Nicky Hayden’s first official day as an Open class MotoGP rider ended with tenth position, 1.5s from pacesetter Aleix Espargaro, during Thursday practice in Qatar.
The American struggled at the start of the session but changes made by his Aspar team during the red flag period aided his progress.
“We had some problems in the beginning with corner entry where the throttle wasn’t working smoothly and the engine braking was giving me a lot of problems,” he began. “When we had the red flag we were able to come in and solve it but we still had the issue on corner entry.
“Nonetheless the bike worked how we finished the test and we changed the gearing which actually helped me on the straights and the gap was smaller which helped when we pulled sixth gear. The new gearing has hurt me in a few corners but it’s definitely helped the gap on the straightway and makes the bike pull the big gears better.
“We made one change on the front spring that helped me stop the bike and considering what we were expecting the first test wasn’t so bad. We knew that coming here testing was a big advantage for the Open riders and three days of testing before the first race helped us be closer so it wasn’t bad.”
With Espargaro topping the times the potential of the new Open class was clear to see. For Hayden however Honda have developed their customer bike to a much lesser degree than Yamaha and it was clear that Hayden is focusing on solving his issues rather than worrying about the rider he replaced in the Aspar team.
“I complained a lot about my bike this winter but I’m just focused on doing the best that we can here. At the moment the bike is the same as it’s been for the tests so it’s not like we’ve got some big upgrade that would help us at the moment.
“But we’re progressing at the moment with set-up and certainly with the team chemistry and understanding guys.”
Hayden was 17th quickest through the Qatar speed trap, 17.4km/h slower than Pol Espargaro’s Tech 3 Yamaha and 7.5km/h slower than Aleix Espargaro’s Forward Yamaha.
The fastest Open Honda, of Karel Abraham, was 1.4km/h quicker than Hayden.