Yamaha between 2006-2008, but relations were tense.
Things improved after Rossi rejoined Yamaha in 2013, but with the world title at stake their old animosity has re-emerged.
For the 36-year-old 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 Nov 8 if he does not grab it 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 40deg C at the circuit, which lies outside Kuala Lumpur and is one of the longest in the season.