Nicky Hayden: “Nobody Has Lost Hope”

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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway played host to a teleconference with both Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards this week, allowing Asphalt & Rubber and a select group of journalists to get a preview of the riders’ thoughts before the Indianapolis GP kicks off in earnest this Friday. The only MotoGP rider so far to preview the resurfaced infield at The Brickyard, among other things Hayden gave journalists his thoughts on the new pavement, where he stands in the Championship, and esprit de corps inside Ducati.

What caught our ear listening to the teleconference was that despite all the frustrations he’s had this year, and his noticeable changes in demeanor during press scrums after particularly discouraging sessions, Hayden remains forever the up-beat optimist in the MotoGP paddock. Talking about the level of commitment and the attitude inside Ducati Corse, Hayden said “I told Fillipo (Preziosi) that after the last test, I’ve been impressed with his team and how all the guys have just kept their head down and kept working,”

“Those guys, they get there early and stay late. Some of the engineers I spoke to back at the factory, they’re all on board,” Hayden continued. “I’ve got to believe that hard work and that good attitude is going to pay off in the long run. It normally always does, and I hope this is no different.” Read the rest of the teleconference after the jump.

MODERATOR: There are two American races, Laguna Seca and Indianapolis. But you’ve made no secret whatsoever that this is your home race, with Indianapolis only being a couple of hours from your home in Owensboro. Talk about your anticipation for this race and how your buildup for getting ready for this event is different than either Laguna or any other race on the MotoGP schedule.

NICKY HAYDEN: This is definitely my home race. Laguna is great, and it’s cool to be in America. Indy, I just cross the state line, and I’m there. It’s really like racing in my back yard. It’s a track I like. I love the atmosphere there. It’s the Brickyard. It’s got a special mystique about it. A lot of racing has went on over the years there. Looking forward to trying to have a good weekend. It’s not exactly been an easy season for us, by any means. But as far as a buildup for this race, it’s not like I can really say we’re doing a whole lot different than any other weekend because we always to do the maximum. It is nice not to get the passport out and spend a day flying somewhere around the world. Just to jump in the car and head that way is pretty sweet.

MODERATOR: You’ve had two podium finishes here, on two different bikes. The first year was on a Honda and in ’09 on a Ducati. What about this circuit suits your style so well?

HAYDEN: That first year was really big for me. I actually had broken my foot in the X Games and had missed the two races before, at the Czech Republic and in Italy at Misano. I really went to Indy up against it. Was still on crutches. Was pretty quick all weekend. In the race, I got the lead for a while and ended up getting second. But I’m still a little bitter about that race because I led for a bit and had a good pace. But I probably had a little too soft of a rain tire on that day because our bike was working really good. We were going good until it started to rain again, and I had no tire left. The track had dried off. We burned up our rain tire, and it started raining again. Obviously, the winds moved in, and they had to pull the plug. The second year there on the Ducati I got third. Pretty distant third. I had Dovizioso kind of breathing on me late, and it wasn’t a gimme. Last year actually I qualified on the front row, but in the race I lost a knee slider. And in our sport, no knee slider on the left-hand side at a left-hand track makes for a long time. I’m looking forward to trying the new surface. It will be a little bit different this year, but it will be better. I know all the riders are excited about it.

Q: Are you sticking with the GP11.1 from here on out?

HAYDEN: Yeah, that’s the plan. We had a test after the last race in Czecho, and I had a full day on the new GP11.1. And it took me a couple of runs to make a few adjustments and get a feel for it, but we got down pretty much straightaway to the lap times I was doing with the GP11. Steadily got a little bit quicker as the day went on and got pretty consistent. We didn’t break any track records or nothing, unfortunately. But I left with a good, positive feeling about it. Looking forward to getting my first chance to race it at Indy. I think the new gearbox will definitely help coming on to that front straightaway with acceleration. I really have to thank Ducati and my team because they worked hard. This whole new GP11.1 was talked about. I didn’t know when they would enough parts to make it available for me. From here on out, barring any unforeseen problems, we’ll have enough bikes and enough parts to have two of them for each race. I’m grateful for it and want to repay them with some results.

