MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO, ITALY, JAN 10 – Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden was happy to have his left arm out of a sling for the first time since breaking his left shoulder blade in a dirt track accident on Decwmber 27. Even more sunny was his outlook for the future, with high hopes for both himself and for the Ducati Desmosedici that he’s never ridden and which was nowhere to be seen at Wrooom 2012, where Ducati was joined by fellow Phillip Morris beneficiary Ferrari at Wrooom 2012, the annual ski week/team intro held in the scenic town of Madonna di Campiglio high in the Italian Alps.
“Well, I mean I’m very optimistic,” Hayden said in response to a question about what to expect from the first MotoGP test of the year in Sepang, Malaysia on January 31/February 1-2. “We have, I think, got some different stuff to try in Malaysia, so it’s not easy. Honda has really set the bar high. But, yeah, hopefully we’re closer there then we was in Valencia.”
Hayden missed the post-Valencia test after having his right wrist broken in a first turn incident in the season finale. Hayden and teammate Valentino Rossi both got knocked down by Alvaro Bautista in his last ride on the Rizla Suzuki. Fortunately, Rossi was unhurt. Unfortunately, his. test performance was discouraging. Sixth fastest, he was 1.5 secs. slower than pace-setter Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), with Stoner’s teammate Casey Stoner a close second.
“But setting up here talk’s cheap,” Hayden said. “I could say this that and tell you how we’re going to be right there, but until we go there and roll them out of the garage and find out where were at, we won’t know.
“But I’m confident we’ll be closer. We definitely have some ideas to try there, but really, there is no need to make any predictions here in January. And really even there it really doesn’t matter until we get to Qatar” for the first race of the year on in early April. But, yeah, I hope much closer. I mean, that track should tell us a little bit more where the 1000s are versus the 800s, a lot bigger, a lot faster. Yeah, we see but we cross the fingers. I believe in Ducati and I believe in this project and Filippo (Preziosi, the technical director) and everybody involved, so…I got pretty high expectations.”
One of the keys to fulfilling those expectations is the control Bridgestone tires. Ducati, more than most, seemed to suffer from tire problems last year. Rossi was more vocal about the problems than Hayden, but it’s clear they have no choice but to adapt the motorcycle to the tires, whichever tires Bridgestone shows up with. The criticism in 2011 was that the tires were too hard, so hard, in fact, that Colin Edwards said you could sit on the tire without deforming it. And they took too long to get up to proper operating temperature, which caused a number of early session or early race high-sides. All three Repsol Honda riders crashed early in the first practice session for the Dutch TT.
“We the riders want high-performance tires and then, obviously, sometimes with two options they can’t always be suited for the conditions,” Hayden said. “So it was true last year there were some tracks early in the season where the tires were too hard. So I think Bridgestone’s done a nice job of listening to the riders. Last year they gave us a few more options and also brought some softer tires. About mid-season, the riders, we had a meeting and requested to get some more options, more dual compound tires. So tires is not easy: There’s a lot more that goes into it than people think; it’s not just make a softer compound, it has to be planned out.
“So I don’t hold Bridgestone responsible for anything. I mean, the tires are amazing. I think at some point maybe we would like to see something that was, maybe the performance was a little bit less, but was more suited to cold conditions and early laps too, especially in the mornings. So already, though, they’ve tried next year’s tire and their listening to us, so I think it should make this problem go away.”
Hayden has a follow-up exam with Dr. Arthur Ting set for next Thursday, January 19. The decision on whether he should or shouldn’t fly to Malaysia a week later could be made that day. If it looks borderline, Hayden may make the trip in the hope that he could get some seat time, if the injury continues to improve.
The team isn’t waiting until Sepang to get the bike on track. World Superbike Champion Carlos Checa and test rider Franco Battaini are testing the GP12 next week in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Battaini has said his style is closer to Rossi’s, according to a journalist who posed a question to Hayden. Did that bother him?
“No, not so much,” he said. “Of course I want to be involved in that, but I think Franco (Battaini)…overall, the better the bike is the better it’s going to be for me. So it’s quite interesting to have also Carlos (Checa), something we’ve been lucky not to just have one rider. I think it shows how much Ducati’s been working. They’re going testing with two riders and two complete test teams, so they’re getting a lot more feedback and double the information, double the amount of laps in time, double the amount of data. I think that’s one of the things you want to be clear about is make the bike a more easy bike that not just one rider can be fast with, that a lot of guys can go fast with. So, no, I’m not worried about that. I mean, I think if we get the package right I believe in myself and we’ll be okay.”