Sao Paulo, Brazil:Local hero Felipe Massa of Ferrari gave his home fans something special to cheer on Saturday when he boosted his world title bid by taking pole for Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix.
The 27-year-old Brazilian produced a dazzling late lap to confirm his grip on the prime starting slot and then smiled broadly on learning that championship leader Lewis Hamilton had qualified only in fourth place.
Hamilton leads Massa by seven points and the British McLaren driver needs only a top five finish in the season-concluder at Interlagos to become the youngest champion in Formula One history.
Massa has taken pole three years in succession and this was his sixth pole this season and the 15th of his career.
"It is a dream come true for me to take pole here in front of these fantastic fans for the third year running," said Massa.
"It is a perfect day for me but the race is another thing and I will try to do my best. It is a long race and it is good to start at the front."
Massa's and Ferrari's hopes of an all-red Ferrari front row were wrecked when Italian veteran Jarno Trulli stole second place for Toyota with a last-gasp lap just two days after lying in bed in his hotel room with influenza.
"I have to thank the doctor and the team for this," he said. "I knew I could be fast here and I saved my tyres for that lap."
Trulli's surge to second pushed outgoing champion Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari down to third with Hamilton alongside him on the second row.
"I did my job as well as I could, more or less, I think," said Raikkonen, who will race to protect Massa in Sunday's 71-laps contest.
"Actually, I prefer to start third here to second because it is a better place, but we have to see what happens."
Hamilton said he was not too upset at seeing Massa on pole and starting behind him.
"I think we have the right strategy and I am very comfortable with what we plan to do," he said.
"It is great for Felipe, but that is where he needs to be. I have to focus on my job and if I finish fourth that is good enough for me.
"It is not a problem and I feel pretty good about it."
Massa clocked a best time of one minute and 12.368 seconds in the third and final part of the session.
Hamilton's team-mate Heikki Kovalainen qualified fifth ahead of two times champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Renault.
"We are up there where we need to be," said the Finn.
"I think our strategies are different and it is a very long race tomorrow. I am very confident."
German Sebastian Vettel was seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of compatriot Nick Heidfeld in a BMW Sauber, Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais in the second Toro Rosso and another German Timo Glock for Toyota.
On a warm, sunny day with vastly-improved conditions following Friday's cold and wet weather, the session began slowly with Nelson Piquet venturing out first in his Renault to give his compatriots something to cheer.
Once the real action began, there were roars of approval for Massa and boos for Hamilton as the big crowd packed into the basin-like arena of Interlagos revelled in the atmosphere.
Hamilton was quick to set a fastest time and the two Ferrari men, led by Massa had to wait until the final minutes to overhaul him. Massa's lap in 1:11.830 was the fastest of the weekend at that time.
Hamilton was obviously content to sit most of the session out and take third, but it was farewell to the five at the bottom with Japanese Kazuki Nakajima and his Williams team-mate German Nico Rosberg both eliminated along with the two Force India's of German Adrian Sutil and Italian Giancarlo Fisichella and Briton Jenson Button of Honda whose car stopped out on the circuit.
In the second part-session, the McLarens showed they were in command again when after Hamilton clocked his best effort in 1:11.856 to top the standings, he was beaten by his team-mate Kovalainen who did 1:11.768.
Massa was third-fastest and stayed in the Ferrari garage as the young German tyro Sebastian Vettel flew to second for Toro Rosso in the final seconds, shifting Hamilton to third ahead of Massa.
This final flurry saw some shuffled places and out went Piquet, Australian Mark Webber of Red Bull and his team-mate Briton David Coulthard, who retires after Sunday's race, struggling Pole Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber and Rubens Barrichello of Honda.
This condemned the veteran Brazilian, Barrichello, who was born within a short walk of the Interlagos track, to a disappointing grid position in what could also be his final race if, as suspected, he is replaced at Honda next season by compatriot Bruno Senna, nephew of the late Ayrton Senna.
Coulthard, who starts his 246th Grand Prix from 14th place, said: "Disappointed? Yes, of course, I had hoped for a top ten like last year, but the tyres just fell to pieces!"