Roger Lee Hayden began his rookie season as a World Superbike racer with a punishing travel schedule. It began in January with a test in Australia, followed by another test in Portugal. Then it was back to Australia for the season-opener and back to Portugal, followed by Spain, Holland, Italy, and South Africa. Somewhere in between he spent some time at home in Owensboro before he moved to Italy, where he lived with Ben Spies at the Texan's Lake Como house. The week before Monza he flew to Jerez to hang out with his brother Nicky at the Spanish GP and a week later Nicky was hanging with him at Monza. He'd been to the Swiss Alps, where he tried to keep up with the hyper-fit Spies on a mountainous ride. He'd collected tens of thousands of frequent flyer points, a passport full of stamps, and incredible memories. And a grand total of two world championship points in seven races.
Yet when we caught up to Roger Lee in his rather modest trailer in the Miller Motorsports Park paddock, he was anything but down. He went into World Superbike eyes wide open. When he joined the family-run Team Pedercini Kawasaki team, after an unpleasant and unfruitful dalliance with a Belgian Moto2 team, he knew what to expect. The Italian team is run by former racer Lucio Pedercini. His father builds the engines, his mother does the cooking. They run on a shoestring budget and don't have the equipment or technology available to the other teams.
"He is in a tough situation," Spies said. "I know how difficult it was, and I was on a competitive bike. It's really hard for him to really show what he can do. The team's a great team. I know the team owner, he's a super nice guy, but it's under-budgeted and he's obviously not on the most competitive bike this year. It's a really tough year for him right now."
Still, Hayden usually finishes within a spot or two of the factory Kawasakis of Chris Vermeulen and Tom Sykes. And he feels he's in the right place.
"You're not going to get recognized racing in America, so I went to the Jerez GP to meet a bunch of people," Hayden said. "(I'm going) to the Barcelona GP because I'm in Europe, try to meet other people." And Hayden has to look to the future, because the recent past wasn't very pretty.
Although it's been difficult...
Although it's been difficult getting used to fighting for mid-pack placings, Hayden (95) is keeping his head up and riding hard, learning the tracks, the travel, and the culture of living in Europe.
Roger Lee Hayden moved to World Superbike after two unpleasant years in the U.S. The youngest of the Hayden brothers, Roger Lee came into the 2010 season healthy and ready to race. That wasn't the case in the two previous years.
Hayden was torpedoed in qualifying at the second race of '08 by an overzealous Superstock rider using the session for additional practice (no longer possible now with the dissolution of the AMA Superstock class). The damage was three fractures to his pelvis, a lower left lumbar broken in three places, and a left pinkie finger that was amputated at the first knuckle. He missed five races, and then suffered more injuries at Road Atlanta. He scored points in only four races.
And yet in some ways it was better than '09. When Daytona rolled around, Hayden curiously was nowhere to be seen. The Monster Kawasaki team released a statement stating he was on a "personal leave of absence." That set in motion the rumor mill, which spewed out any number of nefarious theories, none of which was ever confirmed. Whatever the reason, the resolution didn't come until early in April, forcing Hayden to miss the first two races. Tires were a critical issue in the '09 Daytona SportBike series, with most of the four-cylinder contingent complaining of grip issues. Before the season ended, Hayden knew Kawasaki wouldn't be back.
One of Roger Lee Hayden's...
One of Roger Lee Hayden's biggest obstacles is communicating with his Team Pedercini crew, who speak little English. "[You've got to] slow down with the communication and try to be more clear, more simple and a lot more thorough; those guys are there to help you and you've got to give them the right information," brother Nicky told him.
Hayden "was looking pretty much anywhere, because everybody knows rides were kind of slim pickins coming into this year. So I was looking into AMA, Moto2, and even World Superbike." Hayden's management had what he believed was a tentative deal to be part of the inaugural Moto2 class. They'd been given a verbal commitment on Thanksgiving by Michael Bartholemy, who ran Kawasaki in its last years as a factory MotoGP team and was now managing the Belgian-owned Marc VDS Racing team. For the next few weeks they planned tests, and discussed the choice of chassis and technicians. "And then after two weeks went by, three weeks, hey, where's the letter of intent? Never came. Christmas comes, still no letter of intent. At this point I had told everybody I had gone Moto2, I had a verbal commitment." It was worthless. The team had signed Brit Scott Redding and Spaniard Hector Faubel.
