Nicky Hayden emerged on top of a four-rider fight for sixth place to be the leading Ducati competitor during Sunday's season-opening Qatar MotoGP night race.

Hayden, Hector Barbera, Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista swapped places repeatedly during the closing stages, with Hayden crossing the line just a fraction ahead of Bautista's Gresini Honda.

Hayden, the 2006 world champion, was 28 seconds from victory, but felt he had the potential to bridge the eleven seconds gap to Monster Yamaha tech 3 riders Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso.

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"I felt we had the potential to run with Dovizioso and Crutchlow, but considering my injuries and limited testing over the winter, I guess sixth is pretty good," said Hayden.

"I lost some positions at the beginning because I got hung up behind Spies and wasn't very good on the brakes, but as the race went on, I managed my tyre well and got stronger.

"That group I was in was fighting hard, and I was happy to bring Bradl back and come out on top of that battle. We put some good points on the board, got some data and learned a lot from riding with other people."

Hayden, ninth in last year's Losail round - when he was 27sec from victory - set the ninth fastest race lap on the new aluminum-frame GP12.

Factory team-mate Valentino Rossi finished in tenth place, five-seconds behind Hayden.