Casey Stoner fended off a determined Jorge Lorenzo to take his tenth pole position of the 2011 season at Motegi. The weekend was shaping up to be a Honda benefit after the four factory RC212Vs dominated the final practice session on Saturday morning but Lorenzo's produced a champion's performance to push Stoner all the way.
Heading into qualifying, the fastest time of the weekend was a 1:46.162 but Stoner blew that away inside the first ten minutes. Dani Pedrosa then took over at the top, becoming the first man to lap in the 1:45s.
The Spaniard held on to provisional pole for over half an hour until the riders poured out onto the circuit for their final qualifying runs. Stoner edged in front of his teammate with 12 minutes to go, lapping in 1:45.905 but the Australian was keen to wrap up pole position there and then, finding another quarter of a second next time around.
This signalled a stunning fightback from the reigning world champion who belied his practice form with a 1:45.523, well over a second quicker than he had managed at any stage of the weekend, forcing Stoner to respond.
True to form, Stoner had an answer on his final set of tyres and after matching Lorenzo on his first attempt, the championship leader stormed back to the top on his second lap with a 1:45.267, the fastest ever lap of Motegi.
Despite coming so close to an incredible pole position, Lorenzo had plenty of cause to be satisfied with second while Andrea Dovizioso will have also been delighted with his performance after a last gasp effort saw him edge out Pedrosa for third.
With his teammate's exploits it would have been easy to ignore Ben Spies but after struggling with food poisoning in the run-up to this race and pulling out of FP2 due to exhaustion, the American bounced back in some style with fifth place, just 0.775s off pole.
The dying seconds also saw a thrilling battle for the final place on the second row with Valentino Rossi jumping up to sixth with a 1:46.467. Fellow countryman Marco Simoncelli was flying further back though and pipped him by a quarter of a second, a decent effort after a crash earlier in the session.
Alvaro Bautista also had an eye on the second row but had to settle for eighth while Hector Barbera took ninth ahead of Nicky Hayden who couldn't reach the heights of yesterday when he showed such promising pace.
Home favourite Hiroshi Aoyama will lead the Japanese challenge from 11th while Cal Crutchlow will start 12th, an impressive performance from the Briton as he outqualified teammate Colin Edwards by three tenths and two positions. The Texan was left on his back foot by a crash on his first run after he braked too late for turn three.