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Hayden Still Matters After Ducati Exit
by staff
Thursday, November 14, 2013
To a kid who once collected Bubba Shobert posters there are motorcycle manufacturers and then there's 'home'. Hayden is back home at Honda.
image by thanks, HRC

The numbers don't lie: Nicky Hayden's stint at Ducati wasn't bathed in red glory.

Hayden made 86 starts over five seasons with the Boys from Bologna, ending last Sunday at Valencia. He had zero victories. No poles. Three podium finishes, including none since 2010.

But the argument can be easily made that these last five years have increased Hayden's stature in the MotoGP paddock as much - if not more - than his early halcyon days at Honda from 2003-08, which included a world title in 2006.

Hayden leaped into MotoGP in 2003 on a factory bike with Valentino Rossi as his teammate, straight from winning an AMA Superbike title in 2002. He was competitive right away, as the tire-smoking, sliding races of the gilded age of 990s dovetailed perfectly with the style Hayden bred on flat tracks and 1000cc AMA Superbikes.

The numbers in his first four seasons at Repsol Honda - from 2003-06 - were impressive. Three victories, four poles, 20 podium finishes and one World Championship.

Hayden had to fight hard to hold off Rossi and an impetuous, fast rookie teammate in Dani Pedrosa to win the 2006 world title. Through it all Hayden remained a top finisher even when he suffered a huge amount of clutch issues in '06 and rode through a season of mechanical and teammate induced body blows. While chasing Hayden, Rossi blew the World Championship by squandering the point lead when he fell at the season finale at Valencia, where Hayden put in a fast, composed ride to finish third and claim the championship.

The struggle continued in 2007 and 2008 as Hayden fought to remain relevant in the power structure at Repsol Honda and HRC, which was increasingly becoming dominated by Pedrosa and his puppet master manager Alberto Puig.

But that was nothing compared to the torture to come.

Hayden decided to blend the OWB with Italy by signing with Ducati starting with the 2009 season. He walked into a team that was dominated more by Casey Stoner than Repsol Honda ever was by Pedrosa, even if Hayden and Stoner got along better in the garage far better than the dry-ice relationship Hayden and Pedrosa shared after the 2006 season.

It seemed only Stoner could unlock the secrets of performance of the carbon-framed GP9, which debuted in Hayden's first season with the team. The lack of front-end feel and curious handling of the carbon frame was completely foreign to the alloy box-frame designs Hayden rode at Repsol Honda.

But Hayden never complained. He just put his head down and pounded out test lap after test lap, usually leading the lap totals at nearly every MotoGP test. He almost became the private lab rat of Ducati tech guru Filippo Preziosi and his crew, trying every combination possible to stabilize the chatter and lack of front-end feel of the bike.

That role became even more pronounced in 2011 when Rossi replaced Stoner at Ducati in what was supposed to be an Italian dream team. Rossi knew right away - reportedly telling friends from his first test on the Ducati in November 2010 at Valencia - that he made a mistake by leaving Yamaha because the Ducati was such a pig.

Rossi's objections to the carbon frame and demands for a switch to a more conventional alloy frame became louder and more public during the second half of 2011. Yet who kept quiet amid the journalists salivating over every word by Rossi? Who continued to test every Rube Goldberg setup Preziosi could throw at the cantankerous GP11 as the bike made an awkward transition in the second half of that season from an all-carbon frame to a hybrid chassis with carbon and aluminum parts?

Hayden.

Keep your mouth shut. Do your work. Smile. Be polite. If you don't have anything nice to say about something or someone, then don't say anything at all. Just as Rose and Earl taught him.

And Ducati's technical inner sanctum loved him for it.

Nick Hayden gave Ducati more than he ever got back. Now he is back on a Honda.
image by Marco Guidetti

There's a very Italian concept at the highest levels of motorsport that bikes or cars win races and riders and drivers lose them. That credo dogged Stoner after he earned a dominant World Championship in 2007, his second MotoGP season and first season on a factory team. It's why Ferrari Formula One drivers never criticized the car, especially when patriarch Enzo Ferrari was still alive.

Hayden obeyed that Italian golden rule - whether consciously or sub-consciously - until near the very end of his Ducati tenure this season. That loyalty, hard work and positive attitude has bred millions of fans for 69 worldwide. Those qualities also helped Hayden - after 11 seasons in the premier class and at age 32 - enjoy the luxury of sifting through MotoGP offers for "customer" bikes next season from Aspar and Forward and a World Superbike offer from Ducati before he decided to ride a Honda RCV1000R for the next two years for Aspar.

Not many 32-year-old riders without a win since 2006 and a podium since 2011 would have those choices. But maybe the numbers do lie, after all. The MotoGP paddock knows Nick Hayden is still a relevant force in Grand Prix motorcycle racing, a guy who gave Ducati far more than he received in return without regret.

ENDS

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