Jorge Lorenzo will start on pole for Sunday's United States MotoGP, with championship rival Casey Stoner forced to settle for second in Laguna.
The Spaniard, who trails Stoner by 15 points in the championship standings, clocked an impressive time of 1:21.202 on a track on which he won last year.
"It was an unexpected pole for us so we are pleased," Lorenzo told BBC Sport.
Dani Pedrosa finished third and will join compatriot Lorenzo on the front row, with Britain's Cal Crutchlow 10th.
American Ben Spies, who briefly led late in the one-hour qualifying session before being eclipsed by the dominant Lorenzo, was fourth in 1:21.578 to give the home fans some cause for celebration.
United States MotoGP qualifying times:
1. Jorge Lorenzo (Spain) Yamaha 1:21.202
2. Casey Stoner (Aus) Honda 1:21.274
3. Dani Pedrosa (Spain) Honda 1:21.385
4. Ben Spies (US) Yamaha 1:21.578
5. Marco Simoncelli (Italy) Honda 1:21.696
6. Andrea Dovizioso (Italy) Honda 1:21.731
7. Valentino Rossi (Italy) Ducati 1:22.235
8. Hector Barbera (Spain) Ducati 1:22.238
9. Nicky Hayden (US) Ducati 1:22.271
10. Cal Crutchlow (Great Britain) Yamaha 1:22.385