Ducati Marlboro's Nicky Hayden didn't sugarcoat his 2009 season.Returning to the site of his first grand prix win, the 2006 MotoGP World Champion knows that this hasn't been the season he expected when he signed with the Italian company, but he's hoping to build on the slight progress he made at the previous two GP's."Yeah, I can't say I've just been having the time of my life. That's pretty obvious," he said. But you know, sometimes that's how it goes.Three weeks ago in Barcelona Hayden had his highest placing of the year when he finished Friday's free practice sixth fastest and only 1.1 secs. from the top. Last weekend in Assen he finished a season best eighth. Much of the groundwork for the improvement had been laid by the test team, led by Vito Guareschi."It has been a hard season, but still it's a great life and I know I've got a good team and a lot of people here that support and I'm looking forward to Laguna," he said at the pre-race press conference for Sunday's Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix. "I know just coming home doesn't mean that we're going to be able to make a miracle. I rally have slowly made a little bit of progress the last couple of weeks and trying to be positive and looking forward to the weekend. I mean, I think that Ducati, obviously, comes off the corners really good and does some things you need it to do well around Laguna, a few places, maybe it could be a little bit more difficult. But nonetheless, I'm here, I'm healthy, and just go for, see what we can do. Try to do something."Neither the Ducati Corse factory nor the Ducati Marlboro team have given up on Hayden, despite his struggles, and Hayden appreciates it."Yeah, I mean I can't say the team's not working hard. I got a good group of guys behind me and everybody in the factory want to make it happen and want to prove it's a bike that more than one guy can ride. So it takes a lot of work and those guys aren't scared to do the work. And, yeah, it's coming."But, he conceded, "the level is really high and to get in that group up front, even though you can only sometimes be a little bit off, in this world you're out the back by a long way. So we need to make some big steps if we want to really do anything special."And to do it with the race running for the first time on Independence Day weekend would be even "more special being the Fourth of July weekend is a great holiday in America. Hopefully we can get a good crowd here and get some good racing and be one to remember."

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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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