Q: Where are you with engines?

HAYDEN: I’m right on that fine line, especially switching over now. We had discussed trying the GP11.1, we talked about it in Laguna. I did one day with it there. But really wasn’t a lot faster, and I only had one bike at the time. With the engine situation, I kind of needed to finish it up running the full distance with the engines I had because this year we’re limited to the amount of engines we could use. Being that I used it all weekend in Brno, you never know with engines, but we should just be able to make it without starting from pit road.

Q: There were three fatalities suffered in races in an eight-day stretch, two of them here in Indianapolis – one at the Fairgrounds and one at the Motor Speedway – last year at this time. The common thing is that all of these guys fell and were hit by trailing riders. Is that one of a rider’s greatest fears?

HAYDEN: Well, obviously, that is the ultimate price. Definitely last year was something we talked about in the Riders Safety Commission: What’s the best way to do when you are stuck in the middle of the track, and there is a big group. Especially for young riders, the first thing they want to is run across the track, get off the track. Sometimes that’s not the best way. We know that’s the price of racing and doing what you love to do, but it’s unfortunate when it happens.

Q: It’s one of those hazards of your sport, no matter how good the riders, the training, the procedures and the equipment, it can just happen.

HAYDEN: Well, it can happen in our sport, and it can happen in life. You can’t live in a shell. You’ve got to make the most of every day. Check in when you check out. When it’s your time, it’s your time. So try to enjoy every day and make the most of it.

Q: How old were you when you started racing, and is it true that you were so small that you had to start in the back of the pack so you could have an adult hold your bike upright?

HAYDEN: Yeah, I started when I was young, 3. I loved it, fell in love, and I’ve loved motorcycles ever since. It’s given me a great life. I’ve got to see the world. I was out riding today at our house with my brothers and a couple of friends. To me, riding motorcycles is one of the great treats in life.

Q: And the risks never made you second-guess?

HAYDEN: No, I’ve never second-guessed. This is what I do, what I love to do. I’ve lost friends on motorcycles and lost other people in all other kinds of strange accidents. It’s life.

Q: You’ve kind of had an interesting opportunity, at least twice over the last four years, of being able to get on the IMS surface prior to the other racers arriving. Has anybody ever given you grief about it in the paddock, and does it give you any advantage? I know you’re on a production bike.

HAYDEN: The first year I got to ride the Indian around there, which really was one of my favorite moments from the Brickyard. Not really. It’s more for sure. If I could go there now and test with my race bike and my race team, it would be a nice advantage. Going there on a street bike, it was a nice 1198SP Ducati gave me. I had fun riding around, riding some wheelies. But it wasn’t like a real test. It was more for show. Rode around with some onboard cameras on my bike, talked with some local press about what was going on. I can’t say it was any big advantage. Nobody ever gives me grief. Racers know it’s not something that’s actually going to help. It’s common for riders at their home country, before they race, go there and make some PR or something. A grand opening of a track or do something to generate some interest in their country or their area. I’m looking forward to it, though. The surface on a street bike seemed perfect, so I hope that’s how it feels on a GP bike. The track should get better and better as the weekend goes on, and it gets cleaned up. I’m sure the lap times are going to improve. It should make for better racing here than in the past. I know all the riders were really pumped to see Indy repave it. We asked for a couple of corners that were getting bad, and Indy went and stepped up, way up, and had repaved from basically Turn 4 to the finish line. So it’s going to be good.

Q: With the new tire allocation from Bridgestone, you probably won’t be needing those super-softs in the morning at Indy. How’s that working out for you?

HAYDEN: We’ve only done one race with the new tire rules, and it’s very, very small. It sounds bigger than it really is. The front tire deal, Indy we don’t expect to be too cold, so I don’t even see that being an issue. On the rear, it’s really small. We can choose one extra-soft or one extra-hard. But the actual amount of tires we have is the same. But it’s a better way. It’s something we wanted, and Bridgestone listened. But it’s not something that we have to plan a different way or we have to build up. We’re not having to test extra tires or anything like that. It doesn’t change much.

