Huge changes to Nicky Hayden's Ducati Desmosedici resulted in the American taking a 'big step' on his way to a competitive sixth place during Friday practice in Catalunya.

"I know it's only sixth position but still I'm pretty happy because I was running up front throughout the session and having fun, which is what racing is supposed to be about!" smiled the 2006 world champion, who has finished no higher than twelfth during his first five races for Ducati.

"Basically "Vitto" [Guareschi] stayed on in Mugello and tested a lot and we have changed almost everything on the bike other than the handgrips!" he revealed. "We've altered the electronics and the geometry a lot to help me get the bike turning and we've taken a big step.

"I don't want to get too excited because it's only Friday and we've got to keep working hard but I want to say that I am very grateful to the team and to "Vitto", Filippo [Preziosi] and "Pippi" [his former crew chief Cristhian Pupulin] and the Test Team in particular.

"Nobody here has given up on me even after a few bad races and I have always made it clear I won't give up on them. We have had to stay mentally strong and keep positive, even though that hasn't been easy. Hopefully we're on to something here and all the hard work will start paying off."

Hayden's best lap was still 1.1sec behind fastest man Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), but only 0.516sec behind team-mate and world championship leader Casey Stoner.

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