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Nicky Hayden: I didn’t expect it to be so tough

7 February 2014

It was out of the Ducati frying pan and into the Honda Production fire for Nicky Hayden at this week's Sepang MotoGP test.

The former world champion is the most high profile signing for the new Open class RCV1000R, joining the Drive M7 Aspar team - and re-joining Honda - for his first grand prix season outside of an official Factory team.

Hayden made his debut on the much anticipated new machine - a customer version of the world championship winning RC213V - at last November's Valencia test, when he had been half a second slower than the rival Open class Yamaha of Aleix Espargaro.

But the much bigger Malaysian Grand Prix circuit, featuring two long straights, exposed what Hayden feels is a substantial lack of engine performance.

Hayden progressed from 17th to 13th on the timesheet by the end of the three days. That was good enough for second in the Open class, but 1.5s behind the fourth place claimed by Espargaro and two-seconds from test leader Marc Marquez.

“It's definitely been a challenging three days, we have made some progress each day but I didn't expect it to be so tough here. I really expected to be more competitive and closer with the guys,” said Hayden, speaking in the Aspar garage on Thursday evening.

“It was pretty demoralising when I tried to follow other guys, so I have to find a way to stay positive.

“We've definitely improved, especially braking and corner entry. Engine management, blipping and actual engine braking. But we've certainly got a lot of work to do if we want to be competitive.”

Earlier in the day HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto suggested that the time difference would drop once the Production riders become more familiar with the new machine.

Nakamoto added that Hondas are “not easy to ride” and that it sometimes takes up to a year to adjust, citing the example of LCR's Stefan Bradl.

“Off course I have a couple of habits from the Ducati that I need to adjust to, but still I don't need a year to remember how to open the throttle on the straightaway!” smiled Hayden. “That we need some help with.”

Responding to Nakamoto's explanation that the difference in Factory/Open engine performance is only a factor from fourth gear and above - and that engine development alone will not close the current gap - Hayden partially agreed.

“We're losing a little bit everywhere. When the RPM drops, we have a flat spot. So out of turns two and nine, the slow corners, and then of course in the top gears,” he said.

“I know the engine alone is not two seconds so I've certainly got to do my part.”

Hayden believes his Honda is a “couple” of km/h quicker on top speed than Aspar's previous CRT Aprilia. Going by the respective top speeds set at last October's Malaysian Grand Prix that would mean he presently faces a top speed difference of around 15km/h to the fastest Factory machine.

“Tonight we're going to sit down with HRC and talk.”

The next best Production Honda was Hayden's team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama, in 16th place and +2.850s.

The second of the three official 2014 pre-season MotoGP tests takes place back at Sepang at the end of this month.


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