After struggling to extract performance from his Repsol Honda for much of the 2008 MotoGP season, Nicky Hayden took his second podium finish in three starts with his best ride of the season so far at Phillip Island on Sunday.
The American got a great start from third on the grid, blasting past Jorge Lorenzo and almost got the better of Casey Stoner, before slotting in behind his 2009 Ducati team-mate.
"I got a really good start and I thought was going to lead," said Hayden. "Things felt pretty good early on, I went a lot faster in the race than I went all weekend. The bike and everything was working pretty good, and I was able to stay with Casey for a while, I felt comfortable there."
As at Indianapolis, where Hayden finished second in a storm-shortened race, Nicky went against the advice of his Michelin technicians by opting for a softer tyre compound than they suggested.
"Nicky chose a medium tyre, not the harder tyre we had suggested," confirmed Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's director of motorcycle racing. "He did this because he felt more confident with the medium tyre which gave him more grip early on.”
As at Indy, the tactic allowed Hayden to set a scorching early pace. Hayden recorded the fastest lap of the grand prix on lap 3 of 27 and hounded Stoner until lap 10, when the Australian began to edge away.
By that stage, Hayden had built a 6.6secs lead over third placed James Toseland, but his soft rear tyre was starting to get "a little loose". "Once [Stoner] started to pull away I had some issues, I just couldn't keep the corner speed I had early on," he said.
During the final few laps Hayden came under pressure from newly crowned world champion Valentino Rossi, who was charging forwards from twelfth on the grid. Rossi snatched second place from Hayden at the start of the very last lap. Hayden then tried to counter attack at Honda hairpin but ran wide and had to settle for third.
"It was a good battle at the end, Valentino started coming for me, I tried to ride a little harder but I ended up going a little slower," he admitted. "So I tried to stay wheels in line as best I could and hold him off. But I didn't get off the last corner great going into the last lap.