TOKYO (Reuters) - Italian Andrea Dovizioso piled the pressure on championship leader Marc Marquez by qualifying in pole position for Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix while the Spaniard will start in sixth.
Honda's Marquez can win a fifth MotoGP title with a win at Motegi but Dovizioso, his closest rival in the championship race, showed he was not willing to give up without a fight as he set the fastest qualifying time of 1:44:590 seconds.
Marquez, 25, who crashed during practice earlier in the day, was 0.299 seconds off the pace and faces a steep task if he was to seal a third consecutive MotoGP crown in Japan on Sunday.
France's Johann Zarco, a rider for the Yamaha Tech3 team, was second in qualifying, with Australian Jack Miller in third.
Dovizioso's pole was only his second of the year and came at a crunch time as the Ducati rider attempts to delay Marquez's crowning as champion.
The Spaniard is currently 77 points clear of Dovizioso with four races remaining. Each race offers 25 points for a win.
If Dovizioso wins in Japan, as he did last year, then the title race will go into the final three races of the season, starting with the Australian Grand Prix next weekend.
"Our bike works well on this track," Dovizioso told reporters. "It is a good track for my style. The mix is very good. We knew that coming here and then we did what we expected.
"Marc has a very good pace for the race so it is going to be a hard battle."
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant)