Two-time AMA Pro American SuperBike Champion Josh Hayes made his MotoGP debut in practice today at the Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo Circuit near Valencia, Spain. The 36-year-old Mississippi native posted the 15th- and 10th-quickest lap times—2.5 seconds slower than the top riders—in the two timed sessions, both of which were run in wet conditions, the second more so than the first. Newly crowned MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner recorded the quickest time of the day, a 1:45.513. His Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, was second. Ducati’s Valentino Rossi rounded out the top three.
When I spoke with Hayes, he was watching a tennis tournament on television in the Tech 3 Yamaha hospitality. Hayes is an avid tennis player and a fan of the sport. “I wish I could play,” he said. “That might take my mind off things. I’ve been a wreck all day. I’ve never been more nervous in my entire life.”
Riding the bike helped. When pit lane opened for afternoon practice, Hayes was first out of the gate. Moreover, much to the team’s surprise, he never pitted, spending every second of the 45-minute session becoming more familiar with the 14-turn, 2.489-mile circuit and the satellite YZR-M1 that he will race for the first time on Sunday.
Halfway through FP2, with rain pelting the track, nine-time world champ Rossi closed on Hayes and then overtook the American in Turn 6. “He followed me for a while,” recalled Hayes, “passed me and then ran off the track. When he passed me, I took the opportunity to try to see some of the things he was doing, where he was on the racetrack, how he was approaching some of the turns.
“Nicky [Hayden] came by, too, and I could see how comfortable he is. He’s at home. He’s on his own machine. It was refreshing to see that some of these guys do get comfortable and are able to ride their bikes really well. I’ve got to get there.”
Hayes, who ran as high as fifth in afternoon practice, knows he has a long way to go. “When I came back to the pit box after practice, eight people were looking at me, waiting for me to tell them something. It was really intimidating. I wanted to give them some information, but at the same time, I’m just trying to learn how to ride the thing. It’s more about what I can take in rather than what I can tell them.”
After practice, Hayes ran into former AMA competitor and newly crowned World Supersport Champion Chaz Davies, who said the 5-foot-9 Hayes “looked like a giant” on the Yamaha. Reality is, Hayes isn’t that big; the M1 is tiny. “It’s smaller than any 600 that I’ve ridden,” he said. “It’s about the length of a 600, but it’s unbelievably narrow.”
Hayes says the team has made him feel at home. “Guy, Andy—I don’t know everybody’s name—they’ve all been fantastic. This isn’t a ‘Look, man, just ride it and get it over with.’ But at the same time, this bike is as developed as it will ever be.
“I thought I’d be riding on a razor’s edge—everything is good and then you’re sliding on your head. So far, that hasn’t been the case. The bike has been forgiving, and the electronics work extremely well.”
If the rain continues, as is forecast for most of the weekend, Hayes may have to race on Sunday afternoon for the final race of the 800cc era without having tried either the Bridgestone slicks or Brembo carbon-carbon front brakes.
“That would be a nightmare,” said Hayes. “For five laps, I’m going to have no idea what to do. They’re going to ride off into the sunset.”