Nicky Hayden celebrates after qualifying third for Sunday's Air Asia Grand Prix of Japan. (Photo: Getty Images)

celebrates after qualifying third for Sunday’s Air Asia Grand Prix of Japan. (Photo: Getty Images)

Nicky Hayden made the most of Saturday’s 75-minute qualifying session at a damp Twin Ring Motegi, as the American rider captured his first front row start since Jerez in 2012.

Hayden held the provisional pole for much of the final 30 minutes, but his best time of 1:54.539 would only be good enough for third. Pole winner Jorge Lorenzo and championship leader Marc Marquez were the only riders to outpace the 2006 World Champion.

Although Hayden was pleased with third, he admitted to being bitter over failing to nab the pole, which would have been his first since Portugal in 2007.

“If I’m honest, I’m a bit disappointed because at times in the session I was very fast and really had good feeling,” Hayden said. “I thought even pole position was a possibility, but in the last part of the session, the other guys really stepped it up, and as the track dried out, I wasn’t able to improve.”

Hayden cited improved bike control in the wet, as the conditions eliminated bike chatter and unwarranted wheelies.

“In the wet we don’t have the same problems we have in the dry. The turning, the chatter, the wheelies, they disappear and our bike works really well in the wet.”

The 32-year-old Kentucky native will look to have a good finish in his penultimate race with Ducati – before moving to Aspar in 2014 — but acknowledges that it will be challenging, especially in dry conditions.

“We know it’s going to be much more difficult if it’s dry, but I’ll try to get a good start and put up a fight for as long as I can,” said Hayden.

“Thanks to my team for working as hard as ever in a very difficult moment for all of us, with many changes. Thanks also to the Japanese fans who have endured a hard weekend so far. We want to put on a good show for them on Sunday.”