Motegi - Yamaha's Johann Zarco produced a sizzling lap on Saturday to claim a surprise pole for the Japanese Grand Prix with MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez qualifying in third.
Frenchman Zarco clocked a quickest time of one minute, 53.469 seconds with a minute remaining of a wet Motegi session for his second career pole, pipping Ducati's Danilo Petrucci and championship leader Marquez.
Petrucci finished 0.3 seconds behind Zarco with Marquez a further tenth off the pace and holding off Aprilia's Aleix Espargaro, ahead of Ducati's Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa's Honda.
Marquez's chances of extending his lead in the title race will be boosted with his closest rivals Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Vinales back in ninth and 14th respectively on the grid.
Marquez, who paid for his decision to switch his Honda over to slick tyres, has a 16-point advantage over Dovizioso with four races left.
The Spaniard, chasing a sixth victory of the season this weekend, wrapped up his third MotoGP world title at last year's Japan race.
Results of MotoGP qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi on Saturday:
1. Johann Zarco (FRA/Yamaha) 1:53.469, 2. Danilo Petrucci (ITA/Ducati) 1:53.787, 3. Marc Marquez (ESP/Honda) 1:53.903, 4. Aleix Espargaro (ESP/Aprilia) 1:53.947, 5. Jorge Lorenzo (ESP/Ducati) 1:54.235, 6. Dani Pedrosa (ESP/Honda) 1:54.342, 7. Bradley Smith (GBR/KTM) 1:54.872, 8. Pol Espargaro (ESP/KTM) 1:54.906, 9. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA/Ducati) 1:55.064, 10. Alex Rins (ESP/Suzuki) 1:55.483, 11. Andrea Iannone (ITA/Suzuki) 1:55.617, 12. Valentino Rossi (ITA/Yamaha) 1:57.786