Estoril MotoGP: Nicky Hayden buries Estoril demons with pole position

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Reigning MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden went some way to erasing the painful memory of his Estoril nightmare in 2006 when he claimed a brilliant pole position for tomorrow’s Portuguese GP.

The 26-year-old scorched to his first pole position of the season and his first since the 2006 Australian GP in Phillip Island to deny world championship leader Casey Stoner a fifth successive pole.

And he said it went a little way to erasing his Estoril horror of 12 months ago when team-mate Dani Pedrosa torpedoed him out of the race early on, in what appeared to have crushed his world title hopes.

Hayden did eventually wrap up the world title in a dramatic last round title decider in Valencia, but he has had little to cheer in a tough 2007 campaign.

“It’s evened it out a little, but hopefully a little bit more tomorrow,” said a delighted Hayden, who earlier in the session had run off track at the same corner where he was taken out by Pedrosa last season.

He first made his move with nine minutes remaining when a 1.36.820 lap saw him jump into second place, just 0.226s adrift of Stoner.

 And after his late charge that saw him clock a 1.36.301 he said: “Obviously this year has been tough and it’s really nice to be on pole and have something to be happy about.

“The qualifying tyre worked awesome, I’ve never had so much grip. My guys have been working really hard and we’ve improved half-a-second in every session.

“We still need to improve on race tyres but I got to say a big thanks to my guys. The harder this year has got the harder they have worked for me and I’m really happy for all of them.

“I just got to get a good start, get up front and have some fun, “said the Kentucky rider.

Stoner’s golden qualifying run came to an end but he was still happy to have claimed a front row slot, not least as he’s been super consistent on race tyres throughout the weekend.

A fifth straight pole looked a certainty at one stage when he used his first Bridgestone qualifying tyre with 12 minutes remaining.

A 1.36.594 moved him a massive 0.958s clear of Dani Pedrosa.

He then surged to the top of the timesheets with three minutes remaining after Valentino Rossi had briefly seized top spot with a 1.36.341 moving him 0.235s clear of the Italian.

But just 90 seconds remained when Repsol Honda rider Hayden posted a 1.36.301 to edge out the Australian by just 0.40s.

Stoner, who could win his first world title in tomorrow’s 28-lap race if he scores 15-points more than Rossi, said: “We thought we had a chance of pole but it is still very positive.

“I’ve been running on old tyres this afternoon and done race distances on two tyres and I was still doing some pretty good lap times at the end.

“I’m comfortable on old tyres, which is very important because tyre wear is hard at this track. I’m happy with the set-up; we’ll refine it in the morning and see what happens.

Rossi secured the last place on the front row with a best time of 1.36.576, which had put him top of the timesheets with just four minutes remaining.

He said: “We have been fast in every practice and we also have a good rhythm for the race.

“It will be a difficult race for us in the second part. Michelin work quite well and also the Honda are also fast so maybe we can be more close to Casey.

“I will try and fight in the first part of the race and have some fun and some overtaking.”

Rossi came close to being bumped off the front row in the final seconds when Makoto Tamada jumped into fourth spot, finishing just 0.160s behind the Fiat Yamaha rider with a best of 1.36.736.

Dani Pedrosa and Colin Edwards will join the Japanese rider on the second row.

Shinya Nakano will start 13th after he escaped injury in a crash after just 14 minutes, while it was a disastrous session for factory Kawasaki rider Randy de Puniet.

He will start 18th after crashing his ZX-RR in the final five minutes.

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt