Hayden returns to pole at Portuguese GP

Nicky Hayden, the defending FIM Road Racing (MotoGP) champion, took his first pole since Australia 2006 in today's qualifying session in Estoril, Portugal. The American nipped the championship leader, Casey Stoner, by four one-hundreths of a...

Nicky Hayden, the defending FIM Road Racing (MotoGP) champion, took his first pole since Australia 2006 in today's qualifying session in Estoril, Portugal. The American nipped the championship leader, Casey Stoner, by four one-hundreths of a second, stymieing Stoner's quest for a fifth consecutive pole position.

"I knew I just had to go for it because I had nothing to lose," Hayden beamed. "It was so good to return to pit lane and see everybody smiling again. I want to lead into the first turn tomorrow and have some fun."

Sharing the front row with with the defending champion and the championship leader is Valentino Rossi, the perennial MotoGP champion, with five MotoGP titles to his credit. Rossi was not quite able to mix it up with Hayden and Stoner, though, finishing the qualifying session 0.275 seconds off the pole position.

"It's good to be on the front row, of course pole is always the target, but the most important thing is to be on the front row in order to give ourselves the best chance," Rossi reflected. "The new Michelin race tyres are working well here so we can hopefully be close to Stoner tomorrow. I hope that we can fight with him, make some good passes and have some fun, especially in the first part of the race."

The result makes for an exciting front row, with not only the three top riders, but also the three top manufacturers. Hayden has the Repsol Honda RC212V on the pole, with Stoner's Marlboro Ducati Desmosedici GP7 next to it, and Rossi's FIAT Yamaha on the outside.

Makota Tamada, riding a Yamaha for the privateer Tech 3 team, impressed by taking fourth, and claiming the final front-row starting position, just 0.160 seconds off the pace of Rossi's works Yamaha.

Dani Pedrosa took fifth on the second Repsol Honda, and will share the second row with Colin Edwards on the second works Yamaha, Marco Melandri on a Gresini Honda and Tech 3 Yamaha rider Sylvain Guintoli -- making it all four Yamahas in the top eight positions.

The pole gives Hayden the perfect opportunity to make his first mark in the wins column this season; the Honda rider is languishing in ninth place in the title fight after his 2006 championship season.

The "bogeyman" is not far away, though: Hayden's teammate, Pedrosa, is starting from fifth position, immediately behind him. A year ago at this track, in the penultimate round of the 2006 championship, Hayden was in a strong position to win the title, when Pedrosa missed his braking point while following Hayden and slid into his teammate, taking him out of the race. Fortunately for Hayden, an unusual Rossi accident in the final race allowed him to make up for the lost points from his own incident and claim the championship.

The battle to watch is between Stoner and Rossi, though, as Stoner needs to score just 15 more points than his rival in order to clinch the championship.

"The team has done a great job, we found a very good setting immediately and we have a very good feeling with the bike, so I think everything is looking good for the race," the young Australian reflected on his outlook for the race. "This track is pretty hard work for the tyres, so tyre degradation is going to be a very important factor at the end of the race. I'm quite happy with the set-up we've got, we just need to refine it a bit tomorrow morning to improve the traction to understand how the tyre will be at the end of the race, then we'll see what happens."

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Nicky Hayden , Valentino Rossi , Colin Edwards , Marco Melandri , Sylvain Guintoli , Dani Pedrosa