American MotoGP riders Nicky Hayden, Colin Edwards, and Ben Spies didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a race this past season. Factory Ducati rider Hayden finished closest to the top spot with a distant fifth in France, while Edwards rode his Forward Racing FTR/Kawasaki CRT machine to ninth at Catalunya. After spending most of the year on the sidelines recovering from injuries, Spies, also on a Ducati, announced his retirement from the sport last month.
On Tuesday in Valencia, Spain, Hayden and Edwards began the next chapters of their world-championship-winning careers. Hayden completed 76 laps of the 2.489-mile Cheste track on the Honda RCV1000R that he and his new Power Electronics Aspar teammate, Hiroshi Aoyama, will race next season. Hayden’s quickest lap was his last, a 1:32.576. Aoyama rode the same bike on Monday, posting a best lap of 1:33.020.
British journalist Neil Spalding described the customer Honda V-4 as “one of greatest technical gifts the sport has ever been given.” Ducati factory mechanic Mark Elder said the RCV-R “looks just like the other one,” referring to the factory RC213V that carried newly crowned MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez to this year’s title.
Honda has priced the RCV1000R at $1.6 million, which includes two machines and engine service. Honda claims 235 peak horsepower at 16,000 rpm. Metal valve springs are employed, as is a conventional gearbox; pneumatic valves and the $1 million “seamless” transmission is reserved for factory bikes. For the first year, no upgrades will be offered. Moto2 runner-up Scott Redding (Gresini Honda) and Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Team) will also race RCV-Rs.
From my vantage points in pit lane and trackside, I watched Hayden familiarize himself with the new machine. HRC personnel, including members of Casey Stoner’s former crew, were on-hand for support. Aspar mechanics worked methodically to change handlebar and footpeg positions to Hayden’s liking. I also witnessed a shock swap, possibly in response to Hayden’s motions that the bike wouldn’t turn the way he wanted. The Honda is supplied with Öhlins suspension and carbon front brakes with Nissin calipers.
Officially, Hayden is still under contract with Ducati. He was allowed to test the Honda, but the Kentucky native’s lips are zipped until the first day of January. After Tuesday’s test, however, Aspar Team published the following comments from Hayden:
“It was exciting to get to work with a new team and a new bike. This is a new project, and there is a long road ahead, but that’s what makes it so interesting. There is a lot to learn, and I need to build a relationship with the mechanics, but I am really happy with today for a first shakedown.
“The team has helped me a lot, and there were a lot of engineers around me all day. We can see how much work there is to do, but the base is solid. We couldn’t have had better conditions to ride in today. It would have been nice to finish with some stronger lap times, but overall, we’re happy.”
On Wednesday, Hayden completed 40 more laps, improving his time to 1:32.123. Aoyama cranked out 60 circuits of the track, posting a 1:32.530. Marquez topped the three-day IRTA test with a 1:30.287 on factory RC214V. Top speed for Marquez’s Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, on the final day was 203.135 mph. Hayden saw “just” 191.266 mph.
Edwards completed 21 laps on Tuesday afternoon. Yamaha’s answer to the RCV1000R, the Texan’s new machine is a hybrid: Yamaha engine, frame, and swingarm, the rest sourced by Forward Racing from the usual suppliers. Edwards had plenty to say after his first day on the new bike.
“When I came here a couple years ago, I said, ‘Do ya’ll want to build something or do you just want to put a bike on the grid?’ We’ve spent two years building infrastructure and team and getting everything right. Now, we just need the right unit.”
Edwards described the performance of the Yamaha inline-four as “awesome,” adding, “It’s so nice to be back on a Yamaha. Those guys know how to build an engine. It’s a freight train—it just pulls and pulls and pulls. Last couple of years, I’ve been so used to shifting gears and bashing my helmet against the windscreen; a little hiccup here or there upsets the chassis. With this thing, you shift gears and it pops a wheelie.”
The transmission itself is a big improvement from the gearbox Edwards had been using, as well. “This thing is like butter,” he said. “Barely any pressure on the lever—dink, dink, dink. If you go from a streetbike gearbox to a racebike gearbox, that’s what you get.”
Edwards wasn’t at ease with the Yamaha-modified Magneti Marelli software. “When you have an electronics setting that works, that you’ve spent all year developing, then you throw something else at it, it’s not comfortable,” he said. “For some reason, what we’ve worked with all year—what I like with cuts and taking the power away—we did not have that in the bike today. We’ve got to figure out where we were. It’s just a matter of putting the right numbers in the right boxes.”
Like Hayden, Edwards will be able to run as much as 24 liters of fuel; factory bikes will have 20 liters, one liter less than this past season. Yamaha factory technicians were present in the Forward Racing garage. “They’re putting a lot of time and effort into it,” Edwards said. “They want to see it succeed.”
Edwards tried both hard and soft rear Bridgestone tires. “We did hard front, soft rear in the beginning,” he said. “I don’t like that soft here. After nine or 10 laps, we put on the hard rear. We used one front the whole day.”
The team’s next test in Jerez, Spain, is scheduled for November 27-29. “The whole thing today was to just get a first impression,” Edwards said. “Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t throw it down the road. Get some feedback. One step at a time.”