2006 MotoGP champ is relishing the new challenge of WSB
ormer MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden says winning the World Superbike title would be an incredible way of rounding off his racing career – but he knows he has a massive challenge ahead of him.
Not only will he have to get the most out of the outgunned Honda Fireblade, he’ll also have to adapt to a change of tyres, electronics, brake technology, team, crew chief and, last but not least, an entire paddock culture.
But he’s already shown promise and was fourth in the recent Jerez winter test when virtually all his main rivals were running in the same conditions.
So what are the Kentucky Kid’s expectations for the season ahead? He told MCN: “I have not set exact numbers to anything. Of course I want to be at the front. I hope having grown up on superbikes that the transition will be quick. As I told some people recently, I know I am not coming to the ‘senior tour’. These guys are, I’m sure, going to be very motivated to beat me.
“As an ex-MotoGP rider I am sure they are going to give me their best! I have had a chance to meet some of the guys already and it looks like a fun championship. The racing has always been great and I have always been a fan.”
Hayden says he is making the move to WSB on a two-year deal with Honda because he was running out of challenges and options in MotoGP. He said: “Once you have been there on a Repsol Honda and a Marlboro Ducati it is hard to go back. I would rather come here with the factory team and try something new, something exciting. I guess I went to Laguna for the WSB and looked around, liked what I saw, liked the racing and then started speaking with some different teams. Then I spoke with Honda and everything fell into place pretty easy, pretty quick.”
Despite lean years for Honda in the WSB standings – Jonathan Rea’s results were transformed when he quit Honda and joined Kawasaki – Hayden is confident that the move will pay off. He said: “I know they work good and that there’s a new bike coming in 2017. That is why I chose to go for a two-year deal.”
Hayden is also upbeat about having a new team and crew chief behind him. He told MCN: “We spoke about my own chief mechanic but they were pretty confident about what they had here, and it was better to come with a crew chief that knows the championship. To bring a rider and a crew chief who need to learn the championship, the tyres, the brakes, maybe is too much. It would have been nice to bring one mechanic who knows me but I trust in the team. They have a history in WSB, so I did not question them.”
The American isn’t underestimating the challenge of adapting from MotoGP prototypes to bikes which are essentially based on production machines. He said: “I can see there is a lot more movement and flex. I know where to brake on the back straight at Aragon on a MotoGP bike, but I can go much deeper with this because I am not going nearly as fast. But I do not want to make too many comparisons with MotoGP. I am a superbike rider now so I need to focus on that.”
And what about his chances of doing the MotoGP-WSB double? Hayden said: “I would be lying if I said I had not thought of that, it has a nice ring to it, but let’s be realistic. I have a long way to go before I get to be mouthing off about being the first guy to win both championships. It sounds great and it sounds great to me but it is also a long way off. Of course it is something really exciting. At 34 you need to find motivation and the thought of that is something that I find motivating.”
MotoGP into WSB does go
Hayden is following an often-gilded path of former top GP riders who have enjoyed a happy second career in WSB.
Former 250cc legend Max Biaggi has been the most outright successful ‘born-again’ WSB rider, with two championships for Aprilia to add to his four 250cc crowns. Carlos Checa got his only world championship of any kind on a Ducati in WSB in 2011.
Sylvain Guintoli was another ex-MotoGP regular who made it to champion in WSB, as recently as 2014.
History men Raymond Roche (Ducati 1990) and John Kocinski (Honda 1997) won WSB titles after their full-on GP careers.
The list of other full-time WSB riders to win races, after being 500cc/MotoGP race winners, includes Alex Barros, Pierfrancesco Chili, Marco Melandri, Garry McCoy, Regis Laconi and Marco Lucchinelli.
Other top GP runners to have ‘come over’ and not quite replicated those standards include Tady Okada, Hiroshi Aoyama, the late Norick Abe, Alessandro Gramigni, Randy De Puniet, Haruchika Aoki and Nico Terol.
The most significant WSB statistic of all for Hayden to cling to is that in recent times four of the last six world championships have gone to riders who could fairly be described as regular MotoGP campaigners. All of who - by no coincidence - arrived with bags of 1000cc four-stroke and electronics experience. Unlike Nicky, none of them had the biggest FIM prize of all rattling around in their trophy cabinets before changing codes.
Words: Gordon Ritchie Photos: Gold and Goose