Nicky Hayden will be starting his third Italian Grand Prix as a home Ducati rider this weekend at Mugello.

As a factory rider for the only home manufacturer, and now team-mate to Italian legend Valentino Rossi, Hayden knows this weekend will be the biggest event of the season for him and team.

The American has taken one previous Mugello podium, during his title-winning 2006 season for Honda, and crashed out of last year's race after qualifying fourth.

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"Even though we're probably not at our finest moment, Mugello is going to be special for the team. I know the fans are going to come there and support us, especially now with an Italian rider," said Hayden.

"I love the track, although it's not one where I've had great results, so I'm not planning on an easy weekend. I know I'm going to have to come out there on Friday and get going.

"We're going to have plenty of expectations, and it should be a busy weekend with all the hype going on. I'm really looking forward to it."

While Rossi will be starting his second race weekend with the GP11.1 motorcycle, Hayden will be hoping to make his first race star with the 'step 2' frame on the original GP11.

"For Nicky, we'll continue working on the step 2 frame, which we didn't use in the race at Assen, where the inconsistent weather conditions prevented us from carrying out the necessary comparative tests," said team manager Vittoriano Guareschi.

Hayden, like Rossi, has taken one podium so far this year and is fifth in the championship, one place and just ten points behind his team-mate.