Nicky Hayden was frustrated to see his hopes of a podium finish scuppered by near-terminal front tyre wear on his debut World Superbike race for the Ten Kate Honda team at Phillip Island.
Having qualified seventh after pushing 'too hard on the out lap' on his first qualifying tyre in Australia, Hayden felt his way into the race and was one of eight riders contesting the leading positions in a breathless opening exchange.
The American climbed to as high as fifth by lap nine and had designs on team-mate Michael van der Mark's position just ahead when he began to rapidly lose front grip.
Lap times quickly fell by 1.5 and then two seconds as Hayden struggled around to collect seven points for ninth. 'It was all I could do to finish,' was his post-race assessment after 'there was literally no rubber left on the front tyre.'
“Obviously it was not too to great a race for me,” said Hayden, who scored his first MotoGP podium at the Australian track. “I was able to do not too bad in qualifying and did a decent lap. I missed a little in the last split because I was just too hard on the out lap. I knew to be gentle but I had never used around a qualifying tyre around here so I wanted to push a little bit just to understand it. I had really good first three splits but in the last split I didn't really improve on my race tyre. I ended up seventh.
“Anyway I got a great start in the race. It was going not too bad and the bike was pretty good. I was feeling pretty comfortable in there. I was trying to learn and understand everybody's different riding styles and my bike compared to theirs. I thought everything was in a good position. I moved up a couple of spots but then I destroyed the front tyre. I just went backwards.
“Literally at the end there was no rubber left on the front tyre. It was all I could do to finish. I'm very happy we have a second race and we have a little bit of time to understand whether it's the tyre, the riding style or the set-up because I hadn't had any problems with the front tyre. A little bit the rear but the front hadn't given me any problems. Nonetheless we've got my first race out of the way and I'm hoping we can do a lot better tomorrow.”
Hayden wasn't alone in finding problems with the front Pirelli. Alex Lowes crashed out of seventh of lap 17 thanks to a destroyed front compound and van der Mark and Althea BMW's Markus Reiterberger also complaining of similar issues.
Such were the American's problems, he said, “If there were many more laps I would have had to come back to the pits.” It was a dispiriting end to what had been an impressive return to production-based competition, where he showed himself more than capable of mixing it with the class' leading names.
“It was fun. I enjoyed riding with them. Sure there were some guys faster than me in some areas and probably a bit more aggressive. I was just trying to stay in there and get ready for the second half of the race.
“If anything I was trying to save the rear tyre and never expected the problem with the front. The rear tyre was incredible; it never dropped. I saw the lap times the other guys were doing at the end and for Phillip Island those times were good lap times. This morning they made 1m 30.0s. Those are MotoGP times.”