BROOKLYN, NY, SEPT 16: Nicky Hayden began life as a Ducati factory rider by joining Ducati CEO Gabriele Del Torchio and race team manager Livio Suppo on the stage at the Ducati North America dealer show in Indianapolis.
Hayden still has four more races before ending his 10-year affiliation with Honda and the 27-year-old from Kentucky wants to make the most of them. But he also can’t wait for the day after his Honda contract expires, following the Valencia GP, so he can jump on the Ducati Desmosedici GP09 at the Valencia tests. And it’s not just Hayden himself who’s excited about the move. Reigning world champion Casey Stoner is looking forward to having another world champion on the team.
Hayden’s signing hadn’t been confirmed when Stoner spoke on Sunday evening, but everyone knew it was a formality. And Hayden and Stoner had spoken about the GP08 and the GP09 prior to the announcement.
“If Nicky were to join us, that would be fantastic,” Stoner said after finishing fourth in the hurricane-struck Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix. “I’ve always gotten along with Nicky and I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I think he’s had a lot of dirt over these years and people need to stop giving riders dirt and just give them respect for what they’re doing. They’re trying hard, riding our best, and today Nicky went out and proved why he was World Champion in 2006 and he rode bloody well.”
Hayden has teamed with a number of world champions, including Valentino Rossi (2003), Max Biaggi (2005), and Dani Pedrosa (2006-2008). Rossi was a brilliant teammate, but Biaggi and Pedrosa were troublesome. Now he has the chance to work with someone he not only admires, but also gets along with.
“I think there’s advantages to having a teammate you get on with,” Hayden said in a phone conversation while driving home to Owensboro from Indianapolis. “It’d be unreal to go beat Casey (Stoner) on that bike, I realize that. I think on that team, the way things are in this paddock, especially you see at Indy, we came to a track and really only had one dry session, if you count out the first free practice and when you got to use qualifying tires. I think there’s times to be able to work together with a teammate and share information. So, I get on well with Casey. I like his style. Some people think…he’s a fiery little dude, man. I mean, I like that. He’s got a lot of passion for it. He’s not there to try to be a cool guy. He says what he feels and he’s there to do a job. He ain’t there to just try to fill the row and be cool.”
But as much as working with Stoner, Hayden is “pretty excited about the opportunity. Y’know, be a big change for me, big challenge to go over there and try to adjust to that bike and stuff. But going in there with an open mind. Just go in there with a clean sheet. Try it out. See how it goes. Looking forward to it.
“But I do still got four races left to go this season and certainly would love to get a couple more real good results before the season’s over.”
Hayden said the first contacts with Ducati were made around mid-season. There were other offers, including a lucrative deal from Gresini Honda, but Hayden wanted more than anything to be on the Ducati. And not the satellite Ducati of the Alice Team. He wanted a factory bike and he was willing to sacrifice to get the deal made.
The announcement came after his best race weekend of the year. Racing on a wet surface with a still damaged right heel, Hayden rode brilliantly to the front of the field on the second lap and held it until Rossi came past on lap 14, by which time the rain had started to fall again. But, prior to the raing, the track had dried out and he'd burned up his tire, so there was little tread when the rain began to rain heavily on the 15th lap. The race was stopped on the 21st, with scoring reverting to the 20th. Hayden had mixed feelings about the race being called official, despite finishing second, his best of the year.
“Well, when I came back in I wasn’t sure when I seen the red flag if the race was over,” he said. “Part of me thought it wouldn’t be over. And when I came in and seen my team…normal circumstances we would’ve lined back because they were one lap short of what they needed to be to be able to call it a race. So, I just, part of me assumed that they would kind of clear out and we would re-start.
“And, I mean not going to say ifs and buts, but yeah, I’m a racer and I felt really good when the track was wet. And the big thing is if we could work on the bike. As long as we could change tires, in my home race, I ain’t got nothing to lose. Part of me wanted to say, hey, let’s tee it back up and try again. I went to Indy to try to win, not just get on the podium. That’s not who I am.
“But looking back, they couldn’t restart it. For one, all the air fence blew over and not just blew over, it tore up a lot of the air fence. So that was in the middle of the track and all the debris and the wind. Yeah, was too dangerous.. They certainly made the right call. But part of me, man, I felt really good. Early in the wet, wet, wet. I thought, yeah, let’s try again, man, I got nothing to lose, I wanted to see that eight lap dash for cash. I got nothing to lose. Let’s roll the dice. Let’s see what happened.”
Overall, Hayden said that for a first time race run in a hurricane, the weekend was a success.
“I thought the track actually, sure we could do some better drainage and a few things,” he said. “But first year, I thought it was awesome, really. I mean 90000 fans first year come out in basically what was a hurricane. That part of the world waited a long time for MotoGP.
“I think also Indy and Red Bull and all the people who worked to make it happen did a good job. I think it’s only going to get bigger and better. I’ve been in Indy doing a few things. Like all the locals who are just townspeople who don’t know anything about motorcycles all seem to be blown away. Also the fact that we raced in the rain. Everybody around town can’t believe it. They didn’t know. They're used to everything else that runs at the Speedway, a couple of rain drops they just shut it down.”