Rare front row brings mixed emotions for Nicky Hayden

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Nicky Hayden might have been happy to score a first MotoGP front row for 18 months in Japan today after he finished third fastest in a rain-hit qualifying session at the Twin Ring Motegi.

But the American had mixed emotions, as he felt at one stage in an extended 75-minute session that he could battle for his first pole position since the Estoril round in Portugal way back in 2007.

Torrential rain and low visibility that prevented an air ambulance from being fully operational again meant FP3 and FP4 were cancelled and qualifying extended to try and make up for lost time on track, with all sessions not running yesterday too because of adverse weather.

Wet conditions traditionally favour the struggling factory Ducati Desmosedici and 2006 world champion Hayden took full advantage of a soaked but super grippy track surface to post a best time of 1.54.539.

He headed the timesheets for a while before conditions started to improve in the final stages and he was denied by dominant Spanish title contenders Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez.

Hayden, who last scored a front row start in Jerez back at the start of 2012, told MCN: “I should be happy but to have a chance to get pole would have been a really nice little gesture here on the way out. With 20 to 30 minutes to go I really thought I had a good chance at that point when the track was perfect for me and I had a good feeling. But as the track dried out I wasn’t able to improve my lap time with the soft rain tyres. I was trying a lot harder but not going faster and that bothers me a bit but I should enjoy it and being on the front row makes me happy. It does feel like a long time ago since I was on the front row but it feels good and you give yourself a much better chance. We need to understand in the morning what kind of race pace we have and try to take advantage of it. We know the weather helped us out and let’s not deny that, but we still did the job.”

Explaining why the Ducati was a much more formidable force in rain conditions, the Aspar Honda-bound Hayden added: “A lot of the little problems don’t happen in the rain. The turning is not an issue because you don’t have the same mid-corner speed and there is no chatter in the rain because you don’t have the grip and the wheelie is not really a problem. A lot of the little issues disappear. We had good traction and I could brake hard but we don’t completely understand sometimes why it is like that in the rain.”

With forecasts for significantly improved weather conditions for tomorrow’s 24-lap race, Hayden is expecting it to be tough given Ducati’s dire struggle to be competitive in 2013.

He has only scored two top six finishes in 16 races so far and he added: “Let’s not kid ourselves because it is going to be really tough.”

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt