Casey Stoner took a sensational Assen pole position ahead of Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa as the MotoGP field dodged the rain showers in qualifying for the Dutch TT.
In the closing minutes it looked like Stoner was destined to start only ninth on a grid headed by Pedrosa, as the track appeared set to remain wet until the checkered flag. But then the sun came out, quick times turned out to be possible after all, and Stoner delivered a stunning 1m33.713s lap to take pole as Pedrosa pushed their title rival Jorge Lorenzo's Yamaha back to third.
The changing weather was the main theme of the hour. With clouds gathering, everyone was trying to get an early fast lap in, as championship leader Lorenzo proved when he set his best time of the weekend – a 1m34.564s, just five minutes in. The Yamaha rider then improved to a 1m34.376s, which was beaten five minutes later by Pedrosa's 1m34.286s.
Rain arrived shortly afterward, and although the track was never fully wet, it was enough to preclude quick times for a long while. When the first shower passed, Ben Spies and Alvaro Bautista managed to throw in quick laps that moved them into the top five but then the rain returned once more.
It looked like the session was settled, and at that stage Stoner had only put in a time good enough for ninth. But he was the first to take a chance on the track having dried again in the last four minutes, and he immediately jumped to third, before blitzing his rivals with a 1m33.713s next time around.
Pedrosa and Lorenzo were left to battle over second, with the Honda rider taking it by 0.173sec as he lapped 0.115sec shy of Stoner's pace.
Moto2 champion Stefan Bradl claimed his best MotoGP qualifying position yet in fourth place for LCR Honda, ahead of Cal Crutchlow, who jumped up the order for Tech 3 Yamaha on his last lap.
Spies (Yamaha) fell back to sixth, with Crutchlow's teammate Andrea Dovizioso seventh and Bautista (Gresini Honda) crashing at the end of the session and dropping to eighth.
The Ducatis of Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi filled the final top 10 spots, while Aspar duo Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaro led the CRT contingent again.
Pos Rider Team/Bike Time Gap
1. Casey Stoner Honda 1m33.713s
2. Dani Pedrosa Honda 1m33.828s + 0.115s
3. Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 1m34.001s + 0.288s
4. Stefan Bradl LCR Honda 1m34.035s + 0.322s
5. Cal Crutchlow Tech 3 Yamaha 1m34.486s + 0.773s
6. Ben Spies Yamaha 1m34.644s + 0.931s
7. Andrea Dovizioso Tech 3 Yamaha 1m34.698s + 0.985s
8. Alvaro Bautista Gresini Honda 1m34.722s + 1.009s
9. Nicky Hayden Ducati 1m34.751s + 1.038s
10. Valentino Rossi Ducati 1m35.057s + 1.344s
11. Hector Barbera Pramac Ducati 1m35.289s + 1.576s
12. Randy de Puniet Aspar Aprilia 1m35.830s + 2.117s
13. Aleix Espargaro Aspar Aprilia 1m36.007s + 2.294s
14. Michele Pirro Gresini FTR-Honda 1m36.647s + 2.934s
15. Mattia Pasini Speed Master Aprilia 1m36.943s + 3.230s
16. Danilo Petrucci Ioda-Aprilia 1m36.967s + 3.254s
17. Karel Abraham Cardion Ducati 1m37.110s + 3.397s
18. Yonny Hernandez Avintia FTR-Kawasaki 1m37.191s + 3.478s
19. James Ellison Paul Bird Aprilia 1m37.281s + 3.568s
20. Ivan Silva Avintia Inmotec-Kawasaki 1m37.554s + 3.841s
21. Colin Edwards Forward Suter-BMW 1m38.305s + 4.592s