xBhp catches up with 2006 MotoGP Champion and 2016 WSBK ‘Rookie’ Nicky Hayden.
Nicky spoke to us after the pre-season test held at Phillip Island and a few days before the first race of the season in Australia. This is the first season for him in WSBK on board a Honda CBR 1000RR with the Ten Kate team. Last year he was acknowledged as a MotoGP Legend as moved to the production bike series.
xBhp will also be present at Phillip Island this weekend to cover the WSBK race and catch up with Nicky and the rest of the gang there! Here’s what the Kentucky Kid had to say about 2016, WSBK and motorcycles!
xBhp: The move to World Superbike was it always a plan for you?
Nicky Hayden: I can’t say it’s always been a plan. It’s something I thought about and the bottom line is that I still like racing, still like riding these motorcycles and the last years in MotoGP with the Open Hondas was not fun. Well not ‘not fun’, but the results were not good and I wasn’t able to really have an opportunity to do something that really sounded like fun. So I thought go to WSBK and try to spark a little fun again and enjoy a fresh new challenge and try to enjoy the racing.
xBhp: You say that World Superbike is not a retirement plan at all. You come to the series ready to fight for top positions?
Nicky Hayden: Well of course I hope to be competitive here. I realize I have a lot to learn and these guys are specialists on these bikes, tyres. So I definitely have some stuff to learn, but yeah I believe that I can be competitive.
xBhp: What do you think about the tyres so far?
Nicky Hayden: You know I like the tyres. The grip is good with a bit more feeling. There is a bit more movement, more flex, but the actual grip is good. Phillips Island is where I had the chance to ride the bike in really hot conditions and overall the tyres are different. You got to understand them and get used to them.
xBhp: How about your teammate?
Nicky Hayden: Well Michael is a nice guy. I get along well with him. And definitely a fast guy. I already have seen his name and heard about how fast he was at Suzuka from some of my Japanese engineers. He has won there twice. I have always heard how quick he was and it’s clear that he has a big talent. I expect big things from Michael. I think he has a big future.
xBhp: WSBK will have some new circuits in the calendar for you. Is there one that you are particularly interested in?
Nicky Hayden: Well there is one. Laguna Seca. I guess it’s not exactly new to me. But it’s been a few years since I got to go to that one. So I look forward to going there. Next week in Thailand first time I race in that country. Going to new tracks aren’t easy but I enjoy going to new tracks and we will see how there are. Donington is also not a new track, but it’s been since 2008 or ‘09 that I have been there. That tracks got some fun corners so I look forward to going back to it.
xBhp: Rea dominated last year. Do you think he is the guy to beat this year?
Nicky Hayden: I’d say for the moment he has the number one plate. And until someone steps up and shows that he is ready to take it from him. I think he is the guy to beat. Now there are a lot of guys going quick so I haven’t really gotten out on track with a lot of guys and am yet to really know. But I don’t think they are going to hand it to him. But he is really strong and the little bit that I have seen him on track I have seen he rides in a very good way and is definitely a very good rider.
xBhp: WSBK has a new format for 2016, how do you see these changes.
Nicky Hayden: Well for me, it is hard to say. I don’t really know. On the one hand it gives me one less day to learn some new tracks and to learn some new settings. We have to now be ready to race on Saturday and we have very very short track time. I mean on the track we have two 50 minute sessions and then race. So that is going to be very tough, but on the other hand I think it will be useful to have one race and be able to really sit down study the data and sleep on it. But you know I will line up when they tell me to and I don’t think it really changes so much.
xBhp: Phillip Island has been a track you loved on a MotoGP bike, how different does it feel to ride a Superbike here.
Nicky Hayden: Well it is different, because definitely through the fast corners the change of direction 6, 7, 8 and 9. The bike moves a lot more, so it is hard to be as precise. So that’s different, but the weather is also very different for us. You know in MotoGP we come here in the cold and you really have to be careful in the right hand corners to keep the heat in the tyres. Where at the moment that doesn’t seem a big problem.
xBhp: In MotoGP you were spectacular on the qualifiers. Will we see more of the same in WSBK?
Nicky Hayden: Well I tried a qualifier in Jerez a bit, to get used to it and I must say that I really enjoyed riding with qualifiers. It is really intense and a lot of fun. This year we only get one qualifying tyre, so first thing I have to make sure that I am in the top ten, which won’t be easy for me. Like we said, this year with the schedule you only have Friday to get in there and these tyres definitely work better in cooler conditions. So a lot of those top tens are going to come on Friday mornings. And at tracks that I haven’t been to, it’s not going to be easy to jump into and get in the top ten. And then you only get one tyre for qualifying. Which is good for one lap and so it is going to put a lot of pressure on the rider. But I look forward to the qualifiers. If the bike is working good and you feel good then they can be really fun.
xBhp: Realistically where do you see yourself in the championship at the end of the first season, considering that you haven’t ridden at many of the circuits.
Nicky Hayden: I don’t have a number and I don’t want to open my mouth and say something. We will see how the first race goes and try to do the absolute maximum and learn as much as I can.
xBhp: Ten Kate has an illustrious history of racing at the top in this series. How are you getting along with your new team?