Q: You turned 30 this year, a couple of weeks ago. GP riders who are in their mid-30s or past are pretty rare. Have you given any thought to what you would like to do career-wise post-racing?

HAYDEN: Not a lot. I probably should say I’m preparing this, preparing that, but I’m fully committed to MotoGP. I’ve got another year on my contract with Ducati. Really, I don’t know what’s next for me. I love what I do now. It would be more fun if I was closer to the front. But I don’t know what’s next. I hope it’s something that involves motorcycles, but I’m not planning that far out yet.

Q: Do you anticipate racing, if you were to end your GP career, would you anticipate doing any other type of racing on motorcycles to close out your career?

HAYDEN: It’s real possible. I love motorcycles and racing. If I’m healthy, dirt track, I’ve still got a few little things left unfinished there I’d like another crack at. There’s worse jobs in the world than riding a motorcycle. Hopefully I don’t have to go get a 9 to 5, but definitely it’s possible.

MODERATOR: There’s been a lot of talk about the development of the Ducati GP11 and 11.1 and where the team may be headed in the future with bike design. You’ve had a unique perspective in that this is your third year on a Ducati with its all-carbon fiber chassis, but you spent the first six years of your career on a more traditional, two-part frame with the aluminum trellis. How difficult is it to make that transition, like Valentino is this year? How tough was it for you when you switched from Honda to Ducati?

HAYDEN: It’s definitely a different bike. All of the Japanese bikes kind of have more of a similar feel and similar DNA. Where the Ducati, it’s its own bike, it’s its own brand. Sometimes that’s awesome. When you have the Ducati working well, it’s an absolute weapon. But we went to spec tires, which I don’t think has helped the Ducati situation. When they had more tire options, a higher-level tire, it was probably better for our bike and that chassis. It has its advantages. In the rain, I would say we have the best bike. But it’s more than just chassis. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it. It’s electronics, engine, it all has to come together to make a good bike. We’re learning a lot at Ducati this year. I’m definitely kicking around ideas for the future. We haven’t got the results we have hoped for. I think the bike certainly is capable of more. Still a lot of racing left to go this year, so hopefully we can put up some results that the bike deserves.

Q: Indy has more than its fair share of stop-and-go corners. A little bit of point and squirt. Looking forward to next year and maybe the extra oomph that you guys might get out of the 1000 and whatever formula Ducati comes up with, do you see that bike helping you out a bit or maybe even creating a bit of sideways excitement?

HAYDEN: Yeah, I think the new rules are going to be a lot better for the riders, the fans. I think it’s going to be a lot better show. It might not be quite back to the old days, say seven, eight years ago when the electronics wasn’t so developed as far as making the bike look loose. Now they look more tame. From outside from a distance and watching on TV, it looks easy. But a lot of things look easy from the couch watching on TV. But I think the new rules are perfect. I hope it suits my style better. I’ve already had the chance to ride the new Ducati, next year’s bike. We haven’t been on the same track at the same time with our competitors, so we don’t know exactly where we stand, but we’ve gotten a good start. The bike’s got some good stuff about it. I’m looking forward to next year a lot.

Q: I know you can get the 800 sideways at Indy, I think it was Turns 10 and 11. Maybe have a little bit more of that opportunity in a controlled fashion?

HAYDEN: In the 800s, I probably wasn’t going real fast when I had it sideways. It probably looked cool for a couple of corners. But with these bikes, if you want truly want to be going real fast, you need to be riding them in line, hooked up and really flowing. So hopefully I’m not doing too much sideways, getting too squirrelly until maybe after the race, or something. But in the future, hopefully with the new bikes that comes back into play because that’s a card I feel like I, my background as a dirt-tracker, I have a good feel for a bike moving around. But that’s down the road.

Q: Can you comment on what the spirits are like inside the team? Are you seeing solutions for this year and next, or is it still a struggle and a grind?

