Nicky Hayden made clear progress during day two of the Malaysian MotoGP weekend and will start sixth on the grid for Sunday's race.

Just eleventh and over two-seconds from the top after Friday practice, the American jumped to fifth on Saturday morning, before lapping 0.710sec from Dani Pedrosa (Honda) in qualifying.

"The mechanics all worked hard last night changing geometry and the transmission, and I'm thankful because the bike was immediately better," explained Hayden. "Qualifying didn't start out great. The track felt a lot slipperier than this morning, but I put the soft tyres in and was able to get down into the 2min 2s.

"On my last soft tyre, I was pushing the front, and I had a couple moments where I was basically down but managed to stay on the bike. Truthfully, I think the bike was capable of a bit better. The front row was about a half-second away, but fourth wasn't out of the question.

"We know race distance around here is a long, hard day, but that's why you put in the time doing the training. Hopefully we can have a good race tomorrow and have some fun."

Team-mate Valentino Rossi, winless since his final victory for Yamaha at Sepang last season, made similar time gains - despite crashing in the closing stages of qualifying.

The seven time MotoGP champion set a best lap 0.933sec from pole for ninth on the grid, having been 13th and 2.427sec from Pedrosa on Friday.

"Today went better," said Rossi. "I was able to ride more effectively, although the fall was really a shame because it was the usual type, which means that we still have to solve that problem. In addition, that wasted some precious minutes, and I had to use the second bike, which I didn't like quite as much.

"We're pretty good on most of the track, but we lose a lot - six of the nine tenths in our gap to the front - in T4, especially on the exits of the last two hairpins. Anyway, our pace has improved, especially with the hard tyre, although to tell the truth, the choice for the race won't be easy.

"We'll make the decision at the last minute after evaluating tomorrow's conditions, and it will really be crucial. I'm expecting a hard race as is always the case here at Sepang, where the conditions are extreme, but anyway, I'm happier than yesterday, as I'm able to ride better."


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