Fernando Alonso won the pole for the French Grand Prix ahead of six-time world champion Michael Schumacher.
The Renault driver had the fastest time of 1 minute 13.698 seconds Saturday on the 2.74-mile Nevers-Magny-Cours circuit. Renault is a French carmaker, with many fans at the track.
"Any pole position is great but to do it here is very important," Alonso said.
Schumacher, second in 1:13.971, has won eight of nine races and is a six-time French GP champion.
"We are in the first row so we will be there," he said.
Schumacher and Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello have combined for six 1-2 finishes, including the last three races.
Ralf Schumacher, Michael's brother, won last year's French Grand Prix but will miss Sunday's 70-lap race after cracking two vertebrae in a crash at the U.S. Grand Prix. He will be sidelined until at least September.
Alonso had two pole positions last year: at Hungary in August 2003, when he became the youngest Formula One driver to win a Grand Prix race a few weeks after his 22nd birthday; and at Malaysia in March 2003, when he became the youngest driver to gain a pole position at 21 years 9 months.
David Coulthard was third in the new model of the Mercedes-McLaren, marking the first time this season his team was in the top three in qualifying.