HAYDEN: I would say the atmosphere around there is, I’ve been impressed. Nobody has lost hope. Nobody is complaining, pointing fingers. Really, everybody’s just working to try and make it better, especially on my side of the team. They’ve worked like dogs to build new bikes, come in and give us more options. Everybody at Ducati, they don’t like losing, either. It’s how it goes sometimes. I’ve learned a lot. You learn more about people when they are struggling than when they’re on top. It’s easy to smile and say all the right things when you’re doing good and everything is rosy, but that’s not exactly been the case for us this year. I told Fillipo (Preziosi) that after the last test. I’ve been impressed with his team and how all the guys have just kept their head down and kept working. Those guys, they get there early and stay late. Some of the engineers I spoke to back at the factory, they’re all on board. I’ve got to believe that hard work and that good attitude is going to pay off in the long run. It normally always does, and I hope this is no different.

Q: With everything that has happened this year, are you more confident or less confident going into the 2012 season?

HAYDEN: Until we really get on those bikes and really start testing them, we don’t know what to expect. I’m excited. Uncertainty sometimes is exciting. I’m looking forward to it a lot. I think everybody is. It’s just a new bike; it’s a new fresh start. More power. Any rider, we like going fast. We like to be able to control the bike with the throttle and have that in our hand. I’m very much looking forward to it.

Q: Casey Stoner is having a great year. He has won six races, but he’s also what’s acknowledged to be on the best bike. Jorge is staying with him on the Yamaha. Who has impressed you the most this year?

HAYDEN: That’s tough to say. Casey is leading the championship. I’m not surprised. I’ve always known Casey has the talent. But also that gives me motivation. I just watched the Indy race a couple of days ago, and last year at Indy, I outqualified him and was in front of him in the race until my knee plug came off and still led him for a few laps. I’ve got to find hope in that. The level is high. All of the guys are extremely quick. At the right time, they all impress you. You catch a guy doing something and think, “Wow, they’re all that good.” Simoncelli, I would say from the step he made from last year to this year as far just having the speed. Yeah, he’s made some mistakes and whatever, but he’s been impressive as the guy to make that big of a step in a season as far as outright speed. And even Dani. Now that he’s come back from injury like he always does and proves how strong he is, especially from his last injury, that had to be a big blow for him. This was a year he was expected to fight for the title. But he came back from that and doesn’t look like he lost any speed. That front group, Stoner, Pedrosa and Lorenzo, they’re the three guys on Sundays really setting the bar. They’re the guys doing it.

Q: A home race like this has got to be daunting and exciting and overwhelming. You’re four hours from home. What’s it like inside your head?

HAYDEN: They put a new bridge in, and it’s closer than four hours now. Cut down on drive time for everybody. It’s not hard to get up for any of these races. But certainly there’s something extra, a track you like, a home, you can’t really say you try any harder because you’ve got to try your hardest every week. But there is something. It’s fun. Your brothers, sisters, everybody is there. I’ve got more friends and family probably coming than any year we’ve been to Indy yet, by a long way. Just try to enjoy it and use it. The excitement and somewhat pressure, sometimes it can work in your favor. I remember the first time we went to Laguna after being in MotoGP a few years, my first-ever home GP, man, I felt a lot of pressure going into that race because I really didn’t know what to expect. Come home after it had been four or five years racing in America, and that worked out pretty good for me. A couple of other times, the big races have been good to me. So somehow I can turn it into a result on Sunday.

Q: New bridge. What are going to drive down? Pull something off the lot from your dad, or you finally going to let us see that new swag German car they gave you?

HAYDEN: I’m probably going to drive that new car. Hopefully I’m not driving. Hopefully Tom’s behind the wheel, and I’m riding shotgun. But AMG has been a great sponsor for us. I’m looking forward getting it out on the bike road and see what kind of time we can make.

Q: And for the record, you have no more passes left to give anyone, so stop asking, right?

HAYDEN: Yeah, they’re coming in pretty good. A guy asked us lunch today, wanted to know if I had a pocket full of them. I wish it was that easy, to get all of the paddock passes you want. But at some point, you’ve got to start telling people no. Most people understand. It’s part of it. It’s fun, though.

Source: Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Photo: © 2011 Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved