Repsol Honda rider Nicky Hayden was in thrilling 'sideways' form during this afternoon's sun-blessed Indianapolis qualifying session, as he battled for pole position and finally ended up fourth fastest.

Following yesterday's all-day downpour, the sun shone at Indy today, though the wind got up as the day went on, heralding the arrival of Hurricane Ike, which is due to reach Indy tomorrow. Heavy rain and thunderstorms are predicted for much of the day.

This morning's session starting out on a damp track, but this afternoon's outing was all dry. Hayden set the pace in the early stages, entertaining the home fans with some smokin' exits from turn 13, before being pushed to the head of the second row.

"That was nearly the front row but outside on the second row ain't a bad spot," declared Nicky. "I feel this is the best race pace I've had in a while; a few times when I've qualified good this year it's just been one lap with a qualifier. I enjoyed today, even this morning in the damp.

"Yesterday in the heavy rain, man, I was hydroplaning everywhere, it wasn't any fun. I had a lot more fun today, the bike was working a lot better, we made some geometry tweaks to make it feel better and I was able to be more consistent. The bike certainly felt pretty good and the Michelin tyres felt pretty good.

"For the race it's surely looking wet. It would be awesome to catch a break and get in a dry race, because I feel this is the best race package I've had in a while. If it's dry we've got an idea on tyres. If it's wet, my set-up yesterday wasn't working real good. If it's heavy, heavy rain we need to do something different.

"It would've been nice to be on the front row, we could certainly use a bit of a boost because my guys are working real hard and I've got a lot of support here: friends, family and fans. We'll see what happens tomorrow, try to have a bit of fun, see how it goes," he declared.

The Kentucky Kid is wearing a special home-race helmet, celebrating his lifelong support for the Indianapolis Colts football team.

"The special helmet paint is for the Indianapolis Colts," he confirmed. "When I was a kid I played Pop Warner football and I was a Colt, that was my team. It was me, my little brother and one of my best friends. Colts have always been my favourite team. And the horseshoe, maybe I could do with a bit of good luck!"

Hayden's team-mate Dani Pedrosa, riding with a pneumatic-valve engine and Bridgestone tyres for the first time at a race weekend, qualified eighth.

"Today was the first time that I have used Bridgestone qualifying tyres, so it was quite difficult because I was trying to study the tyres while at the same time trying to push for the best possible grid position," said the Spaniard.

"The fact with qualifying tyres is that you can only be really fast once you know them very well. I was able improve my times with my third qualifier, so I think the third row is not such a bad result, considering the circumstances.

"As for race tyres, I wasn't able to do too many consecutive laps because we had so little dry-track time. Therefore we still need to define some details for race-tyre choice but overall I feel quite fine. We also need to work to better understand my new machine, which is very different from the machine I had been using, especially considering the electronics.

"All in all, I'm confident, we are gaining important experience and improving every time I go out. I hope we will have a dry race tomorrow. If it's going to rain like it did yesterday afternoon then we will discuss with Race Direction the best course of action," he said of the heavy rain forecast to reach Indy on Sunday afternoon.

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