It really wasn’t supposed to end this way.
Nicky Hayden’s move to WSBK on the ten Kate Honda team was built around a push for the 2017 world championship, ideally ending with Hayden as champion and becoming the only rider in history to have won both the MotoGP and WSBK titles. A new CBR1000RR was built, homolgated and readied for this title run. For an American kid who grew up with a poster of Bubba Shobert’s Honda RS750 on his bedroom wall, this season was supposed to be like his 2006 season–a realization of a dream: Nicky Hayden on a Honda winning a world title.
Instead, the reality is that Nicky Hayden gets up nearly every morning knowing that his kid brother, Roger Lee, rides a much faster and assuredly higher spec Superbike in the MotoAmerica championship than Nick does in World Superbike. That has never before been the case.
You don’t need to be any kind of expert in reading body language to see that Nicky Hayden is massively disappointed and furious at the turn of events which have left him riding with off-kilter electronics, slow engines and even broken and unfixed frames this season. There have been slow Hondas before for Nick but this is new ground. Nicky Hayden coming into the garage with fist-sized dents in the fuel tank, or doing the ‘this thing is trying to kill me’ body language? The bike has to be really bad for the king of racetrack cool to lose his cool.
Hayden’s Honda CBR1000RR has on its fairing panels a swath of impressive decals from powerhouse energy drink maker Red Bull to simply the logo of Honda, which when used together usually mean a top shelf effort–wads of Red Bull cash and matching Honda support. However there is one decal that is glaringly and obviously absent: that of HRC.
There is basically zero HRC involvement in Hayden’s Superbike. While Ducati, Kawasaki and Yamaha support their WSBK teams with factory support, Honda’s team is run through long time WSBK partner ten Kate.
It’s been a strange season for Honda fans in 2017. In Formula One, the McLaren Honda team are even less competitive than Honda seems to be in WSBK. Events that would have never been tolerated if Mr Honda were alive to see them occur with regularity. But, then, Soichiro Honda has been dead for over twenty years now. It’s, with MotoGP as the great exception, not the same place any more.
So, what’s the plan now that the championship is out of the question without a direct meteor strike? It probably focuses on July at Laguna Seca. Having a bike fully capable of winning both of the American WSBK races would be a nice touch for the kid who probably still has his Bubba Shobert poster somewhere.