Mugello final qualifying saw Nicky Hayden finally deliver the kind of performance expected of him this season, the young American putting his factory Honda an excellent second on the grid for tomorrow's Italian Grand Prix.

Hayden, seventh overnight, made his move in the crucial eight minutes that remained after the session had been red flagged following Kurtis Roberts' fiery fall.

The 22-year-old returned from the interruption with renewed determination and, after dropping Max Biaggi from third, produced an even better final lap to knock a total of 1.2 seconds from his Friday time and secure his second ever front row start.

"Just really happy!" beamed a relieved Nicky afterwards. "Things haven't gone to plan so far this year so this really is a big step forward. To be on the front row is really important. We managed to get together a really good lap, but it doesn't mean that much if we can't back it up in the race tomorrow with a good fast rhythm. All in all I'm really happy to give my boys something to smile about. We really needed this.

"We've had a few new parts from HRC to use on the bike this weekend and they seemed to have helped a little bit," he revealed. "After the break in the session I knew I had to go for it and I just put my head down and charged. Yesterday I was way back - the team has made a really big step. Gonna' need another big step tomorrow in the race. Definitely looking forward to getting off with the leaders and hanging in there."

The young American ended the session 0.369secs behind pole man Sete Gibernau and 0.373 seconds faster than 2003 team-mate Valentino Rossi.

Rossi's Repsol Honda replacement, Alex Barros, also enjoyed an encouraging final qualifying, the Brazilian putting together a string of fast laps that bode well for tomorrow's main event, while also claiming fourth on the grid.

"I tried a new Michelin this afternoon - better than the other tyres but I felt a little too much of a risk so I choose the tyres I use yesterday and managed to make a good high regular rhythm so I am pretty happy with the pace," said Barros, who won the 2001 Italian Grand Prix.

"Now much depends on the start. I make a good grid position for the first time this season. I now need to make a good start and ride a good, clever race," he added. "The last laps will be very important to conserve the tyres and the energy. It will be a hard race. I need to make some good sleep tonight to be ready for the race tomorrow."



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