Nicky Hayden was more forthcoming than usual when he met the media on Thursday afternoon. The normally guarded rider from Kentucky said his contract with Ducati was “not done yet, but things are looking really good, really close to staying here at Ducati for another year, so I’m real happy about it and hopefully we can get it together and get it announced soon.”
Hayden could say that because he knew the deal had already been signed. Confirmation came this morning when Ducati issued a news release stating that the 2006 MotoGP World Champion would be staying with the team from Borgo Panigale for another year. A day earlier, Hayden had said the contract was for one year with an option.
That the company would keep Hayden wasn’t a surprise. Ducati Corse technical boss Filippo Preziosi has repeatedly praised Hayden for his work ethic, saying the whole team should see him as an example. Hayden works doggedly with the team and leaves nothing on the racetrack, while teammate Valentino Rossi isn’t as likely to take risks while racing for positions off the podium. The amount of time he’s put into developing the various models of the Desmosedici would be lost if he were to be replaced, which was another factor, especially considering the uncertainty of Rossi staying with the team. With Ben Spies sudden and surprising announcement that he’d be leaving Yamaha, likely to join the BMW World Superbike team, Yamaha suddenly has an opening. Speculation is rampant that Rossi could return to the team he left two years ago when Yamaha chose Jorge Lorenzo as their number one rider. In Thursday’s pre-race news conference, Rossi said he’d likely make up his mind during the summer break, which begins after the RBIGP and ends with the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix in mid-August.
Hayden also gets tasked with many of the PR responsibilities, which Rossi is loathe to do and which Hayden handles like a pro. And the fact that he’s an American is an asset with the U.S. being Ducati’s largest market.
Hayden, who turns 31 the day after the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix, is in his tenth season in MotoGP after having won the 2002 AMA Superbike Championship for American Honda. It’s also his fourth season with Ducati after beginning his MotoGP career on the Repsol Honda team.
In a statement released by the team, Hayden said, “I’m very happy that I’ll be back with Ducati and back in MotoGP, racing at the highest level for a very important team. I love the guys I work with, I love the Ducati fans, and I love the brand. This is an important time for Ducati in a number of ways, and I’m excited that I’ll continue to be a part of it. I feel like I’ve got some unfinished business here, and hopefully we can get all the pieces into place and reap the rewards of the hard work we’ve put in the last couple of years. It’s nice to be able to make this announcement at Laguna and to share the moment with my fans, friends and family. If I can do a good result on Sunday, it could make for a pretty special birthday weekend.”