Qatar MotoGP: Mixed emotions for Nicky Hayden

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Nicky Hayden experienced mixed emotions after the American produced arguably his best ever ride for Ducati in a thrilling 22-lap Qatar MotoGP race last night.

The Kentucky rider was the surprise performer as he came tantalisingly close to scoring only his second podium finish for Ducati after a troubled 2009 campaign.

A brilliant start that moved Hayden from ninth to third on the first lap was the platform for the 2006 world champion to mount a serious podium threat throughout the race.

He diced for long periods with Fiat Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso, the man who replaced him at Repsol Honda in ‘09.

But he had to settle for fourth position despite leading Dovizioso for third spot exiting the final corner.

Italian Dovizioso’s factory Honda RC212V though was the third fastest bike through the speed traps all weekend and he slipstreamed Hayden to snatch third by just 0.011s.

“Man! I really didn’t expect it to be so tough in the race but the team made a couple of small changes that made a huge difference and right from the warm-up lap I felt good.

"I got a great start and Rossi didn’t seem a lot faster than me. In a couple of places he was getting away but I just tried to stay in there and learn something - it’s been so long since I ran at the front.

"If you offered me fourth place, two seconds behind Rossi, before the race I would have taken it but to be so close to the podium and not actually up there… it hurts.

"Still, it’s a long season and there are a lot of opportunities ahead of us. I’m sorry for Casey but fourth place with all the other heavies in there has got to be my best result.”

Hayden though was keeping his feet firmly on the ground and not getting carried away despite the obvious improvement after he was a dismal 12th on a gruelling Ducati debut in Qatar 12 months ago.

He added: “This is just one race. We’ll forget about this one quick and we can’t get too caught up on one race.

"It was good to get some decent points and a fun race but we need to get back focused for the other 17 where we’ve got to do something. I don’t want to get too excited tonight.

"But it is something to build on because the last couple of years I’ve started the season really slow and just added more pressure. But I’ll enjoy this because it was a while since I was at the front.”

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt