MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO, ITALY, JAN 13: Nicky Hayden slipped into his Ducati leathers and his million watt smile lit up. He was on a team with a great tradition of winning, a team infused with his same passion for racing, a team that united two world champions to form one of the strongest squads on the MotoGP grid. But he also understood that the task ahead will be daunting and that his learning curve will have to be steep to be ready when the series kicks off in Qatar.

“On Sunday we did my first real photo shoot in the full-on Marlboro leathers and Ducati leathers and, I got to admit, it was a great feeling,” Hayden said after being officially introduced to the media at Wroom 2009, the combined MotoGP and Formula One event in the Italian Dolomites. “Something I felt a lot of pride in when I first put the suit on and the full-on all the team logos and everything. It’s an exciting time for me. Something new, and I realize what a great opportunity I have here.” Hayden said he was “very thankful for the opportunity, but, he added, “we’ll really find out when we go racing.”

Though his first tests were positive-he was fastest in the wet-Hayden admitted that he had to pick up the pace to match his teammate Stoner, who was fastest on the one day he had on the 2009 Desmosedici at the Valencia test. Following Valencia, Stoner had a wrist operation which sidelined him for the next test at Jerez.

That meant Hayden was on his own as he learned the Ducati, which he said he loved, especially the engine and front end.

“The front is very stable, especially in the fast corners. and for me that’s really important,” he said. “So far I’ve only ridden it at Valencia and Jerez, which is two pretty tight tracks, so I think it’s going to be even better once we get to some places where we can open it up a little bit more, you know, Malaysia and Qatar; two of the next two tests are definitely a little bit more open tracks I like that I think should be even better.

“So far, yeah, the bike’s everything I thought it would be. I’m not going to tell you it’s something easy to ride and really smooth. You’ve got to be ready to…when you saddle up on this thing, definitely when you grab a handful this bike things happen fast. And sometimes on the exit of the corners it can be a little bit loose. But I think that’s just the potential of the engine is strong and the chassis is quite stiff, which gives you a lot of feeling. It’s one of those things, it’s not necessarily easy to ride, but it’s something at race pace that you get a lot of feel from.”

The difference in traction control between the Ducati and the Honda RC212V is that Ducati uses their Magneti Marelli system “to almost help the suspension, whereas, Honda, not to compare things, we never did it that way. It was just a different way of doing things. Some things have been better. I definitely need to learn more in understanding this, because it’s hard to really find the limit in the electronics.”

But Hayden is part of the growing chorus which believes that electronics are taking the sport in the wrong direction. The most effective way to ride a modern 800 is with the wheels in line, which doesn’t promote exciting racing or passing, things that Hayden grew up with in dirt track.

“I think the electronics in the last couple of years have grown so much that if it keeps up at this speed, in a couple more years, it’s just going to be ridiculous,” he said. “Somewhere, you need to draw the line on it, but it’s technology—you can’t stop the world from progressing. I think Dorna and everybody have quite a big challenge there, to understand how to police it with all the bikes, but I think one thing: In the future, it’s going to have to be looked at.

“Also, for the racing, I’m not sure how much the single-tire rule’s going to help improve the racing, but I think that’s what’s put MotoGP on the map is the close racing, the last-lap overtakes. That’s what the fans want, and the fans are important. I think they’ve got to figure out a good way to get back to it, because right now, the way the bikes are [with a] smaller engine capacity, the electronics, and the tires, everybody’s on the limit. It makes it really difficult. You hardly make any mistakes, and the races get strung out pretty quick.

“Also, the riders, I think in the last year or two, Casey has raised the bar as far as his speed, and is responsible for it a little bit, for stringing out the races. It seems like the pace has picked up, and I think from when I got here, that the pace has definitely improved, and a lot of it’s because young riders came in, especially Casey when we went to the 800s. Hopefully, the racing will get back better, because I love a good, close race as much as you all like watching them.”

The single tire rule works in his favor, he believes, because it’s one less variable to learn.

“The one thing that hasn’t been an issue is the tires. There’ve really only been two tires—soft and medium—so you just work on riding the bike, suspension, electronics,” he said. “Whereas before, this time of year would be really important as far as testing, to find out which…well, in Michelin, ya know we would spend a lot of time testing tire: constructions, profiles, sizes, rubber, so many things. You really need to be at race pace to understand that and get what you want, so this year I’m quite lucky with the tire rule, especially being that we don’t have as much testing as we did, and a lot of the tests being two days. If you’re trying to learn the tires and the bike and everything else as well, it would be a bigger challenge, but really, the tires have worked good, they’re consistent; I have no gripes. They’ve made things easier. You just put one in, it lasts about half the day, you change it and put another one in, and it feels the same. I think the tire rule’s really sweet.”

AMA Pro Racing News

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.

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