Nicky Hayden may look back on the 2003 Australian Grand Prix as the race in which he finally proved to even his greatest doubters that he'll be a future force in MotoGP, the likable Kentuckian leading his first race, then later robbing multi-race winner Sete Gibernau for his first 'real' podium in the class.

Returning to a track he tested at back in February before the start of his rookie season the 22-year-old hadn't been out of the top six in any session leading up to Sunday's race. Hayden missed his first front row start by a fraction of a second on Saturday, but was an impressive third fastest in the treacherous conditions of the inappropriately named 'warm-up'.

Into the afternoon and Nicky grabbed a reasonable start from fifth and would battle with the front-runners throughout a thrilling 27 lap race. The hard charging American led his first GP for a short while before dropping back into a long battle for third with Sete Gibernau, Tohru Ukawa and Carlos Checa.

The last lap began with the Repsol rider a fraction behind Gibernau and sensing his first 'on track' podium, having been promoted to third at Motegi after Tamada was disqualified.

Nicky made the decisive move midway around the final circulation, lunging alongside the Catalan with an outside move at Siberia, then defending the inside at the following turn to neatly take the position. All that remained was to hold both Gibernau and the following Ukawa behind (Checa ran off track) through the long left handers that complete the lap - which he duly did, crossing the line 0.03secs ahead for his landmark podium (top pic).

"You gotta' crawl before you can walk! I've been movin' up recently and really startin' to fight with the top guys over the last few races," began the reigning AMA SBK champ. "I really wanted to get a legitimate podium and now I got one. We were all goin' at it out there; some real scrappin'.

"It was good to lead my first GP of a time. I wanted to go with Valentino and Capirossi but couldn't match their speed. I made a little mistake in the rocks where Bayliss fell and lost a few spots. I just kept workin' forward," he continued. "I got Ukawa and then managed to get Gibernau on the last lap. I'm so happy and am real pleased my dad was here to see it. I'd like to thank all the team, Honda and my sponsors. Hopefully the best is yet to come!"



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