MOTEGI, JAPAN, OCT 2 - The American contingent had vastly divergent fortunes in qualifying for Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi. Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Colin Edwards equaled his season best qualifying effort of fifth, one better than teammate Ben Spies, in his first visit to Honda's home track 60 miles north of Tokyo, while Ducati Marlboro's Nicky Hayden struggled for the hour and ended up near the back of the grid.Though Edwards only equaled his best finish, his performance was his best in qualifying. He spent almost the entire session in the top six, briefly dropping back in the furious soft tire end of session rush. When teammate Spies went to fifth near the end, Edwards did him one better with his final lap. The pair get to start next to each other for Sunday's 14th round of the MotoGP World Championship.The key to his success was a rethinking of the weight distribution on the YZR-M1, which gave him confidence he's been lacking much of the year."I'm really happy to be on the second row and in fifth position," Edwards, who recently signed a one-year extension with the team, said. "That is my best qualifying result since Mugello, but I'll admit after this morning's session I was not expecting to be so high up and as fast as I was. Yesterday when I ran the soft tire I didn't feel like I had enough grip so I hadn't used it all today. I was a bit worried for qualifying that I'd find it hard but we'd played around with the weight distribution on the front again and when I put the soft tire in this afternoon it felt like a different motorcycle. It did everything I asked it to do and I had a lot more confidence going into the corner. The lap time wasn't easy but it was a lot easier than I'd expected. I think this is probably the happiest I've felt with the bike all year. I've been able to ride the bike to its full potential and I'm confident I can get that first top six finish of the season tomorrow."Spies had spent countless hours studying the track through video games, but had never ridden here until Friday morning. That he ended up only .184 secs. behind his more experienced teammate gave him encouragement in Sunday's race."I am actually really happy to be on the second row again because at the start of the session I was fighting a lot of stuff with the electronics," he said. "The chassis set-up is not so bad but some issues with the electronics made the bike really hard to ride. If we can figure out the electronics the bike will be a lot easier to ride, so having the feelings I'm having with the bike, I'm super happy to be in the top six. Considering the way the bike was working, to be just over half-a-second off pole position is a big surprise because I didn't expect to be so close."Hayden expected to be much closer. The settings he'd used to race to third in Aragon two weeks ago did him no good half a world away. He had a lot of pumping with the soft Bridgestone rear, but the hard tire was worse. "It's more stable and definitely picked up traction's maybe even better, but on the edge I can't do nothing with it, but I ain't really fast on the soft tire either," Hayden said.The pumping problem bedeviled the Ducatis all of last year, but this was the first time it had made an unwelcome return."I mean, lot of pumping on the edge, which I haven't had pumping really, any this year, we were almost past that," he began, "and got quite a lot and over the bumps, the front just doesn't have grip. Wants to close a lot. Had a lot of moments from the front. Not been a good day."Teammate Casey Stoner qualified third fastest on a track he believes is his worst. But having won Aragon, with Hayden finishing third, both expected better."He got on the front row and did a good job, but I don't think it's been real easy for him," Hayden said. "I think the other Ducatis are kinda struggling too. I don't know. I expected to be a little bit better than this."Now the team would change the wheelbase and geometry ahead of Sunday's morning warm-up and hope for the best.

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Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.

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