PHILLIP ISLAND, Australia (AFP) - World championship leader Nicky Hayden will be aiming to go one better in Sunday's Australian MotoGP after claiming his second consecutive pole position for the race.
The American Repsol Honda racer posted the fastest lap time of one minute 29.020 seconds to start on the inside of the front row of the grid and give himself every chance of extending his championship lead going into the final three races of the season.
It was Hayden's first pole of the season and fourth overall yet he went into last year's corresponding Phillip Island race fastest qualifier only to finish runner-up to Valentino Rossi, who went on to claim his fifth MotoGP world title.
Hayden will be hunting for his third MotoGP win of the season after triumphs in the Netherlands and his home American race.
"That Michelin (tyre) qualifier worked so good and my bike felt awesome for that one lap, though it doesn't count for anything other than a really good grid position," Hayden said.
"We've changed everything on the bike to try and get some grip -- we've still got some work to do if we want to do 27 laps in tomorrow's race."
Rossi, trailing Hayden by 26 points, will start his Yamaha bike in the third slot on the front row after clocking 1:29.271 sandwiching Japan's Kawasaki rider Shinya Nakano, who claimed the second best time of 1:29.258 in qualifying.
The flamboyant Italian, chasing his sixth Australian MotoGP win, is making a late-season charge to retain his world title after winning last weekend's Malaysian race in which Hayden finished fourth.
"Because of the cooler temperatures here we are finding it hard to get heat into the rear tyre and we struggled again a bit today, which is why I had to leave it so late before trying for the fast time on the qualifying tyre," Rossi said.
"We still have some work to do on the race setting but with the qualifying tyre the grip was there and I was able to go third fastest."
Nakano said the hard work of Kawasaki's winter testing on the Phillip Island circuit was rewarded in Saturday's qualifying.
"From the data of that testing we have improved to the point where (team-mate) Randy (De Puniet) and I were able to come here and be straight on the pace," Nakano said.
Hayden's Spanish team-mate Dani Pedrosa, second on the world standings, will start from the third row of the grid after posting the 10th fastest time of 1:30.081.
It has been a testing weekend for the 20-year-old Spaniard, who has been taking painkillers for a gashed knee injured in a track fall in Malaysia.
"The bike set-up is not bad, although we still have to decide on the right Michelin race tires," Pedrosa said. "I don't know yet if I'll have painkillers. I prefer not to but it may be necessary."
Italian Ducati rider Loris Capirossi, a close second behind Rossi in Malaysia and fourth on the standings, was 13th quickest with 1:30.393.
"I had a problem with the gearbox in my number one bike and I had to wait while my second bike was prepared for a qualifying run, but I am positive because I know we have a chance to do well tomorrow," Capirossi said.
American Kenny Roberts Jnr, who won the world 500cc title in 2000, will start on the outside of the front row after his fourth-best time of 1:29.662.