Hayden Looks Back, Looks Forward

Henny Ray Abrams | January 15, 2013

MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO, ITALY, JAN 15 – The specter of the failed Valentino Rossi era continued to haunt the Ducati MotoGP team as they met the media on the second day of the Wrooom International Press Ski meeting in the Italian Dolomites.

Two years earlier, Rossi arrived with great fanfare and expectations; much was expected of the marriage of an Italian icon and an iconic Italian brand. But it didn’t work out. During the two-year Rossi reign at Ducati he managed a total of three podiums. Teammate Nicky Hayden added one.

Rossi famously decamped for Yamaha leaving Hayden at Ducati with yet another new teammate, Andrea Dovizioso. Dovi got precious few laps on the Desmosedici during the Valencia test and none at the follow-on session in Jerez. That left it to Hayden to explain Ducati past, present and future, often through the prism of the past two years.

“Of course, I had no problem being teammates with Valentino; I mean we were teammates at Honda,” Hayden said. “These last two years I was very competitive with him. I mean, [in 2012] until the crash at Indy, I’d beaten him quite more than he’d beaten me, so I was able to be competitive with him.

“Of course, maybe there’s some good points for me without him now, maybe some more focus on me and more listening to my ideas, but also there’s negatives. There’s benefits to having Valentino on the team. Of course, he brought a lot of motivation to the guys and also when he spoke people really listened. I think if it wasn’t for him maybe we wouldn’t have got the aluminum chassis as quick as I did, so for that I was grateful.

“I look back on these two years and know that the results weren’t what we all hoped. When we set here two years ago there was so much expected of him on an Italian bike. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, but this is life. We tried and it didn’t happen. So I’m not bitter for the last two years. And he’s went on now and I look forward to racing with him now. It’s exciting for MotoGP, him back on the Yamaha and I know us at Ducati still want to beat him very back.”

In hindsight, there were some things that Hayden would have done differently, though he wasn’t specific, but, he said, “I really felt good support from Ducati for both me and Valentino. And a lot of, over the years, the last two years Ducati took some unfair criticism saying they didn’t try enough to give him what he wanted and I certainly disagree with that. I think they went above and beyond to try to please him. And I think, unfortunately, maybe that was a little bit negative, because maybe we tried too hard to improve the results and make too many big changes during the season, but that was only because we wanted to win and and we knew we wanted to do a big step.

“So the aluminum chassis was something he wanted and I think that was probably the biggest change and I had no problem with that, especially now with the control tire rule. I think aluminum chassis, when they make the tires for all the bikes we needed to be on a similar chassis as the rest. So that was a big step. For the most part, all the big details I agreed with. Every rider has some small preferences, but me and Valentino were normally on the same page and wanted the same thing. So cannot say I had any real problem with any of the direction.”

That said, there were still little success. The question became would he cancel the information learned over the past two years and start over?

“Well, I don’t… certainly we don’t cancel the information we’ve gained in the last years. Of course, it’s a lot of data, a lot of stuff we know that maybe does work or doesn’t work. It’s very important to rely on some of the stuff we’ve already tested. Of course, with new people you have new ideas which is something good.

“I would say the two main areas we have to solve are the understeer and make the bike turn better. We made some steps with the aluminum chassis, but for more feeling and more feedback, which was important. But we have not really solved the turning problem. So a lot of the turning problem also leads to other problems on the corner exit and if you cannot make the bike steer you cannot lift the bike up, therefore you don’t have as good a traction, tire life is not as good. I would say that’s a big problem. And also we still need to smooth the engine on the bottom, the first touch, especially in slower corners to make the throttle be more connected to the rear tire. So for me I would say those are the two main areas to focus on.”

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.