Brno (Czech Republic) (AFP) - World championship leader Marc Marquez claimed his fourth pole position of the season after beating Valentino Rossi in Saturday's qualifying for the Czech MotoGP in Brno.
The reigning world MotoGP champion clocked 1min 54.981sec on his Honda to finish 0.92sec ahead of Italian veteran Rossi, of Yamaha, with Spaniard Dani Pedrosa at 0.138 for Honda.
The 24-year-old Marquez's 41st pole position in MotoGP, and 69th across the three classes, gives him a fantastic chance of extending his championship advantage.
"Tomorrow we'll see what weather conditions we have, as it looks a bit unstable and not as warm," said Marquez.
"It will be a long, hard race but we should be able to fight for the podium in either the dry or the wet, so we're looking forward to it and to enjoying the race."
Considering his domination of the last four seasons that have delivered three top-class titles, Marquez does not have a very good record around the Brno circuit and is without a win since 2013.
But he was in fine fettle in qualifying, and his rivals will have to find some extra speed to beat him in Sunday's race.
"I'm very happy with today because I knew that making the pole would be tough, as I normally struggle at this track, but I tried for it anyway," he added.
The world champion's compatriot Maverick Vinales struggled though, and qualified down in seventh place as he looks to cut the five-point gap to Marquez at the top of the riders' standings.
In the tightest title battle since the points system was changed in 1993, the 38-year-old Rossi is still in the hunt for a tenth world title.
The legendary Italian has only won once this season, but has remained consistent and is only ten points adrift of Marquez in fourth.
He produced an impressive second lap in qualifying to take second place, after going third-fastest in both the third and fourth practice sessions earlier in the day.
"It's a shame for the pole, because we were close, but the second place is a very good result and front row is a good place to start the race from tomorrow," said Rossi.
"I knew I had a good potential and on the second run I was in the right position, with clear track in front, and I rode well. I was able to push without making any mistakes."
The other world title contender, Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso, showed reasonable speed on Saturday and will start the race from fourth place.
Briton Cal Crutchlow and former world champion Jorge Lorenzo complete the second row.