MotoUSA catches up with 2006 American MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden to get his take on the upcoming season.
Being a MotoGP racer isn’t all champagne, girls and glory. For every winner there are ten losers, and for every ten losers there are thousands that never even made it. Plus the sheer pressure of factories investing loads time and money into one person can be too much for some to handle. American Nicky Hayden knows what it’s like to be on top; a MotoGP crown from 2006 can attest to that. But he also knows what it’s like to struggle. And 2009 was an especially hard year for the Kentucky Kid.
After seven years on the factory Honda squad he was dropped in favor of young Italian Andrea Dovizioso. Hayden eventually found a new home with Italian marque Ducati alongside fellow world champion Casey Stoner, though on a bike which most believed only the superhuman Stoner was capable of riding. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Hayden went in guns blazing only to have some seriously bad luck and teething problems keep him at the back of the pack for the first half of the season. But a late-year push saw the hard-working Owensboro native on the podium at the Indianapolis GP, a finish that surely saved his job for 2010.
We caught up with Hayden to get his thoughts on life as a now second-year Ducati GP rider and what he thinks the future has in store…
MCUSA: In your eyes how was 2009?
HAYDEN: Ya know, truthfully, I had higher expectations. It was a rough year. We struggled and it wasn’t what I was expecting. Especially the beginning was tough. The communication was an issue and we started with some bad luck, all the crashes and such, some really bad luck, and everything just went downhill. But the team did a really good job to stick by me through it all and after we made some changes and really worked at it, things got a lot better. It was a rough one though.
MCUSA: Was there a turning point in the season for you?
HAYDEN: At the third round when I got a new crew chief. Bringing him in allowed us to overcome some communication issues. The biggest thing with the previous one was understanding his English and him understanding what I was, saying and being able to talk about the bike and what it’s doing, ya know. They moved him in to an advisor role for the whole team and it worked out well. He’s a smart chap but it wasn’t the best fit with the two of us. Once we changed things is when it started to turn around.
MCUSA: Would you say this was the toughest season of your career?
HAYDEN: Man, yeah. It’d probably have to be the toughest. I mean, I’ve had some hard years where things were rough along the way but this is right up there. With all the injuries and getting taken out so many times and the struggles with the bike and the team. Yeah…it was probably the hardest.
Once Nick switched to a new crew chief at the third round of 2009, things to starting going in the right direction.
MCUSA: Your brother Tommy has always been a mentor of sorts to you. Was having him around extra helpful in a tough year like this?
HAYDEN: Yeah. Of course. Tommy basically taught me how to race from the beginning and he has been a big part of my career my entire life. This year he came to Qatar and Valencia as well as the tests. It’s good to have him around. I talk to him almost every weekend. It’s good because I need someone who will tell me how I’m doing straight up. I’ve got plenty of people that will say good things but you need someone to shoot you straight and that’s what brothers are for. Tommy is there to always tell me how it is.
MCUSA: How much did injuries affect your season?
HAYDEN: For sure to start in Qatar, after having spent the whole previous night in the hospital, was hard. My body had taken a beating. I definitely needed (pain) injections to get through that one. Japan too, after Takahashi took me out and I hit my head, to go straight to Jerez the next week probably didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t really learn anything from riding there and that weekend was a struggle. I probably should have sat that one out.
MCUSA: It seemed like if you had any luck at all this season it was bad luck, especially in Misano where De Angelis took you and several others out?
HAYDEN: Man, yeah. Misano was a rough one. We had gone to the other Italian track, Mugello, and stunk up the place, but at Misano, there in Italy on an Italian bike, we were doing really well. I qualified higher up the order and we were on pace all weekend, maybe even looking at an outside shot at the podium because Pedrosa wasn’t on fire there, and then to have that happen, well… It was tough not to lay into De Angelis. I have a buddy’s dad that says ‘if you’re going to cock it, better throw it’ and I had it cocked there in the gravel trap and it was everything I had not to punch the kid. I wasn’t surprised it was him, though. He’s not the smartest guy. If you met him you would understand, trust me.
MCUSA: We would venture to guess Indy was the high point of the season for you?
HAYDEN: Definitely Indy. To come back home and put it on the podium and to basically save my job not a few hours from my hometown was pretty special, I’m not gonna lie. Pedrosa and Rossi may have fell but I felt like we worked really hard that weekend and we were in front of a lot of really talented guys for that podium spot and it basically saved my job.
MCUSA: Any insight into the whole Casey Stoner sickness ordeal this year? Did it affect you at all?
HAYDEN: That was a strange one. It was hard on the team for sure. And a little shady. No one really knew exactly was what going on. I’m not sure he even did. Bottom line was he wasn’t healthy and couldn’t do his job, but to leave like that for three races was odd. Turns out it was the right thing to do, though. He came back and was on pace and winning races right away, looking healthy, so it worked.
MCUSA: How has the off-season been going?
