Jorge Lorenzo rode the fastest ever two-wheeled lap of Laguna Seca to snatch pole position from Casey Stoner in the dying seconds. The championship leader hadn't had a pole for eight races but ended that particular drought with a sensational run after time had elapsed.
Dani Pedrosa's fastest time from Friday was obliterated within eight minutes of the session as Lorenzo clocked a 1:20.899, putting the pole position record from 2008 under immediate threat. Pedrosa joined his compatriot in the 1:20s shortly afterwards but the Repsol Honda still trailed by seven thousandths of a second.
After the initial soft tyre runs, the session entered a lull with most riders concentrating on race preparation. Ben Spies was one of the few men to improve his grid position by moving past Casey Stoner for third at the forty minute mark. The home rider had closed to within two tenths of his teammate but wouldn't get any closer as a heavy crash twelve minutes from time effectively ended his session. Spies was clearly groggy in the immediate aftermath of the crash, struggling to stay on his feet, but bravely returned to the track for a final run. Unsurprisingly, he failed to improve on his 1:21.094 set earlier.
The big three were left to fight amongst themselves for pole position, as well as the lap record, and Lorenzo was the first to make history, setting a 1:20.693 with six minutes to go. Stoner was setting red sector times with regularity but seemed unable to connect them on a single lap, until the final two minutes that is.
Having cleared traffic including the returning Karel Abraham, Stoner finally overhauled Lorenzo at the top of the leaderboard with a 1:20.628, although the Australian was still not satisfied when he spoke in the post-session press conference after catching Danilo Petrucci at the final corner.
The loss of time in the final sector would prove decisive as Lorenzo grabbed pole on his very last lap despite trailing by 0.047s at the third split, turning it into a 0.074s advantage at the finish line. A clearly annoyed Stoner had to make do with second while Dani Pedrosa was punted down to third by the late improvements having failed to quicker than he had in the opening ten minutes.
Despite his fall, Spies hung onto fourth and will have two more Yamahas alongside him in the form of Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso. The Tech 3 duo were closely matched all afternoon but Crutchlow got the better of things with a 1:21.268, a quarter of a second quicker than Dovizioso.
Alvaro Bautista bounced back after an uncompetitive Friday to qualify seventh, ahead of the factory Ducatis which were led by two-time U.S. winner Nicky Hayden. The Kentucky Kid will start eighth ahead of Laguna Seca debutant Stefan Bradl with Valentino Rossi completing the top ten after struggling badly for pace on the soft tyres.
Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaro wrapped up a CRT 1-2 for Aspar ahead of Colin Edwards with all three claiming the scalp of Karel Abraham. The Czech rider is fourteenth on the grid with Yonny Hernandez next to him while the sixth row is made up of Michele Pirro, Toni Elias and Mattia Pasini who crashed at turn ten late in the session.
Danilo Petrucci and Ivan Silva are next up, leaving James Ellison as the slowest regular rider. Only wildcard entrant Steve Rapp is behind him and the American rookie will only start thanks to the leniency of the stewards after failing to beat the 107% time.