Last year the Repsol Honda rider lost his world championship lead at the same circuit, then the penultimate round, when he was taken out by team-mate Dani Pedrosa during a bungled overtaking manoeuvre.

The American, who bounced back to secure the 2006 crown at the season finale, has since endured a miserable title defence - but his Michelin-shod Honda was finally a match for Casey Stoner's Bridgestone-shod Ducati and Hayden stole pole by just 0.04secs from the all-conquering Australian.

"This pole is a big thank-you to the team who have stuck with me and worked so hard during the dark times," explained the delighted world champion, who sits just ninth in the points. "In the last section I knew I just had to pull out the pin and go for it because I had nothing to lose. It was so good to return to pit lane and see everybody smiling again. I want to lead into the first turn tomorrow and have some fun."

Valentino Rossi will join Hayden and Stoner on the front row, with Pedrosa starting fifth.

"As a practice session this afternoon went pretty well and we were able to find quite a good set up and maintain a fast pace on race tyres," said Dani, still to sign for 2008. "The lap times were reasonably consistent and the endurance of the tyres looks okay at this stage too. Unfortunately on qualifiers I was not so strong today and I had some vibration as I went for my quick laps so I'm not totally happy with the qualifying part of the session."