Few would have predicted it at the start of the season, but three rounds into the 2010 MotoGP World Championship and Nicky Hayden has been the top scoring Ducati rider in all three rounds.
Admittedly, team-mate Casey Stoner has crashed out while ahead of him in two of those races, but Hayden has been in fighting form - as illustrated by his last lap pass on former Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa at Le Mans.
That handed Hayden yet another fourth place finish, at a track he considers his most difficult, and his consistency means he is now fifth in the world championship, only three points from third-placed Andrea Dovizioso.
Dovizioso overtook his team-mate Pedrosa earlier on the final lap, to claim third place by just 1.5sec from Hayden.
“I'm about as happy with fourth as you could wish to be because I've struggled this weekend and once the race got started I went backwards pretty quickly,” said Hayden. “I just dug in and started going a little faster. I was pushing so hard to try and get those guys and finish on the podium but I couldn't get close enough.
“As we say in America 'close only counts in horseshoes and washers' but I know I couldn't have ridden any harder today and the team did a great job, so my heartfelt thanks go to them. Fourth place is okay here but it won't be good enough at Mugello so we have more work to do there.”
"Nicky was great again today and that kind of result is not a surprise anymore,” declared team manager Vittoriano Guareschi. “He had a few problems in practice but he showed great character in the race to score the best result of his career at this track."
Hayden also expressed sympathy for Stoner, who fell moments after overtaking the #69 for fourth place on lap 3 of 28.
“I feel sorry for Casey today and his side of the garage because I see how hard they work, he is an unbelievably fast rider and he'll be feeling disappointed right now, but you can be sure he will bounce back, he is very strong,” said Hayden. “It's a long season so hopefully we can both have something to smile about next time.”