Nicky Hayden will start his first Japanese Grand Prix without the pressure of being a 'home' Honda rider this weekend, as the American's attention is instead focussed on getting up to speed with his new Ducati machinery.
Hayden recovered from a host of setbacks to climb from 16th to twelfth during his Desmosedici race debut, in the rain delayed Qatar night race. The result was nothing to shout about, but Hayden - perhaps for the first time - felt comfortable on the carbon-fibre GP9.
“My first GP with Ducati didn't exactly go as I'd hoped but we took some positives out of it - I lapped quicker in the second half of the race than I had done all weekend and above all I felt comfortable on the bike,” he said.
“Hopefully this will help us work out what it is exactly that I need to improve my feeling with the bike because being so far off the pace in practice wasn't cool!”
Hayden's nightmare Losail weekend included multiple technical failures and a huge qualifying accident that left the 2006 world champion with severe pain in his back and three stitches in his chest.
“Physically I'm okay - no doubt the race was tough because I was pretty beaten up but I've recovered well and I don't expect to have any problems in Japan,” he said. “I'll probably go to the Clinica on Thursday to have the stitches removed and that will be the end of the matter.
“I'm really keen to do well in this race and even though I've always had a kind of love-hate relationship with Motegi - with some good results and some bad ones - it is always a special grand prix.”
Hayden's best Motegi finish to date is third place on his 2003 debut.
“This year we go to Motegi near the start of the season following an opening race that was fantastic for Casey [Stoner] and really tough for Nicky,” said Ducati MotoGP project director Livio Suppo. “We'll do our best to make sure we come away from this round with two happy riders!”