Nicky Hayden claimed his first real success of the 2008 MotoGP season with an inspired ride to second place in front of his home fans at Indianapolis on Sunday.
Just days after the 2006 world champion confirmed that he will leave Honda at the end of this season, the Kentuckian led more laps than any other rider in the storm-shortened Indianapolis GP before claiming his first podium of the season and first ever for the pneumatic-valve RC212V, a machine he has been instrumental in developing.
Hayden, making his MotoGP comeback after missing the last two races due to a heel injury, had qualified fourth on the grid in the dry but had openly doubted his chances in the wet, having been just 14th fastest in similar conditions on Friday afternoon.
However, Nicky shot into second place at turn one of the planned 28-lap race and took the lead at the end of lap two.
"I changed to a slightly softer tyre at the last minute. Too many times I've thought 'I'll wait and let [the harder tyre] come in,' and in the rain it is so important to get away at the front in the first laps," he revealed afterwards.
Nevertheless, after such a frustrating season, Hayden admitted his early-race performance in front of his home fans was straight out of a movie script.
"Man, it felt really good to be in the lead and I felt quite comfortable. It's been a long time. I was thinking 'this only happens in the movies': your home race, missing the last two and coming back to win," he smiled.
But to make that movie complete he needed to hold off world championship leader Valentino Rossi, who reached second position by lap six and was soon applying pressure on his former team-mate.
"I knew who it was. But I was on the limit pretty good and I knew my rear tyre was a little bit soft. So I tried to be smooth and not destroy my tyre," said Nicky. "You know, there's a few places on this track you can hear quite easy when somebody is behind you. And Vale, he likes to put that pressure on, but I held my line. Once he closed up on me a little bit, I changed a few things to try to make sure I was getting all the corners good and at least making him work for it.
"I was able to stay focused but Valentino came past [on lap 14] and he had a little more speed, especially in section three. But then he touched the white line on the back straight [and got sideways] and I thought, 'you know what? Maybe I'm OK' and I was able to make up a little more ground."