MotoGP Motegi recap: Nicky Hayden talks about his weekend

From dead last after running off the track with fellow American Spies on the first lap to 12th at the finish

Nicky Hayden

Nicky Hayden sat in the Ducati hospitality cabin in the Twin Ring Motegi paddock, transfixed by the replay of the epic battle between teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo over the last two laps of the Japanese Grand Prix.

The MotoGP race had been over for an hour and a half, but Hayden’s pain was still fresh. A tailwind and early braker sent Hayden off the track in Turn 5 on the second lap, with fellow Yank Ben Spies also running long. By the time Hayden got back on the track, he was so far behind the last rider he couldn’t even see him. Then began a long march to recover points. By the end of the 24-lap race, held in warm sunshine before a crowd of over 40,000, Hayden was 12th. Spies made it up to eighth.

“Yeah, has not been a good weekend for us from the first Friday practice,” Hayden said during his post-race media debrief. “Just got behind and never really caught up. Actually we made a couple changes for the race and the bike felt better the first lap and a half, the warm-up. And I felt, ‘Well, I’m going to be able to stay in with this second group. Down into Turn Five, I just got sucked in.”

Spies thought it might have been Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki) who’d braked early, but Hayden was hard pressed to single out any one rider.

“You know, it was just mayhem going in there,” Hayden said. “I really can’t say exactly what happened, because I didn’t initially brake that deep. I broke and then kinda had to get off the brakes to miss something and it was just one of them first lap deals. That’s actually the corner last year where Takahashi knocked me down, so it was just a racing deal.”

Hayden found the return from the gravel to the track perilous. First there was the deep gravel, then the wet grass. As Spies was getting back on the track they touched, with Hayden almost losing the front end. As he got to the edge of the track, he noticed about an eight-inch erosion gap between the ground and the curbing. “I just thought, ‘No way I can pull across that.’ So I followed it down and lost a lot of time. And then after that, was hard to get in a rhythm.

“First lap when you can’t see anybody in front of you it kind of takes the fun out of it.”

Having struggled all weekend, Hayden found himself on the fourth row in qualifying, which “didn’t help,” he said. “You start 11th you can expect that. I picked up one position. I was up to tenth.

“You know, it’s a bummer because, I felt like we could’ve recovered and had a decent race. I mean that fight for fifth, sixth. I think if I’d have got off the start with them, I could’ve run that pace.”

The result was especially bitter since Hayden had earned his first podium in support of teammate Casey Stoner’s first win of the season in Aragon, Spain two weeks earlier.

The good thing is that Hayden won’t have to wait long for redemption. The day after the race he was on a flight to Kuala Lumpur for the following Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang.

“We tested there in February and was not too bad,” he said. “But we find that when we come back for the race it’s always a lot different than when we test there for two weeks. Come back after the whole season, it’s different, so it’s only a week away, so try again.”