Nicky Hayden is eager to give Honda a pleasant parting gift on home soil after qualifying a strong third on the grid for the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.
Buoyed by his second place finish at Indianapolis, which was promptly followed by the announcement he will switch to Ducati in 2009, Hayden made the most of the improved tyre performance from Michelin to squeeze onto the front row of the grid.
Edging his Bridgestone-shod Repsol team-mate Dani Pedrosa in the process, Hayden was pleased with the result after a weekend that had been initially been fraught with set-up problems.
“Honda's home race, we're on the front row which is nice, now we've got to try and get a result,” he said. “Yesterday the bike didn't feel good, balance and all. We made some pretty good changes overnight. A lot of the time when you make changes, in theory they should do this or that but a lot of the time it don't work out like that, but today everything worked like we thought it would, so my guys did some good work.
“My first qualifier went good, my second I didn't really improve, the third one I did improve, then the fourth felt really good. But going into turn three there was a pack of riders, so I just had to shut it down. I went hard enough for the rest of that lap to keep heat in the tyres and then tried to pull the trigger again.
“Luckily I was able to get two laps out of it, though the last little bit of the second lap the right side started to go. The Michelin qualifiers were really good today, so I just held on to squeeze on to the front row. That's important here especially because in the past there's been plenty of carnage at the first turn. We'll try to improve the bike in morning, try to get away with them, then see what we got.”
Despite his qualifying performance, Hayden admits he is unsure of his long-term pace, so has set aside morning warm-up to find a breakthrough.
“My race pace is decent but not great, we need to improve tomorrow morning if we want to turn it into a result, which is the plan.”