Jamie Hacking Never Had A Chance To Catch His Breath.
From the minute he was tabbed to replace John Hopkins on the Kawasaki ZX-RR MotoGP machine at the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix, to the finish of the AMA Superbike race on Sunday night, Hacking never slowed down. There was testing in Japan, rookie orientation, practice and qualifying for both AMA and MotoGP. And when it was over, after he'd finished a creditable 11th in his MotoGP debut and a tired fourth in the AMA Superbike race, Hacking was wistful about his career and hopeful for the future.
"It's too bad I'm not 25, but something could happen," he said days after the Laguna Seca GP experience ended. "It's just too bad I got started in the whole racing thing as late as I did and being so out of tune with everything at the beginning of my career. It took me so long to get to grips with everything and a lot of years went by that could have probably been spent doing something else. It's easy to say that I could have done that...the experience was great and those guys know that if there's any possibility of me riding the bike again that I'd love to do it."
Kawasaki's decision to put Hacking on the ZX-RR was met with widespread skepticism. First there was his age; at 37 he would be the oldest rider to make his premier class debut. With most of the field in their early 20s yet packing years of international experience, Hacking would be thrown to the wolves. He was the lone student when he sat down with race officials for rookie orientation. Mostly he learned about race procedures, when the pit entrance is open, where a rider can practice starts, nothing too difficult.
"They welcomed me into the series," he said. "It was very professional, very organized, something that we weren't accustomed to."
Unlike two years ago, when record heat scorched the hills outside of Monterey, this year's weather was unseasonably cool with morning temperatures in the 50s. The track was cold and the tires would take even longer to come in. The point was driven home early; his tires not quite up to operating temperature, Hacking ran into the gravel outside of turn two rather than risk a spill. "I was starting my fourth lap of warming up the tires, so I figured, OK, I can probably go now," he began, "but got a little warning that the tires weren't ready yet. It takes a little bit out of you as far as your confidence. I'm used to a tire that we can go hard right away on. Definitely, you get comfortable with the bike and you have a little slip like that, it knocks your confidence down just a little bit."
Hacking didn't want to make any mistakes. He was more concerned with being safe, bringing himself and the ZX-RR home in one piece, and contributing the sort of valuable feedback that Anthony West hasn't been able to provide.
Hacking tested the MotoGP machine at Kawasaki's Autopolis test track in Japan two weeks earlier. The test went well-so well, in fact, that Hacking set a new outright track lap record, taking 0.4 seconds off the previous mark held by longtime Kawasaki test rider Olivier Jacque. Hacking learned early on that "the harder you ride this thing the better it works. If you just tooled around on it, hit the bumps, it shakes its head off. It's stiff, it's angry. Just seems like the harder you ride it the more it reacts better, I think. So it's hard to ride at that pace all of the time. We try to ride that hard all the time on the Superbike, but realistically we can't do that. It's hard to hang on for that many laps. This thing here, once you get it dialed in and get comfortable on it, you're able to ride it that way."