Nicky Hayden, who ended Valentino Rossi's five-year MotoGP reign in 2006, was quick to congratulate the Italian on his return to the top at Motegi on Sunday, when the Italian wrapped up his sixth premier-class crown with victory in the Japanese Grand Prix.
"Congratulations to Valentino. I know what it takes to win one and it takes a bad dude to win six of them!" said Hayden, team-mate to Rossi during his debut 2003 MotoGP season. "Much respect."
Hayden had qualified once place ahead of Rossi in third, a position he maintained on the opening lap, before slipping back to fifth. The Repsol Honda rider then fought a frantic rearguard action to fend off Loris Capirossi, Colin Edwards, Shinya Nakano and Andrea Dovizioso in the closing stages.
"We had hoped to be a little bit faster today, but unfortunately the bike was moving around a lot on the exit of the corner," said Nicky. "It felt really unstable and worked the tyre a lot. Basically it was all I could do to hold on to fifth.
"Those guys were coming at me pretty hard, there was a whole pack of them coming for me. I would have liked to put up a better fight. Front row, then top five - I guess it's not a disastrous weekend, but I expect a lot," he admitted.
On the grid Hayden wore a hachimaki, a Japanese-style bandana, given to him by a fan. "The bandana I wore on the grid, some fan gave it to me yesterday," he explained. "I wore it for qualifying and got on the front row, so I figured, try it again."
"Nicky rode hard today but didn't quite have the pace to run with the leading group," said team manager Kazuhiko Yamano. "Now we go to Phillip Island, a track that Nicky really loves. We know he will do his best to get back on the podium there."
Hayden's Bridgestone-shod team-mate Dani Pedrosa finished third.