Nicky Hayden grabbed his third pole position of the season after becoming the fastest rider ever to lap the legendary Phillip Island circuit in today's qualifying session for the Australian Grand Prix.

Hayden, riding the Repsol Honda, fought off the considerable challenge of world champion and six times ?Island winner Valentino Rossi, with Spaniard Sete Gibernau completing the front row for the 27-lap race.

In a frantic final five minutes of qualifying tyres, record-breaking laps and bright sunshine round the magnificent 2.764 miles seaside circuit, Hayden set a stunning time of 1min 29.337secs - despite being held up by a Roby Rolfo just two corners from the end - to beat Rossi's previous lap record by 0.731secs and hold off the Italian's 2005 pole challenge by a single tenth.

"Pole's pretty cool," grinned Nicky. "The Michelin qualifiers today were really good. I used three sets and they seemed to get better and better. There are times round here when you really shouldn't be opening the gas but the tyres just gripped - amazing.

"On that last lap I just hung in there. Me and Rolfo almost came together! I was pretty committed so I just had to stick the bike up the inside and hope. I thought it wasn't going to be pretty but it worked out OK," he added.

Rossi would congratulate Hayden at the finish, but the Italian had aborted his best lap when he could not overtake the fellow Yamaha of Ruben Xaus. Hayden would himself admit that he's lacking race pace compared with the likes of Rossi and Ducati's Carlos Checa - but will be digging deep tomorrow.

"We're struggling a little on race pace to be honest so we're definitely going to have to dig in tomorrow but I'll enjoy the pole now," said Hayden, who also started from pole at Laguna Seca and Sachsenring. "The guys have done a great job all weekend and we've kinda' snuck up to the front little by little."

Meanwhile, it was also a promising day on the other side of the Repsol garage with Max Biaggi qualifying sixth, for a second row start - his best grid slot since the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi four races ago.

"I can't say I totally am happy to be on the second row but considering where we have qualified recently this is not so bad," confirmed Biaggi. "What is encouraging is that the bike seems to be more balanced than we have had it all weekend.

"We've had trouble getting weight on the front and traction at the back but it definitely seems that things are coming better. We seem to be able to make some regular fast laps on race tyres which is good for the race. Tomorrow we still have a lot for work to do before we are ready for the race," he warned.

"I'm really happy for another pole position for Nicky and I'm pleased that Max has made good progress over the weekend so far," declared under pressure Repsol Honda team manager Makoto Tanaka. "Nicky's lap was very special and is a great team effort and very good for Michelin.

"Nicky is very good at Phillip Island and it is good to see his third pole position of the season. Max's session was the best he'd had all weekend. The warm-up session tomorrow will be critical in making tyre choice and final machine set-up decisions."



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