MOTEGI, Japan (AFP) - Jorge Lorenzo will start from pole in Sunday's Japan Grand Prix after holding off his Yamaha team-mate and MotoGP championship leader Valentino Rossi in qualifying on Saturday.
The Spaniard grabbed his fourth pole position of the season after having led all four practice sessions before clocking in 1min 43.790sec in qualifying, 0.081sec faster than the veteran Italian rider.
Injured defending champion Marc Marquez shares the front row with the Yamaha duo, coming in 0.426sec after Lorenzo.
For the season championship, Rossi leads Lorenzo by a slender 14-point advantage and has admitted that the competition remained wide open with four more races, including the Japanese race.
The Italian's mood darkened as pole position slipped away from him in the final minutes of the qualifying when Lorenzo stormed back to the top of the timesheets.
"It's a shame... because pole position is something that doesn't happen very often, especially to me," Rossi said.
"But that aside, I am satisfied about today. We worked well with the team. In the free practice, I was consistent. I was fast. We did a good strategy. I was in the right place."
Marquez, standing 79 points behind Rossi in the championship battle, admitted to feeling pain from a bone fracture of his left hand.
The injury has stopped the Honda driver from riding at his full potential, allowing the sizzling Yamaha men to stay ahead.
"It's painful," said the Spaniard, the season champion in 2013 and 2014. "But it's not a big, big problem. Tomorrow we need a huge step if we wanted to stay with Yamaha. Both of their riders are one step in front."
Thick cloud cover brought the temperature down at Motegi, where rainfall is expected for Sunday's race.
Alex de Angelis crashed hard during the fourth free practice earlier on Saturday, prompting a red flag to temporarily suspend the session.
The ART rider, who was able to speak and move his limbs, was taken by a chopper to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed with a lung contusion, according to MotoGP.com, adding that more checks were being performed.