Nicky Hayden started his MotoGP career with Honda back in 2003 and it appears the popular American will finish his premier class spell with the Japanese factory after it was confirmed today he will ride a new production RCV1000R machine next season.
The 2006 world champion has signed a deal to move to the Spanish-based Aspar squad after being released by Ducati at the end of a tough five-year stint with the struggling Italian brand.
Hayden had expected to be lining up next season on Aprilia’s ART 1000cc machine, only for a deal to collapse at the 11th hour when Ducati poached Aprilia boss Gigi Dall’Igna.
Dall’Igna’s shock move dented Aspar boss Jorge Martinez’s faith in the ART project and he quickly moved to tie down a deal with Honda to buy two of the new production bikes it will roll out next season.
MCN spoke exclusively to Hayden, who won Supersport and Superbike titles for Honda in America, on the eve of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island and he said he was delighted and honoured to be returning to Honda.
“It is true that I have always been a Honda guy and I’ve always had a great relationship with Honda US,“ said the 32-year-old.
“I grew up and everybody knows my idol was Bubba Shobert and I had some good results at Honda. Even in this time I was away I kept buying Honda dirt bikes because I like the company and they make good stuff.
"It is special to be going back, but also special that Honda wanted me to go back after five years.”
Hayden, who has scored just three podium finishes in his time with Ducati, said that he has total confidence that the new Honda production racer will be competitive.
The bike won’t have pneumatic valves or a seamless shift gearbox like the prototype RC213V but it can run a maximum of four litres more (24 litres) and will have access to the softer compound Bridgestone tyres.
Hayden said: “If each time a deal falls apart and you end up with a Honda out of it is not a bad deal and I think everything worked out for a reason.
"Aprilia have got great plans and I hope they can stay in this championship and be competitive because it would be nice to have another manufacturer battling to be at the front.
"But the Honda deal, the bike is ready and I just got to turn up and ride it in Valencia. And the chance of going back to Honda meant there were too many good things not to go with it.
"I’ve got to believe in the project and Honda definitely believes it can be competitive. It is a little bit of an unknown but I have confidence and a lot of belief in Honda.
"We know the bike will have a couple of limitations but I know the bike can be competitive.”
Although Hayden had never signed a contract with Aspar for an Aprilia ride, he had agreed a deal and told close family members that an ART was his next move before Dall’Igna’s bombshell decision.
He said: “I’d already told my sisters (laughs) I was riding for Aprilia because they don’t like reading it on the Internet. Nothing was signed but it looked very close to being that way. Things can change quick and here I am going back to Honda and I am happy about that.
"I was still open to the Aprilia thing and I wanted to see how much commitment they had. But it is great that people still believe in me and want to get behind me and while I’m 32 I don’t feel old. I still feel I can be competitive and I appreciate those that have stuck with me.”
For more from Hayden, see the October 23 issue of MCN.