Nicky Hayden has had a tough year thus far adapting to his new Ducati Desmosedici GP9 . A host of crashes and missed set-ups has kept the Kentucky Kid far from the podium all season. We caught up with the American fan favorite after the Red Bull U.S. GP at Laguna Seca over the 4th of July weekend to get his take on the season thus far. Though he didn’t land on the podium like he and many Americans hoped for, the middle Hayden brother did seem to find some light at the end of the tunnel at his home Grand Prix, battling up the ranks all weekend and finally finishing a strong fifth place – the highest American in the field.
MCUSA: Things seemed to have turned around for you some this weekend. Are you happy with fifth place?
HAYDEN: I’ve won here twice so I don’t want to sound like a fool being too happy with fifth place, but I’m pretty happy. This weekend I was 14th on Friday and the thought of that, running around here at my home race at the back of the pack not competitive, had me literally sick to my stomach that night. But we made some big changes Saturday, mainly to the electronics so it would run better and come off the corners a lot better, and from there just picked up some every session.
MCUSA: How was the race from your point of view?
HAYDEN: In the race I was able to get a decent start. I really wish I could have got by Toni (Elias) and get with that next group, the front group, right away. I think I could have kept them in sight some, they weren’t that much faster than me, especially (Casey) Stoner after that middle part. I mean it was my best qualifying, my best race all season, so I’m happy.
A little bit of my problem is the start of the race. I haven’t had the confidence to really hang it out right away and this was much better. I’ve got done maybe five or six 1:22s all weekend and in the race I had no choice – Toni was on me and wouldn’t let me get away. I basically ran what I
qualified at for 32 laps so I was about at my limit.
I had the ‘fuel-con’ light come on at Lap 7 or so, which basically tells you to slow down, and I’ve only ever had it come on a little bit before. But it was staying on and staying on and if it stays on eventually I think it means you are not going to finish the race if you don’t slow down, but I couldn’t slow down! So I just kept pushing and finally with about eight laps (to go) it went off and so I was able to hang in there and get a top-five.
I feel like we are really slowly making some progress and fell good on the bike. I think we found something with the (crew) guys on electronics and settings and how the bike feels. I just really hope we can keep going from here.
MCUSA: Do you think this was a one-off miracle because it’s your home track or are you finally enjoying riding this bike?
HAYDEN: Just let me enjoy it (laughs). I don’t know – we’ll see. I don’t think it’s a miracle, we’ve made some progress the last few weeks. Sure this track helped, I’ve always done well here. Even the last two years when I didn’t win I qualified on the front row and the year before I was on the front row. Maybe a little of both. I felt like I really rode the bike this time as well! Really, the closer I get (to the front) and the faster I go the easier and more comfortable it is. When I’m two seconds off the pace that’s when I feel like I’m riding it way too hard.
MCUSA: Early in the weekend you had complained about a lack of acceleration, did you get this fixed?
HAYDEN: It wasn’t really even a problem it was just something off in the settings. I know it kind of sounds odd that we are always talking about settings and such at a motorcycle race, but yeah they just changed where the traction control runs and such to improve how it got off the corners.
MCUSA: You’ve made some radical changes to the bike the previous couple rounds, did you continue on that path this weekend or go back to where you started?
HAYDEN: No, I talked to Vito (Guareschi, Ducati’s MotoGP test rider) last night. I have a close relationship with him and he’s been testing some more stuff to help me. As far as the general riding position which we had changed quite a bit by raising the seat, we actually went another bit up this week. But this week we made the biggest improvement in electronics. We had something not working right there. I mean, Casey followed me at the Barcelona test when I was struggling and said, ‘hey, the only place that I’m making up time is off the corners’. Ya know, maybe he was a little bit quicker here or there but he said we needed to change how we were getting the power down.
MCUSA: The next round at Sachsenring in Germany has always been a good track for you, right?
HAYDEN: Yeah, I think I’ve been on the podium there every year except my rookie year and that year I was running fourth until the last corner when Loris (Capirossi) passed me. I like Sachsenring a lot.
MCUSA: Tell us about the special paint job you were running this weekend?
The Kentucky Kid rocked a special paint scheme and leathers for the U.S. GP, which was based off the Nicky Hayden-replica Ducati 848 that will be for sale in limited numbers in the United States.
HAYDEN: Here in America they introduced a signature series of that bike, making 100 Ducati 848s that look just like that bike, so that made it cool. It is one thing to just do special graphics, which is nice, but that one really had some meaning behind it.
MCUSA: Finally, how would you compare riding the Ducati GP9 to your previous Honda RCVs around here at Laguna Seca?
HAYDEN: This is not an easy bike to ride. 32 laps around here on this is a little different than that Honda 990 I had. I mean, that thing was pretty good. I don’t want to say that was easy, but that bike was good. That first year I think we just put fuel in that thing and went. But that’s stuff that only happens once in your lifetime, ya know – fastest in every session, pole, lead every lap, fastest every lap, all that. But that second year (that I won) was one of the hardest races of my life. Not only was it so hot, but I really don’t know how I won that year. I qualified sixth and was at the back all weekend so that was a lot harder than the first year. But this was a hard race and the bike’s certainly not easy to ride and the pace, I did what I did in qualifying for basically 45 minutes, so I was on my limit.