Valentino Rossi smashed the pole record at Sepang this afternoon to take his sixth pole position of the season ahead of tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix, the Italian's first championship 'match point.' Jorge Lorenzo recovered from a difficult session to put in some good laps at the end and qualify second, making it the 12th time this year that the Fiat Yamaha Pair have shared the front row.
Temperatures during qualifying reached a sweltering 34 degrees at the tropical track but nothing hampered Rossi today and the 30-year-old was flying throughout, as he continued to work closely with his Yamaha and Bridgestone engineers in order to maximise tyre performance ahead of tomorrow's 21-lap race. The championship leader topped the timesheets early on, making way for Casey Stoner during the middle part of the hour but taking the lead again with 25-minutes to go and never looking in danger of being beaten. He continued to improve his time before a stunning last flying lap saw him beat his own pole position record, which has stood since 2006. Rossi can clinch his ninth World Championship title tomorrow simply by finishing fourth or better, regardless of where his team-mate finishes.
Lorenzo had looked in brilliant form yesterday but the youngster struggled more today, failing to make another step with his setting and losing some ground to his rivals. He could only manage fourth this morning and spent much of this afternoon's session uncharacteristically out of the top four. With the softer Bridgestone tyres at the end he was able to set some decent hot laps and his final effort, 0.569 off Rossi, was good enough for second, but he and his team will be working hard overnight and in tomorrow's warm-up in order to improve their race pace.
"I am so happy about that final lap! I couldn't believe it when I saw it on my dashboard, I thought it was possible to go faster but not by that much! My team and I have worked very well here and we've had a good strategy with Bridgestone, which left us with plenty of time at the end to try for the pole. It's very important to be on the front row here so we have done our job well, plus I am confident about our setting and our race pace. We're in good shape. It's incredibly hot and tomorrow will be hard for everyone, as it always is here, but we have a good advantage and I am really looking forward to the battle. Let's see where we are at this time tomorrow!"
Jorge Lorenzo - Position: 2nd Time: 2'01.087 Laps: 23
"Today hasn't been my best day and I have found things quite hard. The conditions are basically the same as yesterday so I can't blame them, but we just don't have the same levels of grip and confidence that we had before and it's hard to understand why. We didn't make the step we expected and we are lacking pace compared to our rivals. Now we all need to study the data and work out what we can do for the warm-up tomorrow. I am happy that we were able to be back on the front row as this will be important, now we will just try our best to be in better shape for the race."