Hayden Looks for Turnaround at Laguna Seca

Henny Ray Abrams | July 16, 2008

Repsol Honda’s Nicky Hayden comes to the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix hoping to turn his year around. The pneumatic valve engine that was supposed to save his season has been a disappointment. Not so much the engine, but too many things surrounding it. The debut was steady, not stellar: he finished seventh in the British Grand Prix. Since then it’s been nothing but heartache. First, Hayden ran out of gas while running third within sight of the checkered flag in the Dutch TT in Assen, Holland. And last week, in the rain-lashed German Grand Prix, a bad rear tire choice put him straight to the back of the field, a position from which he couldn’t recover despite a tire change. Now comes Laguna Seca, a track where he’s won two of the three U.S.GP’s, and where he believes the pneumatic valve-powered Honda RC212V should work well. Laguna Seca doesn’t have a sixth gear straightaway, instead putting a premium on power out of the final corner to start the lap properly, and mid-range to keep rolling while connecting the dots of the Monterey race track. “Out of that last corner, I mean, you need to get out of the hole pretty good there,” Hayden said. “It helps in the race situation when you got to try to overtake people. So it’s not like I feel it’s going to help me any in straight line speed, but definitely around the corners it should be better.” On outright top speed “I’m still mid-pack, which is for Laguna is OK,” Hayden said. “I think it’s more just the chassis combination of this engine is completely different. It’s the one I tested all winter mostly. So it’s the one I knew and had kind of chose my tires around, my suspension.” With teammate Dani Pedrosa forced out of much of off-season testing, Hayden did the bulk of testing on both the conventional valve and pneumatic valve engine machines. It wasn’t until late in testing that Honda said decided against using it. “So in some ways when Dani (Pedrosa) was hurt and it actually maybe worked to an advantage, testing everything on that bike,” Hayden said. “It’s not an advantage, but it wasn’t a big disadvantage everybody thought it was going to be.” But with a dismal start to the season, and following a positive test after the Catalunya GP at Barcelona, Hayden talked Honda into swapping motors. Now only is it a different motor, but “the way the engine’s in a different place, I got a better feeling on the front and can just ride it better. And also it runs better. It does accelerate harder. It is a little harder to ride and the power is aggressive. But Laguna is not a big top speed track.”

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.