CW 5Q: Nicky Hayden, Honda World Superbike Racer

Former MotoGP world champion is on the fast track to recovery following knee surgery that forced him to miss last weekend’s Superprestigio indoor short-track race.

Nicky Hayden
“Some fans like MotoGP, some like watching production bikes,” said former MotoGP World Champion and current World Superbike racer Nicky Hayden. “We go to Thailand, a place that, at the moment, can’t get a MotoGP race. Superbikes are huge there. In the US, MotoGP goes down to Texas, and we go to California. America is big enough to hold two world-class road races during the year.”Cycle World

Nicky Hayden was looking forward to an injury-free off-season, without the subsequent surgery and related rehabilitation that is part and parcel for many professional athletes. That changed a month ago when the 35-year-old American twisted his left knee while flat tracking near Barcelona, Spain, in preparation for last weekend's Superprestigio Dirt Track invitational.

1. Let’s talk first about your knee. How did the surgery go and where are you in the rehabilitation process?

According to the doctor, everything went as planned and was successful. It’s now been about four weeks, and I’m trying to make it strong again. Thankfully, this was the first time I had to deal with an injury like this. I’m learning a lot about it. The first week was not so nice, but now I’m on my way.

When I first did it, the injury wasn’t so severe. I didn’t crash; I just twisted it. At first, I was like, “Nah, it feels okay.” It didn’t immediately balloon up or anything. But when I went to take a step, I could tell the knee wasn’t really stable. I went back to Barcelona, did an MRI, and the injury was pretty clear.

2. Were you disappointed to miss the Superprestigio?

The Superprestigio is something that I've always wanted to do but haven't set in stone during the year. I got to the end of the season, felt good, talked to Honda, was able to line up a bike, and thought this would be the year to do it. I was healthy, and I had the bike sorted out. It didn't work out, but that's how it goes.

The track looked really slippery, and you had to be smooth to go fast. There was no cushion, so you couldn’t be aggressive—you couldn’t really burn it into the corner. The guys who were able to keep their wheels in line and road race around there…that looked like the fast way to do it.

You can only do so much with an indoor short track. It would have been nice if they put a little banking on it or even dug up the top to create a little more spectacle. One nice thing is that the track didn’t require much maintenance, and the fans didn’t have to watch the water truck. They could just race, race, race.

Marc Marquez is very fast. The guy is certainly talented on any kind of two-wheel vehicle. To go in there and beat Brad Baker like that is not easy. Every year, Marc looks like it comes a little bit more natural. A lot of road racers got around the track fast, but they didn’t look natural. Marc looks like he’s got it pretty much down.

Nicky Hayden
Seen here earlier this year at Perris Raceway, Nicky Hayden still uses flat track as a training tool. The World Superbike race winner is a mile victory away from achieving the coveted “Grand Slam” of AMA motorcycle racing. Three-time AMA Superbike Champion Doug Chandler was the most recent rider to meet the criteria of winning a short track, a TT, a half mile, and a mile, as well as a road-race national.Cycle World

3. Do you know when you will be able to test the new Honda CBR1000RR?

We’re hoping for the end of January. That’s the plan. As of last week, the team was still waiting on bikes from Japan. At this moment, our hands are kind of tied. I’m not exactly sure what we’ll have or when we’ll have it. The first thing is to get the bikes prepped and on track.

4. In what areas would you like to see improvements?

If I had one wish, the first thing would be more torque at low rpm for better acceleration—more drive getting off the corners. That’s the area where we probably suffered the most. Last year, our chassis worked very well. You put in some more horsepower and, hopefully, more speed, and the chassis can sometimes become less stable. Let’s see when we get on track with it.

5. What’s your opinion of the new World Superbike race-two starting-grid procedure?

I like it. I really do. There was some talk in the safety commission. They were kicking around some ideas. Some people said, “Well, you like it because you finished fourth or fifth at a lot of places last year.” That’s true. I wish they would have done it a year earlier.

As a pure racing person, okay, maybe I don’t love it. But for the things that they’re trying to accomplish, I think it can create better racing. I know a lot of people don’t like it, but a lot of that is just the grumpy old guy at the hardware store who just wants to keep doing it the same way he’s done it for 50 years.

I think they accomplished a nice mix. It’s not a complete reversal of the grid. It’s really just guys moving back two rows. Chaz Davies won a lot of races last year starting fifth, sixth, and seventh place, anyway. So, it’s not like they’re taking you out of race two or the fans won’t see you.

It’s going to be unpredictable. I think it will create a different second race. Once the fans have watched race one, they don’t want see the same race again. While it doesn’t reward you for performance, that’s life. I don’t like paying taxes, but I have to pay them. It’s the same way in football: If you win the Superbowl, you pick last.

Hopefully, it will spice up things. It's different than MotoGP and, let's be honest, World Superbike needs some excitement. I think fans have gotten tired the last couple of years seeing the same factory guys winning. It's our job to raise up and match them, but I also think a little tweak in the rules could be positive. We'll see.