Nicky Hayden has explained that greater mutual comprehension and better communication with his Ducati Marlboro Team have been key to his improved form thus far in MotoGP 2010 – as the former world champion bids to be 'fast out of the gates' across the board.
Since lifting the laurels with Repsol Honda in 2006, Hayden has largely struggled for results in the premier class, registering not so much as a single victory and failing to finish any higher than sixth in the title chase. The unquestionable nadir came last season – his first with Ducati, and admittedly something of a transitional year – as 'The Kentucky Kid' slumped to a lowly 13th, struggling to get to grips with the Desmosedici GP9 and failing to get a handle on the pace of team-mate and fellow title-winner Casey Stoner.
Despite missing three rounds due to ill-health, indeed, the Australian out-scored the American by 220 points to just 104 and four triumphs to none – and entering the 2010 campaign, the general paddock consensus was that Hayden needed to up his game if he wishes to secure a stay of execution at the Bologna-based operation into 2011.
On the basis of his strong fourth place in the Losail curtain-raiser earlier this month – less than two seconds shy of race-winner Valentino Rossi and a scant tenth of a second away from the podium – that is precisely what he has done.
“It was nice to come out of that first race with pretty decent points on the board,” the 28-year-old told Crash.net Radio
in an exclusive pre-Jerez interview. “It would have been nice certainly to have been on the podium in Qatar but it was only one race, and you've just got to take that, build on it and keep growing. I am happy to have a pretty good showing on the board.
“I would say I definitely feel more comfortable with the bike, the team, with everything that's going on around me [in 2010 compared to 2009]. I value the way Ducati go about things and I understand the Italian way better. Certainly the communication between me and the team and the people around me is a lot better – and we'll see if that's enough to get us some results.
“It's not going to get any easier because I'm sure everybody else has improved too, but for my second year on the bike and knowing what I know now and having looked at the data for different things, I think it's certainly a help. Ducati has worked very hard with the new rules package, and the new engine helps a bit too – it makes it smoother off the bottom, more predictable, easier to get some feel into it and a little bit less radical.
“I think generally the team has just catered to me better; now they understand what I want and know how to get the bike working for me in a much shorter time. They're certainly not afraid of hard work, and I think we've got a good package. It will be interesting to see in a couple of races with the new engine rules what goes on with the other bikes, but we've got the package, we know that. I had the package last year, [but] I just couldn't make it happen – I've got no excuses for that.”
Following the volcano-precipitated postponement of the Twin Ring Motegi meeting until later in the season, the second stop on the 2010 MotoGP calendar will now take place at Jerez this weekend, around a circuit at which Hayden finished third in 2006 en route
to the crown, but where in 2009 he trailed in 15th to nick just a solitary point, his equal-worst finish of the year. Twelve months on, the man who back in 2002 became the youngest-ever AMA Superbike Champion has rather loftier ambitions, you sense – and justifiably so.
“There's no need to get worried or caught up or get bummed about not racing,” he reflected of the Japanese round being re-scheduled, “because you can't control it. You know, I'm a racer – we had to wait long enough for the first race, and then to have [an unexpected] two-week break seemed like another month, but if you couldn't get any riders or teams there then it would have been hard to have a race!
“They did the only thing they could do, and we'll go to Motegi at the end of the year and do three in a row. That can be a grind if you pick up an injury or get sick, but on the other hand when you fly all the way to that side of the world, it's pretty easy to just do them back-to-back. I like back-to-back races.
“[For Jerez] I'm feeling confident. I know I have a great package – a great team, a great bike and a lot of good people around me. I've had a couple of decent results at Jerez – including a podium – but it's not like 'wow, it's a great track for me'. The atmosphere at the race is awesome, though – I think everybody loves MotoGP there.
“We're confident, but not over-confident. We know it's going to be hard; the level now in MotoGP as you can see is so high – it's taken a big leap and all the boys are serious. We tested at Qatar a couple of weeks before the race there and came back with the same set-up which made things easier, so from that point-of-view Jerez is going to be a big challenge. Something I struggled with last year was getting up-to-speed early [during a race weekend], but I hope this year we've got a better base package and that I can go fast out of the gates on Friday. I'm looking forward to the weekend for sure to see what we've got.”TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE