Nicky Hayden Talks Ducati, MotoGP, and Rossi

Henny Ray Abrams | January 11, 2011

MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO, ITALY, JAN 11 – Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden spent most of the morning answering questions about his new teammate, Valentino Rossi, whose well-timed entry, well into Hayden’s press conference, caused the photographers to turn their attention and lenses to Rossi, while all Hayden could do was offer a knowing smile.Hayden and Rossi are a much more compatible team than Hayden and Casey Stoner, his teammate for the past two years. Hayden and Stoner are different in temperament and riding style, unlike Rossi and Hayden who are much more simpatico. Both have out-sized personalities and conventional riding styles. And they’re more than willing to get along.”I joked in Valencia when we were teammates last time how I took him under my wing,” Hayden began. “Last time we were teammates [on the Repsol Honda team in 2003], I was a rookie, everything was so new and we had a really good base. At that time the Honda, you didn’t change a whole lot, you more or less put gas in it and put tires on it. A lot’s changed since then. You have so many more options, especially with the electronics. Then it was more, I’d say, it was a Superbike style; you didn’t change a lot, just small stuff. I think all the Hondas at that time ran a similar set-up.”The set-up that both Hayden and Stoner used in 2010 didn’t work. Both crashed, Hayden more than he had in any year in his career. The front end was to blame and now it’s up to Rossi and Hayden to provide the engineers with the feedback to make it right. The Desmosedici GP11 is to be unveiled Wednesday, Jan. 12, high up on a mountain outside of the picturesque ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio in the Italian Dolomites.”We know we have got a good bike, but we want to improve but I’m sure everybody does,” Hayden said. “We have a couple of ideas and I was in Bologna yesterday morning speaking with some engineers and they have got the hammer down working hard. It’s not like we have a radically different bike because I don’t think we need that. But certainly we got a few areas we want to improve on and the rider needs to do his part and improve. I’m excited to get on the bike at the start of next month. That’s the first real time we get a crack at it in Malaysia and there is a lot of work between now and then to get prepared and get ready but we’re all excited.”Asked if he was afraid the changes Rossi made would adversely impact him, Hayden said, “Not too much. For the most part from what I know so far, a lot of his comments are very similar to what I think. In some ways I’m looking forward to having his information and feedback. He’s been around a long time with a lot of experience. He is no fool and he knows what he is doing, so hopefully his experience and his team can help make our bike better.”When I was in Bologna last month his guys were building the bikes and the relationship between his team and my team looked pretty good. I look forward to having his input, but we will see how things go as it moves on. He will want some changes but for the most part I see it as a positive.”The opinion on the team’s front end troubles runs the gamut. One of the more credible theories is that the chassis doesn’t generate enough heat for the front. Stoner and Hayden both crashed far above their average in 2010 and often early in the tire’s life.”We need to make the front better for feeling,” Hayden said. “Casey found a few problems and I was on the ground quite a bit last year, more than I think I’ve ever crashed in a season in my life; 11 times. So I’ll try and cut that down a bit.”We need to understand the front more and have a little bit more of a cushion there so when it is pushing you understand it and it is not too late. Our bike, sometimes we struggle with the turning, especially off the brakes. We got some ideas to try in Malaysia to improve front end feeling and feedback, but also to make the bike steer better and turn better with the brake off. A lot of times we struggled in corners last year where we just closed the throttle and didn’t use the front brake to load the front. It didn’t steer so well. That’s one area we need to look at.”Hayden said that he and Rossi had spoken “a bit” about the bike, but that they hadn’t sad down and closed the doors and had a “full-on board meeting. But we were just some general talk about little things with the bike. It was quite an open relationship and nothing different than what I’ve had with Valentino last time or any other teammate. It was pretty normal chat, really.”

Whether they’d share information hadn’t been discussed, Hayden said. “I see it being pretty open. Like I said, the little bit we were at Valencia, the chemistry in the garage, both sides, seemed pretty open. I don’t expect a wall down the middle, it doesn’t really fit with the Ducati way of working and mentality. Maybe that works with some teams, but Ducati really is a family, not only our team, the satellite teams too; those engineers work together.”Obviously, we are going to want different things at different times, but I see it as a pretty good situation. I think we’ll be able to work together when it’s needed. From the satellite teams to the factory team it’s pretty much an open book, all the engineers work out of the same truck. In some ways that’s a positive. It’s a smaller company than some other manufacturers. I think they make up for it with team work and attitude. You get a good vibe there.”Hayden has made a few tweaks in his team personnel which he believes gives him a “strong team around me with good guys and I know the deal to be teammates with Rossi won’t be easy. But really I don’t get too caught up in that. I got to focus on my job and my side and that’s why I think it will work with me and him. I know he brings a lot when you got a guy who has won as many races as he has. But I don’t really see it fazing my side of the garage too much and I look forward to the challenge. You’ve got to be careful what you wish for, but a strong teammate is what you’re measured up against in our sport. I don’t want to get brushed aside over there, so I need to gas it up and stand up and be known.”It will be a big challenge for me, but I look forward to it. I think it will be fun and I know our team, the motivation is really high and in Italy the excitement for the fans is really high. I can’t imagine what the atmosphere will be like when we get to Mugello, so I think it is a pretty exciting time for our team.”The start of every year is filled with promise, new riders on new teams. In 2011 it was musical chairs on steroids, with Hayden now having to face all of them, in addition to Rossi.”Just start at the top; there’s really no slackers in MotoGP,” he said. “The guy right now is [Jorge] Lorenzo, he’s the guy with the title. But you go down the list, they’re all solid, they’re all players, none of them sleep on nobody, that’s why I love MotoGP. It’s going to be a big challenge this year. I’m not going to single out any hardest rival because they’re all contenders.”


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.