Jorge Lorenzo struck a significant psychological blow in his battle with Dani Pedrosa by pipping his compatriot to pole position at Motegi. Neither rider enjoyed the dominance most had expected but when all was said and done, the two were too strong for the opposition with Cal Crutchlow impressing again to join them on the front row.

Lorenzo was the early leader but his 1:45.937 was always going to be beaten once the riders switched to the softer tyres. The challenge didn’t come from a Honda but from his teammate Ben Spies who lowered the benchmark by almost half a second. Andrea Dovizioso briefly gave Yamaha the entire front row by splitting the factory bikes but he was quickly demoted by Alvaro Bautista after his first soft tyre run.

Crutchlow was the next to stake his claim with a 1:45.257, good enough for provisional pole but Lorenzo was strangely off the pace on his soft tyres, only managing third. Pedrosa was straight on the pace on the fresh rubber though, setting a 1:45.252 with four minutes remaining, but wasn’t finished there as a 1:45.215 followed immediately afterwards.

Yamaha set about responding but an error for Ben Spies almost scuppered their plans altogether. The American lost the front end in unusual fashion coming around the slow-speed hairpin at turn ten and the resulting yellow flags threatened to nail Lorenzo down in fourth. Thankfully for the Spaniard, Spies remounted and Jorge took full advantage by setting a new pole position record, the first ever sub-1:45 lap of Motegi.

Pedrosa was forced to settle for second while Crutchlow, having topped the timesheets inside the final five minutes again, was forced to wait for his maiden MotoGP pole position, finishing third fastest. Spies will also look back on what might have been after qualifying fourth. Not only did he suffer the fall at turn ten, but another potential pole was also trashed by a mistake at the final corner.

Alvaro Bautista and Andrea Dovizioso complete the second row with the returning Casey Stoner leading row three after a 1:45.745 was the best he could manage on his Repsol Honda, the world champion clearly still hampered by his previously injured ankle.

Stefan Bradl recovered from an early crash to beat the Ducatis to eighth with Valentino Rossi edging out Nicky Hayden while wildcard rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga qualified a solid eleventh. Aleix Espargaro took the CRT honours in thirteenth but James Ellison was nowhere near that pace down in 20th.