Jorge Lorenzo put Yamaha back on pole position for the first time since Jerez in April with a brilliant performance in MotoGP qualifying at Laguna Seca.
Championship leader Lorenzo had to dig deep and produce a record 1m20.554s lap of the California track in the closing seconds to deny Honda duo Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa.
Lorenzo's Yamaha had been quickest for most of the session. Going into the closing stages, the points leader's margin over Pedrosa was just 0.007s, but two improvements stretched the gap to first 0.025s, then 0.213s.
Stoner had not yet been able to show his hand, though, having encountered traffic on a promising run. He then came across CRT rider Danilo Petrucci at the final corner on his next attempt, yet still managed a 1m20.628s to depose Lorenzo.
When Lorenzo's next lap was 0.2 seconds down on Stoner at the first split, it all looked to be over. But Lorenzo made up that deficit and more over the remainder of the lap, conjuring up a 1m20.554s to claim Laguna pole for a fourth straight year, and halt Honda's string of consecutive poles at seven. Stoner and Pedrosa completed the front row.
Lorenzo's team-mate Ben Spies crashed heavily at Turn 3 late on. Although he was able to rejoin on his spare bike, he could not hang on to the front row grid slot he occupied pre-fall, dropping back to fourth ahead of the Tech 3 Yamahas of Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso.
The Ducatis were back in eighth and 10th, Nicky Hayden ahead of Valentino Rossi once again, behind Alvaro Bautista's Gresini Honda and split by Stefan Bradl's LCR Honda.
Aspar took another CRT one-two, as Randy de Puniet led Aleix Espargaro in 11th and 12th.
Returnees Karel Abraham, back after injury at Cardion AB, and Toni Elias, standing in for the injured Hector Barbera at Pramac, qualified only 14th and 17th respectively.
Apart from Spies, the only other crasher was Mattia Pasini, who had a violent accident at the fast downhill Turn 10. He walked away unhurt.
- Jorge Lorenzo
- Casey Stoner
- Dani Pedrosa