Sepang: Jorge Lorenzo put himself in position to win his maiden MotoGP title in style by securing pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday.
The Spaniard needs only a top-10 finish to guarantee the title with three races remaining after Malaysia, but the Yamaha rider appears intent on taking an eighth victory of the campaign rather than opting for a conservative approach.
The 23-year-old secured his sixth pole of the season with a best lap of two minutes 01.537 seconds to edge out Ducati’s Nicky Hayden, who topped the timesheets with his 2:01.637 until Lorenzo went faster in the final minute of qualifying.
Italy’s Andrea Dovizioso will complete the front row for Sunday’s race after he crossed the line in 2:01.829 on his Honda.
“I really wanted to take pole today for the race as I know it will be a difficult fight for the victory tomorrow,” Lorenzo told reporters.
“This is a really important part of my career and I pushed the maximum to put myself in this position. There are still some problems with the bike but we worked really hard and managed one very good lap to give us that pole position.”
The second row will consist of American Ben Spies, in-form Australian Casey Stoner and outgoing world champion Valentino Rossi rounding out a top six who are separated by less than half a second.
After a mid-season injury scuppered Rossi’s chances of a third consecutive title, Lorenzo was already on course for a maiden crown before his task was made easier when nearest challenger Dani Pedrosa crashed out in practice for the last race in Japan.
Spaniard Pedrosa missed the Motegi race with a fractured collarbone and opted not to travel to Malaysia, leaving Lorenzo needing just seven points to take the title.
Stoner, winner of the last two races and twice at Sepang, is close enough to mount a challenge for second.
After 14 races, Lorenzo has 297 points, Pedrosa 228, Stoner 180 with Dovizioso in fourth place on 159. Rossi, who missed four races after breaking his leg in June, sits a further three points adrift in fifth place.
Hayden, winner of the world title four years ago, has endured a frustrating season in which he has failed to register a top-two finish, but his encouraging qualifying position will give him hope of recording a first victory since July 2006.
“It’s a little bit of a shock really,” Hayden said. “I didn’t expect to be so close to pole but I am not angry with myself for missing out by such a narrow margin as we got in a good lap.
“We made a positive step today, going back to a set-up we used well in the past. I had a good feeling and we will try and get a good result for tomorrow.
“I hope I can do well for the team. They have worked really hard and it’s not easy in the heat for the riders and the teams.”
Dovizioso was delighted with his front-row position but felt that several teams were holding back on their race setups.
“It’s difficult to understand how the race will pan out,” he said. “We have to study today’s lap times and get a feeling for our rivals’ performance. Qualifying doesn’t always give you the real picture of what everyone’s pace will be.”