Nicky Hayden was raving over the refined performance of the Honda RC213V after returning to MotoGP during free practice on Friday at Motorland Aragon.
The 2006 world champion has been brought into the Marc VDS Honda team to replace the injured Jack Miller this weekend and Hayden, who was 21st fastest and 2.5 seconds adrift of pacesetter Dani Pedrosa on the factory Repsol Honda, was impressed by the acceleration of the RCV.
The American star, who left the premier class last season to join Honda's World Superbike Team, said: “Well the power is a lot more, really smooth and with the seamless gearbox acceleration is incredible… bang, bang, bang, just going through the gears. That was probably the nicest thing I noticed.
“Also the tyres: the rear, not so different but the front I really don't feel good with at the moment. I need that bit of information to tell me where the limit is. I have to stay on the brakes, keep the weight on the front and make the bike turn.
“The Pirellis [in World Superbikes] move more and with your body you can actually weight the front and make it turn whereas here at the moment, I need really need to stay on the brakes a long time to keep the front loaded.”
Quizzed on the biggest difference he noticed compared to his last ride in MotoGP less than a year ago on a Honda for the Aspar team in the now defunct 'Open' class, Hayden had little hesitation in talking up the power delivery of the RCV and the seamless gearbox.
“In acceleration, a lot [big difference to last year's control ECU]. I think it's the combination of the seamless gearbox and electronics that are so much smoother. Also on backshift, the electronics work better to help you go through the gears smoother,” he said.
“Honestly, I didn't think the bike was aggressive at all. We started with the power a little bit too low and after the first exit it already felt a little bit flat. We wanted to start calm but to be honest we pretty much immediately went to full power in a lot of places. I didn't feel the bike so aggressive a lot at all, especially compared to the 'Open' bike last year: this feels much smoother with the power.”
Hayden's best lap in free practice of 1m 50.992s was slower than he managed in World Superbikes this season but he is unconcerned after using the opening day to find his feet with the MotoGP machine.
“Just the confidence to force it around [is missing]. At the moment I'm not comfortable enough to really do anything. At times I enjoyed it but when you're not really comfortable you don't enjoy a lot. I expected the first day to be hard - I knew that going in and signed up for it so hopefully tomorrow I'll start to have a lot more fun,” said Hayden, who feels the divide between World Superbike machines and MotoGP bikes is greater now than it was when he made the move from Superbikes to MotoGP in 2003.
“I would say in some ways they are further apart. At that time I don't think the base was so different from Superbike whereas now, the four-strokes have been around a lot more. Also the electronics at that time, you didn't have a lot of electronics with the V5 or with the Superbike.
“Superbikes is tough, there are some good riders, but there's a few in MotoGP who can really make a bit of a difference. For sure there are a couple of guys here who are very special.”
Hayden doesn't feel any pressure to prove anything this weekend although he admits he is eager to do himself justice.
“Not really, I don't feel like a young kid coming to MotoGP. It's not a trial for me! I had my chances here and it's just a one-off race. Of course I feel pressure to be good but I don't feel like this is my one shot to prove something.”
On Saturday, Hayden intends to focus on the setting with the front of the bike as he bids to climb the leaderboard before qualifying gets under way at the Spanish circuit.
“I say the front feel but also maybe the front setting [is where he needs to improve]. We need to understand if we are in the wrong area with the front spring. I would say the feeling came back with the rear very quickly to what I more or less remember,” Hayden added.
“The front, you feel the profile a lot different and literally when I pulled out of the pits and turned left out of the garage I was like, 'Oh wow'. It feels quite a lot heavier and takes more effort on entry to turn it in.”