MONTEREY, CA, JULY 24 - Roger Lee Hayden starts his first MotoGP race in three years from the back of the grid, but encouraged by the progress he made over two days on the LCR Honda RC212V.Six days after being asked to ride the LCR Honda in place of the injured Randy de Puniet, the youngest of the racing Haydens began to feel comfortable on the RC212V. By the end of Saturday qualifying, Hayden had taken over 1.6 seconds off his Friday afternoon time. A large part of the time came from more familiarity with the carbon brakes. The brakes and the Bridgestone tires were the two areas he felt needed the most improvement after Friday practice. Corner speed is crucial on the MotoGP 800's and Hayden found he couldn't get in, through, or out of the corners as well as he'd hoped.

"Yesterday was a big problem," Hayden, who raced the Kawasaki ZXRR as a wild card in here in 2007, said. "Today we cut the problem in half. Found two seconds. Everybody went a little bit quicker, but all in all I thought...I did 23's. That's kind of what the team was shooting for. They thought that would be a pretty good time."So still hanging on there at the back of the pack. Still have some guys I think I can race with tomorrow. That's the goal. I have to be more aggressive going into the corner and trust the front and do it. but it's easier said than done when you're out there, but I'm thinking tomorrow will be better."Saturday's practice and qualifying sessions were more of an education than Friday's lone one hour practice. Hayden was able to follow a number of riders and benefitted from a mid-session chat with Kevin Schwantz. Schwantz watched the session from the turn one crest, a vantage point that allowed him to watch Hayden through turns two, three, four, and five, plus parts of nine and ten.What Rpger Lee noticed from following his brother, Nicky, Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Ben Spies, and Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa was that they were "going into the corner a lot faster and they brake a lot later, so a little bit everywhere. And even tonight when we look at the data and stuff you can see where the other Honda guys brake a little bit later, a lot harder."As long as we keep improving, that's what they want to do and that's what I want. I just want to get a good start tomorrow."What Schwantz saw was that his line through turn two was off. Hayden concurred. "Yeah, I was too far on the outside. They said they were some bumps there, so I talked to him halfway through the session and I started going on the inside and I was getting in there a lot better. So it's nice to have a guy like Kevin on your side out there watching."What wasn't as nice was knowing that Nicky Hayden watched him run off the track in the Corkscrew while Roger Lee was chasing Pedrosa."Yeah, I kind of grabbed the brake and just the rear kind of swapped and I ran off the track," he said. "And a corner worker came off to give me a push and he pushed the side of the bike and he almost knocked me over. I was like, I was going to be a little upset if I saved that and had the corner worker push me over."Hayden knew his pace was much improved and that "in some places it felt faster, but not two seconds. To me it was more confidence. This morning we found one second, this afternoon six-tenths. So I don't feel like I'm on the limit. I haven't had any moments other than the one time I ran off the track, I guess. I guess I need to start pushing it a little harder."Like a number of others, Roger Lee put 30 laps on the softer of the rear Bridgestone tires, which is the tire he'll race on."All the guys that are going faster than me are doing race distance, so I don't feel like I'm going to have a problem, especially back where I'm at," he said. "According to the Bridgestone guys, a lot of guys are going to have the soft tires."

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Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.

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