Valentino Rossi gave himself the best possible chance of wrapping up the MotoGP title at Sepang tomorrow as he claimed a comfortable pole position.
The Italian clocked two minutes and 0.518 seconds to beat title rival and Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo to top spot by over half a second.
Lorenzo’s fellow Spaniard Dani Pedrosa completes the front row for Repsol Honda, with Australian Casey Stoner fourth for Ducati Marlboro after being deprived of a front-row spot late on in a session contested in sweltering heat and humidity.
Rossi set the early pace in the hour-long session, but Stoner lowered his mark shortly after the 20-minute mark with a lap of 2:01.445.
But Rossi, chasing a seventh world title in the top MotoGP category and his ninth overall, regained top spot with 25 minutes remaining in 2:01.210.
Nobody was able to challenge his lead and the 30-year-old was left to race purely to lower his own leading time, providing the crowd with a champagne finish as his eventual pole mark saw him break the lap record two minutes from the end of the session.
There was still time for Lorenzo to snatch second place in the closing seconds, with Pedrosa also nipping in ahead of Stoner for third.
Rossi, who has had five wins and two other podium finishes from nine races at the Malaysian circuit, holds a 38-point advantage in the standings after nearest challenger Lorenzo’s fourth fall of the season last weekend in Australia.
He needs only to finish in the top four in tomorrow’s 21-lap race to secure the title, even if Lorenzo wins.