SEPANG, Malaysia - Andrea Dovizioso won pole position on Saturday for the Malaysia MotoGP as fellow Italian Valentino Rossi improved his chances of finishing second in the world championship by joining the front row.
Ducati's Dovizioso clocked a lap of 2min 11.485secs to take his second pole of the season after opting for a tyre switch that paid off on a rain-dampened Sepang International Circuit.
Honda's Marc Marquez clinched the MotoGP crown two weeks ago in Japan, and Saturday's results set up a clash on Sunday between Rossi and his Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo for runner-up honours in the world championship.
Rossi leads Lorenzo by 24 points with two races left.
In the frantic late stages of qualifying on Saturday, Rossi leap-frogged Lorenzo into second position, finishing just 0.246 behind Dovizioso.
Lorenzo rounds out the front row, while Marquez leads the second line after finishing fourth in qualifying despite battling gastroenteritis for days.
Riders had to contend with a heavy rain that had soaked the track before final qualifying got going, as well as the challenge of adapting to a track that has been repaved and seen modifications on turns.
Dovizioso had already posted a top time earlier in the session but bettered it later after his tyre change.
"I'm really happy to make a pole position because the conditions were difficult," he said.
"I'm happy because I was able to improve on the last lap with the hard tyre and ... was able to go much faster. So I'm really happy about that speed." No rider has been as successful at Sepang as Rossi, 37, who has won here six times.
But the nine-time world champion has not won in Malaysia since 2010, which was also the last year he took the MotoGP world title.
Rossi said success at the notoriously challenging track depends on being able to adjust to conditions, and added that he was happy with Saturday's result.
"We have to work in these conditions, but starting in the front row is really good," he said.
Track temperatures have been moderate this week, but can top 50 degrees centigrade (122 Fahrenheit) - putting strain on both man and machine.
The tropical humidity and sudden heavy downpours also can pose control issues.
The track modifications have also made it a learning process this week, with several riders going down at various points.
Track officials said the modifications and repaving were aimed at improving run-off and tyre grip.
But some riders have complained about the difficulty negotiating the hairpin final curve, which now - unusually - slopes away from the direction of the turn.