Jorge Lorenzo put Yamaha back on pole position for the first time since Jerez in April with a brilliant performance in MotoGP qualifying at Mazda Raceway 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 0.025sec, then 0.213sec.
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 second 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 teammate Ben Spies crashed heavily at Turn 3 late in the session. 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.
Pos Rider Team/Bike Time Gap
1. Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 1m20.554s
2. Casey Stoner Honda 1m20.628s + 0.074s
3. Dani Pedrosa Honda 1m20.906s + 0.352s
4. Ben Spies Yamaha 1m21.094s + 0.540s
5. Cal Crutchlow Tech 3 Yamaha 1m21.268s + 0.714s
6. Andrea Dovizioso Tech 3 Yamaha 1m21.539s + 0.985s
7. Alvaro Bautista Gresini Honda 1m21.732s + 1.178s
8. Nicky Hayden Ducati 1m21.734s + 1.180s
9. Stefan Bradl LCR Honda 1m21.753s + 1.199s
10. Valentino Rossi Ducati 1m22.544s + 1.990s
11. Randy de Puniet Aspar Aprilia 1m22.886s + 2.332s
12. Aleix Espargaro Aspar Aprilia 1m23.075s + 2.521s
13. Colin Edwards Forward Suter-BMW 1m23.699s + 3.145s
14. Karel Abraham Cardion Ducati 1m23.704s + 3.150s
15. Yonny Hernandez Avintia FTR-Kawasaki 1m23.769s + 3.215s
16. Michele Pirro Gresini FTR-Honda 1m23.877s + 3.323s
17. Toni Elias Pramac Ducati 1m23.898s + 3.344s
18. Mattia Pasini Speed Master Aprilia 1m24.017s + 3.463s
19. Danilo Petrucci Ioda-Aprilia 1m24.227s + 3.673s
20. Ivan Silva Avintia Inmotec-Kawasaki 1m24.560s + 4.006s
21. James Ellison Paul Bird Aprilia 1m24.715s + 4.161s
22. Steve Rapp Attack-Kawasaki 1m26.887s + 6.333s