Nicky Hayden: I feel good with the team. Everybody speaks English and you know different team. Maybe a smaller team and maybe a little bit more different from what I came from. You know the Repsol, Marlboro days, but these guys all seem very committed. We don’t have the Marlboro money or the Repsol budget to just spend money, but I knew that going in. And there are of course some things that I would love to have. But the rider doesn’t get everything he wants, but they have done a good job to try to get me at least the stuff that they think I need. I need to learn with them and of course I would hope to get some results again for them like what they are used to.
xBhp: You have a lot of experience racing bikes at the top, while your teammate is relatively inexperienced, but he has a year of WSBK under his belt. Who has the most to learn this year between the two in 2016?
Nicky Hayden: Well I would say we are quite different. Like you say I am on one end and he is on the other end, but I only need to worry about what I have to learn and not too much for him. But I think different things, I would say what we need to learn is completely opposite.
xBhp: Do you believe that the competition is fiercer in MotoGP or WSBK? And how do you find the atmosphere in the paddock.
Nicky Hayden: I don’t want to make comparisons. I am here now and want to only think of World Superbike. As far as the competition, I haven’t even really lined up against anyone. So it is clear that these guys are fast, they are professionals, so it’s going to be tough. A lot of faces I know in the paddock. I know I give generic answers, but I guess if you ask me these questions after 4-5 races I can give you a better answer.
xBhp: WSBK was supposed to come to India in 2013, but that didn’t happen. Would you like to race at the Buddh International Circuit. Have you ever visited India?
Nicky Hayden: I have been to India yes. I think it is great to get out to new countries to show motorcycle racing and seeing the sport to expand. I went there for an event and it is clear that that part of the world loves motorcycles. And also Thailand, I am very excited to race there. I went there for some PR events and they are very passionate fans, it is incredible how much they know about us and I mean another race or two in America would also be nice. But for me going to new countries, new places is nice.
xBhp: Any message you want to give to your many fans in India.
Nicky Hayden: Thanks for the support and like I said I have been there before for a PR event and it is a good country and hopefully we can go there and race. Look forward to going back and spending more time.
xBhp: After so many years of racing you are on a Honda Superbike. How does the bike feel?
Nicky Hayden: I get along with the bike okay. When I first got running, of course there were a few laps in which things felt very strange. But I felt pretty comfortable straightaway. We didn’t have to change a lot as far as handlebars, foot pegs to get comfortable. We had to change a bit with the rear brake, I use a lot of rear brake and ask a lot off it. So we had to do some stuff to make it last a little longer and strengthen it up. And with the electronics I like a very direct throttle connection and we had to play with that. But I feel very comfortable with the bike.
xBhp: Casey Stoner or Valentino Rossi, which one of the two would you want on the WSBK grid?
Nicky Hayden: Well they are both incredible talents. But I think World Superbike would love to have Valentino, he is the biggest guy in racing in my career. Having him would increase the interest and would be great to see him on the grid and part of the paddock. Of course on race day I might not like him so much. But it would be fun and I have been teammates with him twice and have a good relationship with him. Gone to the ranch sometimes and do some riding. So it would be great to see him in this series and even Casey would draw a big interest. It would be interesting to watch both these guys on these bikes. But be careful what you wish for, because I know that they are both very fast. But at the same time it would be good to see.
xBhp: Riding a MotoGP bike can be rather hard on your wrist. Especially if you aren’t at 110% fitness. Do you find the WSBK bike softer to ride?
Nicky Hayden: Well the bike is softer and the braking is less intense. Overall it’s a softer bike, while MotoGP is very rigid. Straight away you are fighting a lot more to keep the front wheel down and to try to get through the gears. But as far as the wrist I am lucky to have those problems behind me now. It wasn’t a problem also last year in MotoGP.
xBhp: Any chance of Suzuka this year or maybe next year?
Nicky Hayden: You know we haven’t discussed that. At the moment my focus is on Phillip Island. I have enough going on at the moment. So we will see what happens.
xBhp: What keeps you motivated even after such a long racing career?
Nicky Hayden: I really love the racing. I thought about it and at the end of MotoGP I had to ask myself at 34 is it time to hang it up and go home, but I kept coming back to the same decision in my mind. That I want to keep racing and I know when I was going to Valencia for the last GP. It was clear to me how happy I was that I wasn’t in the last race and I just love motorcycles. My family has always done. My mom and dad both race, my sisters race. My brothers are both American Champions and that’s what I know. That’s what I enjoy doing. And as you get older it is not always easy but I am still very fortunate to get to do it. Let’s see.
xBhp: Regarding the bike, what did you miss or what would you like to improve.
Nicky Hayden: Getting off the corners, I think I need to improve that and getting more consistent with it.
xBhp: Did you have to change your riding style a lot for the CBR?
Nicky Hayden: For sure, for all bikes you change because you require a different riding style. You can’t go crazy thinking about riding style and thinking about this. You need to be able to have it. Because when you are doing 200 miles an hour, it has to be natural, if you think about it, it’s too late.
xBhp: Which would be the key elements to fighting for the top positions?
Nicky Hayden: I have to qualify well and be consistent. I have watched WSBK races. I have always been a fan. This winter I watched more races to understand things and it is clear that the guys who can go fast at the end of the race are the ones that get the best results.
Photos Courtesy: Honda WSBK