MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO, ITALY, JAN 15 – Ducati’s Nicky Hayden faces the upcoming MotoGP season with a new teammate, a new bike, a few new bosses and sundry other enhancements, all of which arrive not a minute too soon.
That the past two years have been largely fruitless has been endlessly documented. The great Valentino Rossi/Ducati experiment produced little other than an aluminum perimeter frame, which should have been standard equipment from the start. Rossi was able to make it a reality, but the reality was that it made very little difference. The MotoGP Desmosedici still doesn’t steer well and nothing Rossi or Hayden did could change that.
Meanwhile, Yamaha was progressing and Honda seemed to be producing a new MotoGP chassis every few races. That wasn’t the case, of course, but they were clearly producing more, if not working harder, than Ducati. So for 2013 all the help Hayden is getting may not amount to much if Ducati can’t at least stop losing ground to the Japanese. Not helping the Ducati cause are the rider lineups. Casey Stoner’s early retirement paved the way, along with Dorna’s caving on the “rookie rule,” with allowing Marc Marquez onto the Repsol Honda team alongside Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa enjoyed his first fully healthy season in years and the results, especially the second half results, were his best ever. Over at Yamaha Lorenzo was a paragon of excellence, finishing on the podium in every race but two; in one he was knocked down and in another he crashed. And having his rival Rossi back, now as the “second” rider, will certainly motivate both of them. That Spaniards are filling three of the four most coveted MotoGP seats isn’t lost on Hayden.
“Yes, the Spanish are making it difficult on us,” Hayden said. “Especially last year between Lorenzo and Dani, they did a great championship, so think they’re pushing each other. Of course, what Dani did last year in the second half of the championship, we hope he don’t start the season with that same form, because he did a great job. And Lorenzo winning the championship, it’s definitely setting the bar for us. Even in the smaller classes the Spanish are really strong."
“As for Marquez, you know, I’m not a smart guy, you don’t need me to tell you it’s just a matter of time before he will be very competitive and could be Qatar because of the amount of talent he has," continued Hayden. "He’s in a good team, a good position. He certainly, I think, will be good for MotoGP. Of course, young talent, everybody’s excited to see what he’s going to do with Casey exiting. It’s important to bring in another star with that type of potential and see what he changes. Him, sure, coming from Moto2, when he’s on the track I look forward to watching him. We know he has a lot of talent. He’s very brave and we’ll see what he can get away with with MotoGP and how fast he’s going to be. I joked in Valencia that I thought maybe another year or two in Moto2 would be good, because we know it’s I would say from round one he is going to be a problem.”
Only if he stays on the bike and doesn’t run anyone over. Marquez has had more than his share of run-ins with other riders over the past two years, behavior which will be more harshly judged in the premier MotoGP class.
Hayden saw the departure of one Italian and the arrival of another in the Ducati MotoGP team. Andrea Dovizioso takes the seat of—replaces is too strong a term—Rossi. The expectations are far less, in one sense, and higher in another. With Audi coming in, as well as new management in Ducati Corse, results will be expected to improve. The MotoGP team also added a solid test rider in Michele Pirro, the recent San Carlo Honda Gresini CRT rider who will race as a wild card in at least three events. And they added what’s become known as the “Junior Team” of Ben Spies and Andrea Iannone.
“Well, Ben, I have a fine relationship with him,” Hayden said. “Him and my older brother (Tommy) were teammates for some years (at Yoshimura Suzuki) in America. So I can’t say I really know him well, but, of course, I know him and know his story and stuff.
“As for if his riding style works on a Ducati, I mean, every time a rider’s going to come to Ducati everybody in their head thinks, ‘Oh, his riding style will work or it won’t work because this, because that…,’ Hayden said. "We could come up with reasons why anybody will or anybody won’t. We’ll wait and see. Really to set up here, I’m not that smart to be able to tell everything. Of course, we know Ben has a big talent and last year for him was difficult. The mistakes and the bad luck and the championship he did with that bike didn’t show his real potential, so we know he belongs in MotoGP and personally I’m glad he stayed there for more following from America.
“And also I just feel like he belongs in MotoGP. It would be a shame for him not to be there. We want the best riders there. So we wait and see the results.”
With Audi the new owners of Ducati, Hayden was asked if his father, Earl, would be setting up an Audi dealership as a partner to 3rd Chance Auto Sales.
“And as for my dad and an Audi dealership, I’m not sure,” he said with a smile. “I’m not sure we’ve gotten that far yet. So maybe put them in touch and could be flagship in Owensboro. I’m sure Audi wants to be in Owensboro, Kentucky. That must be a big market for them.”