It’s probably too early to sound the alarm. But it’s understandable why a sense of bewilderment may have accompanied Nicky Hayden all the way back to Owensboro after the first two races of the 2017 World Superbike season last weekend at Phillip Island.
Hayden suffered through a disappointing opening event with the Ten Kate-run Honda factory team at the Island, finishing a distant 11th in Race One and crashing out of Race Two.
It may have been a stretch to expect Hayden could have competed for the podium. Ten Kate received its Honda CBR1000RR SP late, crimping development time. Hayden only had four days of testing before the season opener, and he admitted to frustration with teething issues with power delivery and engine mapping after a late January test at Portimao.
Those gremlins continued on race weekend at Phillip Island. Hayden was seventh overall in the first and third practice sessions, slipping to 12th in FP2. He started 11th in Race 1 after a tough Superpole 2 session.
In Race One, Hayden climbed to eighth before being swallowed on the straights by riders with superior power over the final three laps to finish 11th.
Hayden started 12th in Race Two and was battling for 10th when he lost the front end in Turn 10 on Lap 9, pushing to keep the pace.
It would be one thing if Hayden and Honda had one pressing problem with the bike that was resisting quick fixes, much like the recalcitrant front end in corners during his Ducati days in MotoGP.
But Hayden’s post-race quotes painted a different picture last weekend. You’ll never hear Nick Hayden toss his team or manufacturer under the Partridge Family bus, but the bewildering nature of his comments indicated the CBR1000RR has problems almost everywhere. At least it did at Phillip Island.
Setup changes helped Hayden in the corners during Race One, but his comments indicated he lacked power to stay with rivals on the straights.
After Race Two, Hayden said setup changes allowed for more aggressive corner entry, but the bike suffered on corner exit. He also said his bike was especially hard on tires in the second race. And this was from a guy who only made it to Lap 9 of a 22-lap race before the front end gave way.
Hayden stands 15th in points. There’s still nearly an entire season to go, but this isn’t the kind of preseason and opener Hayden envisioned. This was supposed to be the season he mounted a charge at the dominant British bloc of Jonny Rea, Tom Sykes, Chaz Davies and Alex Lowes at the front of the grid and on the podium.
Hayden and the team will be pushing hard to make up for Phillip Island at the next round in Thailand.