In the weeks and months before the races, both Miller Motorsports Park and Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been organizing press conferences with leading names in the World Superbike and MotoGP series respectively. This week, it was the turn of Indy, and with the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi being called off unexpectedly, we had the chance to talk to Marlboro Ducati rider Nicky Hayden, moderated as ever by IMS' press chief Paul Kelly. During the teleconference, Hayden talks about how much more ridable the 2010 Ducati Desmosedici GP10 MotoGP bike is, how the revised tire allocation procedure has affected the team's buildup, and how he still aches to win a dirttrack mile. Here's what the Kentucky Kid had to say to a bunch of journalists:
HOST: Welcome, everyone, to another Red Bull Indianapolis GP teleconference. Our guest today is 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden. First, a brief introduction. Nicky is 28 years old, he is from Owensboro, Ky. As I said, he is the 2006 MotoGP World Champion, and he is in his eighth season in the premier class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing and in his second with the Ducati Team. Nicky started this season with a strong fourth-place finish at the Grand Prix of Qatar on April 11 and was looking forward to the Grand Prix of Japan this Sunday at Motegi before a volcano in Iceland that has a name I’m not even going to try and pronounce erupted, wreaking havoc on travel in Europe and forcing the postponement of that race until Oct. 3. Nicky has enjoyed strong runs in the first two Red Bull Indianapolis GP’s. He finished second in 2008 in the inaugural race and third last year. So there’s only one spot on the podium left for him to fill at IMS, and that’s the top one. So we sure hope he can do that at this year’s Red Bull Indianapolis GP, Sunday, Aug. 29. Nick, thanks for joining us today. We appreciate it.
HAYDEN: All right. Thanks for having me on.
HOST: You’ve been quick most of this preseason on the Ducati and had a fine first race at Qatar. What has been the biggest reason for your improvement on the bike this year compared to last year?
NICKY HAYDEN: Well, I would say it kind of started toward the end of last year, the middle of last year. We started to get some momentum going. I was faster than it really looked. We had some bad luck, some incidents, you know, where we didn’t finish some races that hurt us every time we tried to get momentum going. But, for sure, this winter the bike is a little bit different, and I just feel a lot more comfortable on it and also with the team. It’s the second year with the team after a long time on Honda’s. It was a big change last year. I certainly didn’t adapt the way I wanted to. But this year things seem to be going a lot better. The communication with the team is a lot better than it was last year. I feel comfortable. I like the bike. We’ve been quick testing, but we still got some areas we need to improve on. So we’ve got a lot of work to do.
DEAN ADAMS: You’ve got a week off. What are you going to do? An unexpected week off from work.
HAYDEN: Yeah, it was strange, you know. I’ve missed races rain, sleet or snow. About the only thing I can compare it to was Willow back in the AMA days when the 9-1-1 caused that race to get canceled. It was quite strange. But basically, you prepare for the trip and the race, and pretty much everything calculated out, and then you wake up Sunday morning and find out no race. So just regroup and basically just do the same thing I did last week. Try to take advantage of a week at home, an extra week at home, and get ready for Jerez.
GIORGIO ZORBAS: Obviously, you’re far more comfortable on the bike this year than you were last year. Can you possibly give us an idea of what it’s about? The engine delivery, the way it’s delivering the power to you, or maybe the rear swingarm, going back away from the carbon fiber, or what else would you say that is making you look so comfortable on the bike? Because you were looking awesome a couple of weeks ago?
HAYDEN: I would say the engine certainly is smoother. And on the bottom, it just gives you a bit better feel when you open the power and try to accelerate out of the corner. This engine, you got more connectability. You feel it better. But back to what I said a minute ago, I think a lot of it is just a second year on the bike and with the team. But the main thing for me, I need to go and be fast on a weekend that we show up on Friday and we don’t have, like Qatar, two days of testing. And also like Malaysia, when I was quick. We had already been there once in testing, and it wasn’t until the fourth day that I went quick. And that was one of my targets for this offseason was improve that. Really, I guess we’ll find out at Jerez if that’s the case.
ZORBAS: Do you think the differences in the bike will transfer across to the satellite Ducati teams, as well, and possibly see other guys, like Mika Kallio and the Pramac guys possibly getting better results, as well, this year?
HAYDEN: I think so. It’s hard for me to speak for anybody else. But I think we have a strong package. The chassis’ good. The engine’s good. We’ll wait to see, a little bit, what the engine rules, what happens three or four races down the road when engines start getting a lot of miles on them. That’s going to be one question that hasn’t been answered yet. But no, I think we’ve got a good bike and some good riders on the Ducati. I think Qatar, only two of us finished, I think. So I think the results will improve from that.
CHRIS JONNUM: This is a bit of a follow-up question from the previous one. But in Qatar, it looked like you were quite comfortable on the bike, and then we saw the unfamiliar spectacle of a Ducati being passed almost at will on the front straight by the Honda. Do you believe, A., that this may be partly due to the revised firing order that improved delivery, and if so, do you think Ducati can respond to that with more power while still surviving under the new engine restrictions, or regulations, with the limited number of engines?