HAYDEN: Good. The end of the year test at Valencia went well. We were top-five, which for a world champion isn’t something to brag about, but we’ve made good progress and it was encouraging. We tested a few bits there that seem to have improved things and now they are back getting more ready. We have a pretty long break, more than usual with the testing rules, so I’ve just been training and spending some time at home. I was in Europe and India for some sponsor stuff with Ducati which was fun but now I’m home for the holidays and that’s nice. We did some wind tunnel testing in Italy to try and get more speed down the straights. I’m bigger than Casey (Stoner), but the mph difference has just been too big so we are working on that. Now I’m getting ready for a little New Year’s bash with some buddies. Should be a good one.
MCUSA: What are your thoughts on the far more limited testing schedule this year?
HAYDEN: I’m a guy that gets a lot out of testing. I like to put the hours in to get everything I can from myself and the bike, so would I prefer more? Yeah. But the economy is rough and it’s understandable. It’s not like it was before with blank checks and loads of tests. People have budgets and the big buck sponsors are hard to come by. The teams don’t have the deep pockets they used to so it’s understandable.
MCUSA: Speaking of new rules, what do you think of 1000cc MotoGP bikes for 2012?
HAYDEN: I like it! We need to be back on 1000s. We need to have big horsepower and bikes that slide. That’s what MotoGP should be. I’ve always felt they should have stayed with 990s, but then again I’m kinda biased (laughs). First for me, though, is to make sure that I’m here in 2012 on a factory team so I can take advantage of those rules. That’s a long way away in the racing world, so I’m just focused and head down to make sure I’m around when that comes.
MCUSA: Looking at next season, what’s it going to take to run with those top four dominating guys (Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner, Pedrosa)?
HAYDEN: Those guys right now are straight up better than the rest. For me it’s several things, not just one. I need to work on some stuff and the team has been making some changes with the bike. It’s a multitude of different things. Hopefully with it being the second year and knowing the electronics and the package we will use at each track, having a year under our belts, should make things a lot easier. Hopefully we can get a good base setup, which we never had this year, to give us the confidence week in and week out to be there. We’ve always had a hard time early in the weekend. Usually by the end of the race we are on pace but it takes all three days. We really need to work on coming out of the box faster with a good setup so we aren’t playing catch up anymore.
MCUSA: Stoner made a strange comment about his warm-up lap crash at Valencia, saying that it was something bike related which could have happened all year but finally bit him. Is there something different you have to do with the Ducati before the race?
HAYDEN: Kinda. On the parade lap we have a fuel conservation mode that keeps us from going too fast and turns off a lot of the deceleration electronics. It means that we save a couple cc of fuel, but every little bit helps with these engines. But it also means we don’t get a lot of heat in the tires that lap, so for the warm-up lap you really have to be careful. Stoner just got on it too hard too early that lap and didn’t get the tires up to temp.
Nicky leaked an image he took of the 2010 Ducati GP bike which got him in a bit of heat, though it’s essentially the same bike seen here in post-season testing.
MCUSA: A photo of the 2010 Ducati MotoGP bike that you snapped on your phone and put on your website has been making the rounds and causing some turmoil. Did you get in trouble for posting that?
HAYDEN: (Laughs) Yeah. Yeah I did. I was just excited when I was over there doing some sponsor stuff and I figured everybody had basically seen the bike at the Valencia test already so I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I made a mistake and shouldn’t have put it up, but heck, it didn’t have any of the logos and everyone has seen it already. But, yeah, I got it a bit of trouble and I’m sorry about that one. Not too bad though. Ain’t like I’m putting engine blueprints online or something, ya know.
MCUSA: Going into your eighth season in MotoGP, do you still get fired up about Grand Prix racing the way you did your rookie year?
HAYDEN: Ya know what, I really do. Sometimes I wonder if I just tell myself that, but honestly I do. I was on a bike ride training the other day out in the cold and was thinking to myself ‘do I really still get as excited or am I just saying that to myself.’ Truth is I’m every bit as excited for this year as I was for my first year. I still have that same fire.
MCUSA: What are your goals are for 2010?
HAYDEN: I’m not under some delusion that we’re going to go out there and just start winning races every weekend. It’s one seriously stacked field this year, but I need to be up in the top four and getting on the podium consistently. Anything less than that and I’ll be disappointed. We made good progress at the last test in Valencia and I think now in our second year as a team and second year on the bike, if we can find a good base setup, we can be up there. We need to be.
MCUSA: Thanks Nicky, anything else you want to add?
HAYDEN: I really want to say that I’m proud of my team, too, and thankful that they really stuck by me through all the hard times. It was hard but all things considered I really think we went from being nowhere to a contender and now we need to go one step further. Also, all the American fans out there, you guys have always stuck by and it’s been awesome to have you in my corner. I really am thankful for that.
For more Nicky Hayden be sure to check out: www.NickyHayden.com