DAYTONA BEACH, FL, MARCH 15 - Tommy Hayden is returning to Yamaha after an 11-year absence to replace the injured Garrett Gerloff in Saturday's Daytona 200.
Gerloff fractured his right femur during his first practice session as a member of the Y.E.S. Graves Yamaha team in Daytona SportBike practice just after the lunch break on a hot and sunny Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. Gerloff was taken straight to the Halifax Health Medical Center, where surgery was performed to stabilize the broken leg. No timetable has been given for his return to racing.
"The last thing a rider wants to do is replace an injured rider," Hayden said in a team press release. "But, I rode for Yamaha a few years back, and they have always treated me like a special member of their family. I couldn't be happier to be back!"
According to AMA Pro Road Race rules, Hayden is eligible for the race as long as he qualifies. The process began with a flight from Owensboro to Florida, then the contract signing. Friday he'll go straight into morning qualifying for the 200, a race he hasn't ridden for 11 years. Though he began his road racing career with Kawasaki, and most recently rode for Yoshimura Suzuki, Hayden spent three productive years with Yamaha. His morning qualifying time will determine which of the two twenty-minute final qualifying sessions he'll be placed in. Saturday morning he'll have one last opportunity to fine tune his set-up, after which he'll race the 200 for the first time since 2001.
The 2001 season was the last time he rode a Yamaha. From 1999 through 2001 he raced for the factory, first in Supersport and for the final two years in both Supersport and Superbike. His best ever Daytona finish, a fifth place, came aboard a Yamaha in the 2001 race. Hayden then returned to Kawasaki and raced Supersport for the next four years, taking the title in both 2004 and 2005. The 2005 season is the year which the Daytona 200 became a Formula Xtreme race. Hayden moved up to Superbike with Kawasaki in 2006-he also raced in the Daytona Supersport round-then signed with the Yoshimura Suzuki team in 2007 to contest both the Superbike and Supersport championships.
Hayden's recent history of Daytona is encouraging. Last year he came within .026 sec. of winning Friday's Superbike race, finishing second to teammate Blake Young. On Saturday, he was third behind Young and Monster Energy Graves Yamaha's Josh Hayes, at .210 sec. from the winner.
One adjustment he'll have to make is to the track. Hayden will be running both bankings, which he hasn't done since 2008, except for a handful of laps during a Dunlop tire test at Daytona last October. (The Superbikes run the 2.9-mile Short Course, while the rest of the classes use the 3.51-mile Long Course.) In his lone 2006 Supersport race, Hayden finished third at Daytona to his brother and teammate, Roger Lee Hayden, who won the race, and Yamaha's Jamie Hacking. His last Daytona Supersport race ended in a ninth place finish for the Yosh team in 2008.