"So six weeks later I figure out that ride didn't exist," Hayden said. "Then this opportunity was kinda...I wouldn't say, I really didn't have no other choice, but at the same time I'm glad I did it." Without prompting, he adds, "It's not like I'm miserable or hating life. I'm having a lot of fun doing the World Superbike thing. It's not that I'm discouraged, it's just I'm not doubting myself. I'm just pushing. I want to be on a factory bike. That's my goal now."
Roger Lee certainly hasn't...
Roger Lee certainly hasn't suffered from a shortage of counsel-or ball-busting-in his corner. Here on the Monza start grid, MotoGP moonlighters included brother Nicky (left) and housemate Ben Spies (right). Roger Lee stayed at Spies' Italy home for a few months to avoid commuting back and forth to Owensboro.
"I know what it was like getting over there," said Nicky Hayden. Nicky was Valentino Rossi's Repsol Honda teammate in '03, his rookie season. "But I think he's got the right attitude. He's just going to parlay that into something better, catch somebody's eye along the way. Try [to] get onto something better next year. He realizes that's probably not going to put him on Haga's bike, or something like that. But get on a better support team, get on something that he can show his talents a little bit better. In the meantime learn the tracks, learn the life, learn the whole deal."
Roger Lee has embraced the lifestyle. Rather than commute to Kentucky, he spent a few months living with Spies and his mother, Mary, in Italy. Roger Lee made a perfect training partner and housemate for Ben, while Mary was in charge of logistics. Hayden would consider living with Spies again next year, depending on where his team is based. "I know last year when I talked to a few of the factory teams they like you to be based closer to them so you can come in for a meeting. So I guess I would have to play it by ear. But I wouldn't mind doing the same thing because I know how to kinda get around Lake Como a little bit."
Hayden had a valuable resource in Spies and he made good use of it. Spies had won the World Superbike title on his first try and knew what Roger Lee was in for. And Nicky provided input on common tracks. An early tip on Phillip Island kept him off the ground when Nicky warned him about the bumps in the first corner.
"At Phillip Island, first right-hander, and first day of the test two or three people crashed right in the beginning and I was easy through there," Roger Lee said. "Spies [gave me some advice on a few] corners, 'Hey, this corner's a lot faster than you think and you can make up a lot of time there.'"
Hayden rates the high-speed...
Hayden rates the high-speed pavement of Monza as his favorite circuit so far, although the lower-rung spec of his ZX-10R didn't enamor him to one aspect of the track: "I coulda did without the long straightaways."
"You know, it's kind of weird, picking up the tracks for me has kinda gone better than expected," he said. "At Monza, my fourth lap, I was already as quick as my teammate and that's his home track. I was the highest I was in any session in the first practice. South Africa, the same thing. But it's definitely hard. I could still do a better job. I study a lot of video, download the races from the year before and go over with my data guy where the people shifted last year, so I kinda know where to shift and what gears to be in. It's difficult, but it's going better than I expected on that front."
With his privateer machine...
With his privateer machine being down as much as 10 mph to the factory bikes, Hayden realizes he can only do the best with what he's got. "They don't have much money. It's low budget," said Hayden of the Pedercini team.
Yet no amount of advice and quick learning could make up for the simple fact that his motorcycle wasn't competitive. None of the Kawasakis were, and his was no exception. Despite running under WSBK rules, Hayden said it wasn't a match for the ZX-10R he raced in '08.
"The last Kawasaki Superbike was a lot better than this," he said. "I think Kawasaki USA had the best one around, I'm pretty sure. Maybe this year's factory is at that one's level, but last year I don't think it was the level that KMC had. And at the end of 2008, Hacking in some races was battling with the two Yosh boys. It was definitely a good bike and that team was fantastic."
At Miller, the evidence was clear. Hayden's fastest top speed of the weekend, 185.167 mph, was second slowest to his teammate Matteo Baiocco's 184.55 mph, and well down on the class leading 195.111 mph of double winner Max Biaggi's Aprilia.
Speed doesn't tell the whole story. The Althea Ducati of Carlos Checa was slower than Hayden's Kawasaki in the first race and the same speed in the second, yet Checa was streaming away before bike problems knocked him out.
"It's kinda weird. The things I was fighting with the first ZX-10R are the same things I'm fighting seven years later," Hayden said of the handling problems. "Heavy through the chicanes. Not a lot of front end feel."
On the all-important electronics side, Hayden said the team was without a dedicated data technician and that he didn't have the range of control of the better-funded teams. The top teams can adjust the electronics in infinite ways, in every gear in every corner. "For me, if I want to change something in second gear, it's second gear in every corner, not second gear in turn two or three. Getting power to the ground kind of thing. It's improving, actually."
