Reigning world champion Nicky Hayden was ecstatic as he ended a miserable 2007 in brilliant fashion in Assen today by claiming his first podium in the new 800cc MotoGP era.
The American, who hadn’t even scored a top six finish in the opening eight races, took a deserved third place behind dominant duo Valentino Rossi (Fiat Yamaha) and Casey Stoner (Ducati).
Starting from way down in 13th place on the grid after a wet qualifying session, Hayden made a brilliant start and was fifth at the end of the first lap.
He claimed fourth from Marco Melandri on lap two and then hit third when he got by pole-setter Chris Vermeulen (Rizla Suzuki) on lap four.
He slipped back to fourth place on lap eight when a hard charging Rossi passed him but he set himself up for his first podium since he won the 2006 title in Valencia last October with a move by fellow American John Hopkins on lap 14.
By that time Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi had cut him adrift but he comfortably pulled away from Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa (Reposol Honda) to secure his best result on the factory RC212V.
Hayden had been confident of producing his best finish of the season after he’d set the fastest time in this morning’s warm-up session.
The 25-year-old though said his breakthrough result on Honda’s struggling V4 was set up after his brilliant start.
He said: “On the warm-up lap I remember thinking this is by far the best my bike has felt all year in any conditions and on the line I remember thinking ‘fight like a dog today boy.’
“I got a really a good start and got such a god start when I got to the hairpin I almost relaxed too much and took a breath and Colin (Edwards) came back by me. I needed a start.
“That was the only choice I had was to try and find a hole and do something. Even for a while I thought we might be on for a better result but we’ll take this one.
“I want to say a big thanks to my team and all my guys who have worked really hard for me. It would have been real easy to give up on me, and start to point the finger all on me, but I couldn’t ride the bike for a few races and it was real miserable.
“If you are missing just three or four tenths it’s the difference in being at the back or at the front. It’s not like we found two seconds, we just found a little bit in the bike where I could push and start having fun and enjoying riding. It’s been a tough year and I’ve had some long flights home so I’ll try and enjoy this one.”