Nicky Hayden was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, checking out the newly repaved infield section on the historic American track. Testing the track on a Ducati Superbike 1198SP, Hayden took a number of laps before giving the nod that he approved of the refurbishment (the FIM also gave their nod on Indy’s work on July 7th). The repaving of the infield portion of the circuit, Turn 5 through Turn 16, comes as a response from riders’ complaints from last year.
With several varieties of pavement, a bevy of bumps, and some poorly placed drainage components, the Indianapolis GP has been a low-point on the MotoGP calendar for most of the MotoGP paddock the past few years, despite being held at an otherwise top-rate and historic venue. With Dorna likely pressuring Indianapolis into making alterations, the track probably faced compulsion to make changes to its infield, especially with the Circuit of Americas track currently being built in Austin.
Talk in the MotoGP paddock is that the Austin GP is now being aimed as less of a replacement for the Indianapolis GP, and instead will be a third stop in America for MotoGP, as Dorna wants to expand the premier class’s presence in the USA. With the 2011 Indianapolis GP just two and a half weeks away, all the GP riders will soon get to see the improvements at Indy, until then they’ll just have to take Nicky Hayden’s word on it. A brief Q&A with the Kentucky Kid and video of his laps and thoughts are after the jump.
Q: Now that you’ve experienced the new IMS MotoGP road course surface, what do you think?
NICKY HAYDEN: The new surface is just what I expected, it’s pretty much perfect. There are a couple corners that the riders requested to be redone and IMS went above and beyond, and actually the whole infield from Turn 5 to the finish is repaved, so I’m looking forward to getting back here on the race bike and laying some rubber down and cleaning up the racing line and trying it out.
Q: Will this increase competition or make it better for the riders, or both?
HAYDEN: I think it’s safer, for one. There was a lot of crashing in the Turn 6 area over those bumps and I think it’ll also make the racing better. It’s going to open up a few areas where before it was one line because you had to miss the bumps, and now I think it’ll make for better racing because there will be more places to pass. Just a more enjoyable, more fun track, so I know all the riders love Indy anyway and it’s only going to make it better.
Q: Is there anything unique about this track compared to others?
HAYDEN: A lot. I mean look at the place, look at the size of it. It’s pretty much the only track inside an oval like this. We race Motegi, which is part in an oval, but part outside. But definitely there’s a heritage and a little bit of hype about Indy, a bit of swag, and this place has been around a long time and did a lot of racing. For me, being from Kentucky, it’s the highlight of the year for me. I know a lot of guys really look forward to this one and it’s a special race.
Q: Being from Kentucky, how important is this event to you?
HAYDEN: They’re all important. The races in Italy are the team’s home races, and Laguna Seca, also being in California, is cool, but to race three hours from home is something I never expected when I came to MotoGP. At that time there wasn’t a race in America. The closest I got to home was Brazil, so I really cherish it. Every year I enjoy it more and more, and get more and more fans from home that have never really seen me race, or certainly never seen me race MotoGP. I get a lot of support. Owensboro is a great town that really gets behind their guys no matter what you’re doing, and there are going to be a lot of people here from Owensboro for the race.
Q: Ducati is kind of like the Ferrari of motorcycles. What’s it like racing for a team like Ducati?
HAYDEN: Like you say, Ferrari and Ducati kind of have that Italian swag, and it’s a very unique bike, it’s a very special bike with a lot of history. They just don’t produce thousands and thousands of bikes. It’s a small, small company that puts everything into their bikes and produce only road bikes, and I’ve learned a lot. The team is awesome. I mean, they love their bikes and love their team, and when you’re in Italy you feel it. Everybody, from the people at the grocery store to the guys at the gas station, they’re all behind you. This year hasn’t been an easy year for us, but we know our bike is good and sometimes it’s a little bit sharp, you get it outside that area that’s the sweet spot and it makes for a long day, but when you get it on the sweet spot you know it’s an absolute weapon. Hopefully when we come back here in three weeks we’ll have it dialed in. We race the Czech Republic next and then we have a big test after the race, which is going to be really important for us to hopefully find something and get us teed up for a big weekend at Indy.
Q: You’ve got a great teammate (multiple time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi). How important is a good teammate in this series?
HAYDEN: I think we’ve got a good team. We’re the only team with two world champions in it at the moment, so that’s pretty unique in its own way and we still get along good. Me and him, obviously we want to beat each other, he’s 16 points in front of me, I think, and it would be a big honor for me if I could beat him. He’s won 11 titles over there and has pretty much set the standard for the last decade. It’s been a different challenge for us because having an Italian world champion on the team has brought a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure, but the people there are still behind us, and of course they want results and want us winning, which we’re not doing at the moment, which makes it hard. I’ve learned a lot from him, and also that goes both ways. This bike has been new to him and he’s not above asking questions and wanting to know why, and I think right now the results haven’t shown, but I think next year it’s going to pay off when we come with the new rules and they go back to the thousand-ccs. I think having two strong teammates who are pushing in the same direction is going to be better instead of two guys wanting to go in different ways.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about how you as a rider can affect how your bike handles?
HAYDEN: The rider makes the biggest difference on a motorcycle, where in a car when you’re strapped in with a seat belt on there’s only so much you can do. On a motorcycle you have a lot more freedom to move around, use your body and different things to help make up for what the bike’s maybe not doing. You can’t ride a sled around here and think you’re going to get on the podium on it, but a good bike, good team, good rider is all pretty even. It’s not like you gotta have all three, but a rider can make that difference.
Source: Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Photo: © 2011 Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved