After a tough time at last month's Sepang test, which he finished just tenth fastest, new Ducati Marlboro rider Nicky Hayden was a much happier man after claiming a competitive fifth position on the final night of the Qatar MotoGP test.
Although the gap between Hayden pace setting team-mate Casey Stoner was 1.481sec - almost identical to their Sepang separation - the American made clear progress relative to the other riders.
Hayden was 1.36sec from second place (Valentino Rossi) at Sepang, but only 0.492sec from the runner-up spot held by Jorge Lorenzo at Qatar, with third placed Rossi - whose run of five consecutive titles was broken by Hayden in 2006 - a mere 0.253sec quicker than the #69.
“That was definitely a good day and we've made plenty of progress so I'm really pleased,” said Nicky. “I was thinking this morning that this would be the right time to take a step forward because we've only got two more days of testing before the season started so it's obviously very satisfying to have done that. There is still plenty to do but my team has worked well and now we have a lot of information to work on.”
A Repsol Honda MotoGP rider from 2003-2008, Hayden's main problem had been the rear of his Desmosedici 'pumping' up and down under hard acceleration, but the 2006 world champion said he felt a clear improvement from the new carbon fibre swingarm (see separate story) which made its public debut at the test.
“I got a good feel for the new swingarm straight away but we still have work to do and we need to make more comparisons with the previous version before drawing definite conclusions,” he warned.
“I would have liked to have done more laps but after ten o'clock the conditions were on the limit, to the point that there were a few guys crashing and running straight, so we decided not to take any risks,” Hayden revealed. “I also did a practice start today and a test at switching bikes quickly in case of a race interrupted by rain.”
Hayden will now aim to confirm his Qatar progress during the Jerez test from March 28-29.