MotoGP rookie Andrea Dovizioso emerged triumphant for a near race-long battle with Nicky Hayden to claim his first premier-class podium in Sunday's Malaysian Grand prix at Sepang.

Dovizioso propelled his JiR Team Scot Honda from sixth on the grid to second at turn one, before being levered from the position by Valentino Rossi at the start of lap 2. Thereafter, the young Italian put on an impressive defensive display, heading a seven-rider fight for the final podium position by the half-way stage.

"The race was hard and after a good start, Valentino and Dani gained ground, while Nicky I were left behind," recalled Dovi. "I led alone, focusing on myself, because I had no references in front and felt the approach of Nicky's Honda going into every turn!

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"When I saw the group behind, I realised my situation and realised that I could not afford to make the slightest mistake. I made the most of the tyres, which in these conditions slid a lot, and I had to drive hard by picking the bike up out of the corners early," he revealed.

Hayden, whose factory Honda seat Dovizioso will take next season, was in the former 125cc world champion's wheeltracks for most of the race, making several unsuccessful attempts to pass before finally putting his pneumatic RCV ahead at turn one with four laps to go.

Dovizioso resisted and, after being reluctantly forced to yield through the opening sequence of turns, struck straight back at Hayden under braking for the following tight uphill right hander.

A brief bobble by Hayden then gave Dovizioso momentarily breathing room, but the #69 was back on his rear wheel during the final lap - but Andrea was perfect on the brakes and held on for his first top three finish by just 0.3sec.

"In the last few laps I was passed by Nicky but I managed to finish ahead and finally realise my podium finish," smiled Dovizioso, who had finished in fourth place three times prior to Sepang. "The first podium in MotoGP, after so much work in a season full of satisfaction: this is important for me and for my team.

"I wanted to give other podiums to the team but I hope that this will repay them for all the work done this year, but it is also a thanks for the seven years that we have competed together. With the Scot Team I won the world 125cc championship and we wanted to achieve something spectacular, given that next year I will be in the works HRC Repsol Honda team," he added.

Hayden, who took a wrong turn with set-up during morning warm-up and reverted back to Saturday's settings for the race, was quick to congratulate Dovi on a hard earned podium - but confessed he might regret not 'trying something a little more silly' on the last lap.

"We put the bike back to how it was yesterday morning, and it was okay, but I was just missing that little bit," said the American. "The race honestly went better than I thought I would, it could've been uglier. I pushed hard, a couple of times I was able to get in front of Dovi, but he held tough. Man, he don't give in for nothing! I enjoyed the battle, it was fun battling for the podium after the dudes up front took off early.

"I tried everything I could, I was pushing the front quite a lot, through Turn Three mainly. Maybe I should have tried something a little more silly on the last lap, that's always hindsight, but sure I'll beat myself up tonight, thinking I should have taken some bigger chances, but I was already pushing hard.

"Congratulations to Dovi on his first podium, he earned it," added the 2006 MotoGP world champion.