Just three rounds in and Marco Melandri's gamble to ride for Hayate, with the aim of rebuilding his battered reputation, is already paying off after the Italian matched the factory Kawasaki team's best result of last season - and his best finish as a factory Ducati rider.

Fifth place at Jerez wasn't an upset of Brawn GP standards, the ex-Honda F1 team whose winter rebirth mirrored Hayate's creation after Kawasaki's official MotoGP withdraw, but it was further proof that Kawasaki - like Honda - jumped ship at exactly the wrong time.

It also proved that Melandri hasn't forgotten the skills that took him to second in the 2005 MotoGP World Championship, on a satellite Honda.

But while Honda might be kicking itself for pulling out of F1 - whilst, like Kawasaki, it continues to fund much of the replacement project - at least it knows that Brawn's success is partially down to a new Mercedes-Benz engine.

Kawasaki has no such 'relief', since Hayate is running exactly the same 2009 ZX-RR (on control Bridgestone tyres) that Melandri had already signed to ride, alongside John Hopkins, as an official Kawasaki Racing Team rider.

Whatever the financial and political reasons behind the withdraw, Melandri - who endured a confidence-shattering season alongside Casey Stoner in 2008 - looks relaxed, confident and increasingly fast on the all-black machine, which he has taken to 14th, sixth and fifth place finishes for 23 points and eighth (out of 18 riders) in the early championship standings.

This time last year, Melandri sat 13th with just 12 points to his credit.

"It's been such a nice race for us," Melandri told the official MotoGP website. "We were not as good during practice, but we were working hard for the race, we changed the bike set-up a bit and the feeling was pretty good. It was very tough for everyone because the grip on the side was not so good.

"It was nice fighting with Colin [Edwards] and Loris [Capirossi], clean overtaking and a lot of fun. We tried to catch de Puniet but he didn't make a mistake."

Melandri has so far been able to overcome the limited technical development of his machine through set-up improvements and increased understanding, having only taken part in two pre-season tests.

"We would like to keep improving race-by-race but it'll be hard," he said. "I'm happy because the team is working well and we're having fun. For sure we also have a lot of determination from my side and the team side. If we keep working like this maybe luck will help us.

"It will be nice to get to Le Mans where no-one has tested and we can see our level," he said of the next event. "I hope the weather is nice because we need to set-up the bike from scratch but the track should be nice for me and the bike. It could be good fun."

Kawasaki's best MotoGP finish as a factory team was second place, which it achieved with Shinya Nakano, Olivier Jacque and Randy de Puniet.

Melandri's Ducati replacement, Nicky Hayden, finished 15th at Jerez.


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