PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA, OCT 25 - The wind was blowing hard off the Bass Strait today at Phillip Island, with rains falling heavily, but intermittently - a portent of the weekend to come.
Phillip Island is universally admired by the riders. The track, that is, not the weather. When the weather conditions are right, there's nothing like Phillip Island, the riders will tell you. But with the rain falling or the wind blowing or both, the track can be more than a handful.
"The wind day today... here it doesn't feel windy, but out on the track... I went around the track today on a scooter and it was incredible," Ducati Marlboro's Nicky Hayden said on the eve of the 17th round of the MotoGP World Championship. "Here the wind is a big thing. Because especially on these bikes, the 1000s - it's going to be worse. The front wheel is off the ground. I mean, the wind is bad enough in fast corners. Turn 3 [renamed for Casey Stoner this morning] is a problem, but it's really a problem coming out of Turn 2 there, right off the ocean - the bike's trying to wheelie. It's bad enough with both tires on the ground, but with only one tire on the ground the wind here can take the fun out of this track. It's amazing on a good day. But the wind, for me, it's a bigger issue than the rain, if it's really strong. But that's the same for everybody. So sometimes you have to set your bike up a little different for the wind."
This year's race marks the 10th Australian Grand Prix for Hayden, who holds the track record. Hayden lapped in 1:30.059 during the 2008 race, a race in which he was passed for second by now teammate Valentino Rossi on the last lap. The race was won by Casey Stoner.
"Yeah, I do love this place," Hayden said. "Actually, I still got the track record from '08.
"Yeah, so, I do like it and I've had some good results here, especially on the Honda. Ducati, I was second at the start of the race last year but haven't really had any real good races since then. I got fourth in 2010. Valentino [Rossi] passed me with a lap or two laps to go, but I have had a couple of poles and some podiums, and I like it, so it's going to be a lot of fun."
The one criticism of the track is the surface. Last paved in 1998, the track is due for a re-surfacing this coming December. Until then, the riders will have to live with the bumps.
"Last year was really bumpy, was extremely bumpy and this year it's not gotten better in a year, so that's going to be the main thing," Hayden said. "Which, normally our bike we don't like bumps, so it's going to be really important. And we do seem to have got some better tire life with the latest swingarm and chassis, which is crucial here.
"But we'll see how it goes as far as the weather. If it is wet, I hope to get a session in the wet because since I've switched to this new frame and swingarm, we rode in Aragon and I liked it in the dry. But I haven't really loved it in the wet, like a lot of times. I mean, in the dry we've got better tire life and less tire temperature, but mainly in the wet our advantage is gone. In Aragon I didn't have great feel in the wet. Malaysia felt okay, but not really good enough to try to charge. So we need to understand that. I mean, in Misano, Valentino was on the new bike and I was on the old frame and chassis, I was able to catch him pretty easy in two different practices and even from there I though, oh well, it's just a setup thing, but maybe we need to understand a bit more why the same feeling's not there."
Hayden doesn't expect the right wrist that he cracked crashing in Aragon to affect him.
"It's okay, actually," he said. "A little bit better than last weekend. Actually, to be fair, I expect no problems here. This is probably the least braking track on the whole championship. There's really only two corners where you brake and it's not really that hard. In fact, here's a place where we have a hard time keeping heat in the disks. We've came from two tracks when I was really hurting that were probably the two hardest and the most temperature. Here is easy, so I don't expect no problems from that."