Hayden continues to make strides in taming the awesome power of the exotic Honda RC211V MotoGP monster.
Nicky Hayden needs no introduction to MCUSA readers. The reigning AMA Superbike champ was drafted by Honda’s MotoGP team to partner with the dominating Valentino Rossi on the Repsol Honda factory team this season. The Owensboro, Kentucky native has been slowly coming up to speed as he acclimates himself to a 220-horsepower monster RC211V, riding smart and, for the most part, keeping himself out of the gravel traps.
Although he has not yet made his way to a MotoGP podium, Hayden has put in the best performance of the three other American riders in the series. And he’s coming off his best-ever result at the Sachsenring when he was running fourth until he was passed on the last lap by Ducati star Loris Caprirossi, demoting him to fifth. He currently sits in 10th place heading into this weekend’s race at Brno in the Czech Republic, but he’s less than 10 points out of sixth place.
Our man on the scene, ace photographer Joe Wierzbicki, caught up to the great American hope at the Catalunya GP for a discussion about his season so far.
MCUSA: Nicky, now that you’ve had time in Europe, what do you think of it so far?
Nicky Hayden: It’s quite different for sure, but it’s pretty neat. It’s been an awesome experience. It’s been great but it’s been very hard.
MCUSA: What are some of the things that you like about Europe?
NH: Well, for one, the tracks are awesome – the safety of the tracks. The machine (RC211V) is a lot of fun to ride, but mostly just the opportunity to be here to ride. There are a lot of things that I love about being here, not to mention chasing my dream.
MCUSA: What is the series like for you and how different is it from the U.S. series?
NH: It’s a lot different – everything about it is totally different. The way the guys ride the machines over here is different. The corner speed is not as high – all the guys over here are really good at getting their bikes stopped and turned, and then fire it out of the corner. Plus they use a little bit of a different line.
MCUSA: Do you miss anything about racing in the U.S.?
NH: Well, for one thing I am definitely glad I am here, no doubt about it. There is no place I would rather be but here in MotoGP. But, sure, there a few things I miss in the USA: the awesome fans, a lot of cool friends. I have a lot of friends that I don’t get to see much. Last year I won a lot of races – winning races is a lot of fun and so I miss winning. I just need to keep my head down and keep working hard. It’ll come together.
MCUSA: Do you miss racing with your brothers Tommy and Roger Lee?
NH: Yeah, a little bit, I miss racing with my brothers, and also too, it feels different not actually so much racing with them, but reading how they are doing on the internet. I guess someone who does not have a brother probably wouldn’t understand. Like, my little brother (Roger Lee), I don’t think I ever missed one of his pro races since he was 16, whether it was dirt track, road racing or anything – I was always there, so it’s been strange just getting on the internet just to see how they have been doing. So when I call them I want to know everything – how they did, what they are doing. I always enjoyed watching them race.
MCUSA: And they went 1-2 at Road America…
NH: Yeah, gosh, and in the rain. Yeah, that was cool. For sure my little brother has not had a really good go at it this year, with injuries and things that come with racing, so it was awesome for him. When I heard about the 600 results at Road America, it just made my day and it just goes to show you, in racing some days no matter how bad you get to feeling, that I feel all racers are the same – we are very hard on ourselves. You just have to keep your head down never stop believing in yourself.
MCUSA: What have been some of the adjustments that you had to make from Superbike to the Honda RC211V MotoGP bike?
NH: Probably of the biggest thing is the Superbike, it is really easy to carry a lot of corner speed because it does not have the power of the V-5 and so you can carry high corner speed and still open the gas leaned over. Where the V-5, man, you have to get it in and turned and picked up so you can open the throttle. If you try to open the throttle leaned over like on Superbike you will just end up spinning everywhere. So that has been a big adjustment. And also the tracks. Not so much learning the tracks, but they’re a different style: they are Formula 1 tracks, they’re not NASCAR tracks, the stop-and-go-type stuff. There is a lot more politics here. In America, it’s a lot smaller. You have you and your team, you have your crew chief, a tire guy, a little bit of suspension tech – a lot smaller team that you work with. Here you have a lot more guys you are working with – more outside guys, telling, “Yeah, try this, no you can’t change that,” so that’s been a bit hard for me to understand and something that I haven’t liked too much – all the political things that come with GP.
MCUSA: You were on Dunlops last year and now on Michelins this year. Has the tire change been a tough adjustment for you and do you feel they handle different?
NH: Yeah, they are a little different. It’s just one of the things I’ve learned a lot. The tires really have not been a big issue. Sometimes the front tire can be an issue, having a little bit more confidence in the front to see how good it really is, it’s a little bit different. Also it’s a little bit different how to go about finding the tire that you want as far as the construction compounds are different. So it’s been a learning experience, but just one more thing. Just put it on the list.
MCUSA: Your thoughts on the season so far?
NH: Started off pretty good. South Africa was probably my best result, as far as racing with a group of guys – almost had a top-5. From there it’s been a little bit of a struggle. I went to some places where I have not found a groove like I would like to have found. I still have a lot of room for improvement.
MCUSA: First year, though, you can’t have too many complaints running with the world’s best?
NH: Well, I am a racer, you know. I’m the kinda guy that is happy but never satisfied unless I am winning, and that has always been my style. I always want more. I guess it’s bad in a way but it is good in a way, too – never settled, wanting to go a little faster here or quicker there. It’s just the way I am. And I’m sure I am not going to change.