Jorge Lorenzo beat Casey Stoner in a straight fight for pole position in Qatar while Cal Crutchlow produced one of the performances of the night to join them on the front row. The top two were untouchable as many expected and the latter stages of the session saw a thrilling head-to-head between them.
Stoner wasted no time in setting the pace and all-but matched the quickest time of the weekend on just his third flying lap, giving him a seven tenth advantage over Lorenzo. The real fight began in the final quarter of an hour and Stoner moved the goalposts by another quarter of a second but the Yamaha seemed to have the legs in qualifying trim, as proven by a 1:54.993 from Lorenzo.
Casey joined Jorge in the 1:54s and edged a tenth in front with three minutes remaining but the Spaniard always seemed to have an answer and a scintillating lap gave him a cushion of 0.221s. Although Stoner had one last attempt, pole was out of reach and Yamaha drew first blood in the 2012 fight for supremacy.
The final place on the front row was up for grabs throughout and with 20 minutes remaining, the sensational Stefan Bradl was in possession of P3 on the LCR Honda. Ben Spies dislodged him at that stage before Crutchlow rocketed up the order. The Briton temporarily held second after setting a 1:55.022 and although he couldn't keep up with the big two, third place was his by almost half a second in the end.
Spies had to settle for fourth after crashing on his final soft tyre run while Nicky Hayden pulled a stunning lap out of the bag in the dying seconds to grab fifth, leading the Ducati challenge. Teammate Valentino Rossi had a miserable evening and finished up as the slowest rider on prototype machinery, 0.831s ahead of Colin Edwards' CRT Suter.
Andrea Dovizioso ensured that all four Yamahas will start inside the top six despite trailing his Tech 3 teammate by the thick end of a second but Dani Pedrosa will be even more concerned with his deficit to Stoner. The gap was 1.050s and the Spaniard will head up the third row. Hector Barbera will start alongside in eighth while Stefan Bradl will make his MotoGP debut from ninth on the grid.
In an all-too-familiar sight, Karel Abraham ended his session in the gravel trap but he held on to a top ten spot with Alvaro Bautista and the disappointing Rossi completing row four. Edwards took the honour of top CRT runner while five of his rivals crashed out.
Randy de Puniet's looked the most serious with substantial damage caused to the bike, although thankfully none to the rider. Mattia Pasini threw his Speed Master machine at the scenery twice while Danilo Petrucci, Ivan Silva and James Ellison also slid off the road. As a result, they will make up the final four places on the 21 man grid.