What else is missing? "Engine stuff, parts for the engine. Dynos for the engine; people who live at the shop to make the engine faster. Electronics-big thing. Swingarms. The factory gave me a [shock] link beginning of the season." Roger Lee has a good relationship with the factory team. Chris Vermeulen's crew chief is Katsuaki "Katsu" Yanagawa, who was Tommy Hayden's crew chief at Yoshimura Suzuki.
The team is a rarity in the series, an Italian team that doesn't race Ducatis. "They don't have much money. It's low budget," he said. "It's nothing against the team, because the people are great. I mean, they're the nicest people. They're just racing enthusiasts. They love, love, love racing. They breathe it. Been doing it forever. It's a family team. Mom's the cook. Dad, two brothers. They just don't have a lot of money and racing isn't cheap, especially World Superbike. So that's the hardest part." Team Pedercini doesn't have a major sponsor, rather it's a mixture of small Italian firms. Most of the technical partners are also Italian. "They don't speak any English, well some people speak a little, some don't speak any," Hayden said.
To Nicky, that was a major problem that needed to be resolved.
"I know those guys don't speak great English and I've been through that, where you know how to transmit the information and the communication," he began, "because I could tell a few of those guys weren't understanding completely what he was saying. I was in the box and when he would go out I could see the look on their faces and they would be talking. And I don't exactly speak Italian yet, but I can pick up some words to know a bit what's going on.
"[You've got to] slow down with the communication and try to be more clear, more simple and a lot more thorough; those guys are there to help you and you've got to give them the right information. The years he was going to it at Kawi, he had such a good relationship with Dan (Fahie). Dan could read him more than anyone. Rog, sometimes he don't just blab like I will: You got to somehow get that information out of him. Dan was really good at that."
The World Superbike season starts and ends early. The Miller round, held on Memorial Day weekend, marked the halfway point on the calendar. On reflection, Hayden can't believe how quickly it's flown by "and for me picking up the pace like I have couldn't have come at a better time now, because people are starting to talk about next year and stuff." Hopeful that the second half of the season will bring more offers, and legitimate ones, Hayden said he would again consider Moto2 and the chance to spend the year living and racing with Nicky.
"Like the formula," he said. "I was always pretty fast on a 600 in America. My size is, I think, about right for a Moto2 bike. A hundred thirty-seven pounds is...a lot of those guys aren't much lighter than that, if any of them, except for (Toni) Elias.
"That series is so deep. I mean 27 guys the last race within a second. So I definitely have interest in that and if nothing comes along and the AMA teams come and I go back to the AMA, that's OK to me too. I just want to race motorcycles. I'd prefer to stay in Europe, but if I got to go back to America, I'm OK with that as long as I have a competitive bike next year. Just want to race."
Hayden To Ride Moto2 Wildcard at Indy MotoGP
In his surprise one-off wildcard Moto2 ride at the Red Bull Indy GP, Roger Lee Hayden will be riding for the Erion Honda team he last rode for in '03.
Photography: Henny Ray Ab...
Photography: Henny Ray Abrams
Roger Lee Hayden had to keep his involvement in the American Honda Moto2 project a secret for so long that once he was given the OK to talk he could barely contain himself.
Hayden was handpicked by the team's manager, Kevin Schwantz, to race in the first ever Moto2 event at the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix in August. "Yeah, I'm really excited," he said. "It's a big opportunity for me. I'm excited to be on a really competitive bike, and a good team. I feel very lucky. It's also for me a huge honor to have one of your racing heroes ask you to ride his bike."
Hayden will race on a Moriwaki chassis prepared by Erion Racing, the team he last rode for in '03. The August 27-29 race is on the final weekend of his five-week summer break from World Superbike.
Hayden said the Pedercini Kawasaki team "were really cool about it. They're happy to see me get an opportunity and it wasn't even a problem with them at all." Hayden initially didn't get too excited about it, having lost one Moto2 ride already, "so I just kinda waited it out, and when I finally signed the paper, I was really excited. Plus I've rode a lot on a 600 and that's where I did my best my whole career." Of Hayden's 14 AMA wins, 13 came on the Kawasaki ZX-6R.
The Moto2 field has been extremely competitive, which is something Hayden's aware of. He's watched the races, as well as a few practice sessions.
"It's such a stacked field. It's so competitive," he said. "If you're one second off you're back in 27th position. I kind of almost look at this as...I hate to put too much pressure on myself, but this is my one opportunity really to prove what I can do on a good bike."