Friday at Phillip Island will see Nicky Hayden make a dream return to Repsol Honda, the team with which he won the 2006 MotoGP World Championship.

"I can honestly say I thought that one was gone, but in racing it's crazy how it all works," said Hayden of his surprise call-up by the factory Honda team. "That's the thing you love about racing; the unexpected does happen.

"But I don't like to fill in for Dani under these conditions, with him being hurt."

Hayden left Repsol Honda at the end of 2008, then departed MotoGP for World Superbike at the end of last season.

Although he replaced the injured Jack Miller at Aragon in September, it was a 'real surprise' when a message arrived on his phone during last weekend's Jerez WorldSBK round, after former team-mate Dani Pedrosa fractured his collarbone at Motegi.

"It came as a real surprise. I woke up in Jerez and I saw I had a message on my phone. I was still half asleep. I caught 'Repsol' and 'Phillip Island' in there somewhere! I had to go clean my eyes and read it from start to finish once or twice.

"I replied 'of course I'm interested', then I had to go race [in WorldSBK]. So I couldn't let it creep into my mind. But then on Monday we were out testing and I caught myself slipping a few times - thinking ahead to this weekend while trying a little spring change here and there!"

Switching back and forth between championships - different bikes, tyres and teams - is no easy task, but Hayden is determined to make the most of what will probably be his final chance to race a factory MotoGP bike.

"It's not easy, you could go home, but probably never get the chance to ride another factory MotoGP bike in my life. And there's no doubt I would love to do another good [MotoGP] race before it's over," declared the American, who cannot ride at next weekend's Sepang round due to a clash with the WorldSBK finale in Qatar.

"I mean, Superbike is my home now and where my goals are. That's no secret. But this season is kind of a learning year in Superbike."

There will also be plenty to learn in MotoGP this weekend. Hayden intends to pick up where he left off at Aragon, where the 35-year-old rode with Michelin tyres for the first time in a decade, plus the new unified ECU, at the satellite Marc VDS Honda team.

"I hope the race in Aragon can certainly help me; doing a full race distance and weekend already. I hope to start at that level. Especially with the tyres," he said. "I hope this track will be a little bit easier for me, because in Aragon I struggled a lot to learn the front tyre, where here I think it's more important to understand the rear tyre. I certainly hope I can do a better performance than I did there."

Hayden crossed the line in 15th place at Aragon, claiming the final point.

But he has an impressive past record at Phillip Island, claiming his first 'real' MotoGP podium in 2003, returning to the rostrum again in 2005 and 2008, plus a pair of pole positions.

Hayden's 2008 lap record, set on the 800cc Repsol Honda, stood unbeaten until the circuit was resurfaced in 2013. He also came within a fraction of the rostrum on his Ten Kate Honda WorldSBK debut at the same track in February.

So what are his expectations for Sunday?

"Of course I have expectations, but I've learned enough in my life not to make statements or anything!" he replied. "But of course, I don't want to just come here, get the shirt and take the pictures.

"Honda showed faith and trust in me, to give me this opportunity and I really want to do a good job for them."

Hayden is among a small group of riders to have won both 500cc/MotoGP and World Superbike races, courtesy of a wet WorldSBK victory at Sepang.

By Peter McLaren


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