SPEEDWAY, IN, AUG 27 – The Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix is Nicky Hayden’s home race. Most of his immediate family made the three-hour drive from Owensboro, Kentucky, as did many of his friends and supporters. He’d been on the podium here the first two years and was hopeful of another good showing, but Saturday’s warm qualifying session didn’t give him much hope.Hayden qualified eighth fastest, the best Ducati, but 1.394 secs. off the scorching pace set by pole-sitter Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda). This was the first race for Hayden on the Ducati Marlboro Desmosedici GP11.1, which in the hands of his celebrated teammate Valentino Rossi hasn’t proven to be much of an improvement. Rossi had a horrible qualifying session, crashing early, then finishing 14th behind Randy de Puniet on the Pramac Racing Ducati GP11.Hayden admitted that a podium wasn’t on the cards, but added that he was hopeful of being part of the pack fighting for the spots just off the podium. To get there, he’ll need to find something in the morning warm-up and hope for the best.
“Third row, it’s not our target,” he said. “We struggled a lot again today, probably worse today than yesterday. With the new track and a bit of a new bike we haven’t found a direction. My feedback probably hasn’t been clear enough and we really can’t find which way to go to try to make the bike steer. In the end, I salvaged third row, if you can call it that. We got a lot of homework to do tonight, but tomorrow is what counts, so hopefully we can come up with something. But I’m not expecting no easy day tomorrow.”It was pointed out to Hayden that the Ducatis are mostly in the bottom half of the 17-rider field; the final two riders are Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham and Pramac Racing’s Loris Capirossi. With Hayden and Rossi on the newer GP11.1, there was nothing they could draw on to make setup decisions.”Yeah, we’re not certainly putting up the fight we had hoped here,” he said. The data from last year was of little use and the track was a little bit different after the infield had been repaved. “This time we just looked at the data. I was mainly the fastest Ducati everywhere, so it doesn’t really help to compare. And sometimes, even though I’m not maybe the fastest in one corner, they can be of help. That didn’t look like the case.”One of the bright spots on the weekend was the increasing grip of the infield. Friday morning’s track was extremely slippery and nearly universally derided. With each successive session, and with more rubber on it, the track got better and better, to the point that Stoner was able to set an outright track record in qualifying.”It’s gotten a lot better,” Hayden said. “Now it’s so grippy, it’s actually…tire wear’s a problem. We’re wearing the tires quite a lot, especially in the front. I went through a couple of tires, so tomorrow it’s going to be interesting. Hopefully the cool weather will help tire wear.”Asked what he thought Sunday would bring, he said, “I don’t know. We’ll line up. Tomorrow, it’s why we line up and go racing. So obviously try to go with that second group. I mean, the front group, they’re on their own this week. My team’s working hard. I got a lot of fans here, a lot of people supporting me. So we’ll dig in, try and put as much fight as we can.”