HAYDEN: Well, the big thing is that we didn’t gain anything on top. It’s just a fact when you do that, you get more torque and more in the bottom. You have to lose a little somewhere. But the Honda is quick. All winter, everybody: “Ah, the Honda, what’s wrong, what’s wrong?” But it was certainly quick in a straight line. Compared to the Yamaha, I had more legs than him, but Dovi was strong. As far as development goes, the engines are pretty well sealed. Now it’s not like we’re going to be able to change a lot with the engines. But we’re always working on things with electronics, aerodynamics. There’s ways to try to get down the straightaway quicker. But to be fair, the last corner in Qatar, I wasn’t getting off the corner great. And I knew all weekend I kind of struggled there with the balance of the electronics, with the traction control, and wasn’t getting the power down. And I knew it was a problem. We’d seen it on the video, seen it on the data. But I didn’t realize it was such a problem until in the race. If I could go back and do something different, I certainly would change my transmission to try to get off that corner a lot better because that really killed me. If I could have did some stuff better there, I certainly would have been able to put up a better fight. But we try to learn from it.
JONNUM: Do you feel like it’s also partly down to different tracks and that the characteristics of your motor might be better suited to something more technical?
HAYDEN: Yeah. I think that was one race, at night, where the air is so different, where the climate is so different, being so dry. So I think we hold off on making any conclusions and get to some different tracks with different climate and see if it’s the case. But I know Ducati can see the problem. Even last year, I didn’t have great top speed. But I was normally too far back for anybody to see it. It was just me telling them. Now I think they see. And they have worked a lot with me this winter to try to improve my aerodynamics and with the bike, and to get some better top speed. And it has helped. But we still got some more work to go. But our engine, I think, should be very suited to a lot of tracks. I’m happy with the engine.
HOST: I’ve got a question for you about Indy. You’ve finished on the podium twice on different motorcycles, the Honda and the Ducati at IMS. What about the track or about the event suits you and suits your style so well?
HAYDEN: I do really like the track. It’s quite technical. Even though the guys have been there, being inside the oval is a little something that I grew up on as far as racing Daytona, Loudon, Colorado. Maybe that gives me a little bit of edge. I’m not sure. The first year was in the rain. Last year was in the dry; a couple people tipped over. That helped me a bit. I like the long left-handers. It’s very technical. One thing that we talked about is it’s kind of got different pavement. The new part is quite different than in the back, so it’s really a challenge for the riders and teams to make a compromise on something that works on all different parts of the track because it’s got everything. Hard braking, some tight, twisty bits, some pretty fast, flowing stuff, a little bit different pavement.
ZORBAS: How do you feel about Livio Suppo having left the team and you’ve got Vito as your new boss?
HAYDEN: Yeah, you know, Livio leaving was a big change and a big change for all of us. Sure, there’s things that he brought to the team that we miss, but Vito stepped in and did a great job so far. I’ve really been impressed with some of the things he did. I’ve been a supporter of his from the beginning. A lot of people thought it was going to be too much for the guy with no real experience in that position. No, I think we’ve got a good setup. We’ve got Alessandro taking care of all the media, and all the press and stuff, which especially in Italy, every day is a fight with those guys. Where Vito, he don’t have to worry about sponsors, marketing, nothing else. He can focus entirely on getting that team right and getting everybody in the right place. So far we’re off to a good start, and I think he’s a big asset to our team.
ZORBAS: How much data do you actually share with Casey? People obviously here that the Yamaha guys don’t share much data between the two of them, between Jorge and Vale. But between yourself and Casey, do you share much data or is it pretty much each man to himself?
HAYDEN: We share data and anything we want. To their credit, it’s open book around there. Even between Kallio’s crew chief to Barbera’s, they all work out of the same truck, and everybody’s playing for the same team around there, to try to beat the other manufacturers. There’s secrets, nothing like that … it’s all (lost Hayden’s line, Hayden returned)
HOST: Giorgio, you all set?
ZORBAS: Yeah, yeah. Nicky, you were just telling us about the sharing of data between yourself and Casey. That leads me up to my next question, which would be the way that Casey sets up the bike, do you find it helpful to yourself, or do you prefer to have your own settings?
HAYDEN: A little bit of both. Some things that works for him won’t work for me. But there’s other times where he’ll come across something that works, and it’ll work for me. You’ve got to row your own boat, to a degree. But with the limited amount of track time we have this year and last year, even, you use every bit of information you can get.
JONNUM: I know since you’ve been in the championship in 2003, there’s always been at least one other American, I believe. But it seems like in the past, the American riders have been at kind of different levels for different reasons. Whereas this year, you and Ben and Colin all seem to be at the same, very close on levels. I’m wondering how big of a deal it is to be top American that races in the championship. I know you got the best of those guys at Qatar.
HAYDEN: Ah, you know, a bit. But not really. But there’s a lot more going on than worrying about being the top American. Fortunately, this year top American, you’re not doing too bad. Everybody is going fast. But yeah, any rider who don’t admit to it is lying. Sure, on race day, you want to be top American, top Ducati, top everything. So, sure, I’m not wanting to get worked by any Americans or get worked by anybody else, for that matter.
DAVID EMMETT: Nicky, this whole situation with the Japanese Grand Prix being canceled due to the unpronounceable volcano continuing to spew ashes on and off, has that made you think of being located in the U.S. and living in the U.S.? Have you thought about coming over to stay in Europe for the period the circus is in Europe?
HAYDEN: Yeah. Once the season really gets rolling and we start having back-to-backs, sure, I’ll be staying in Europe like pretty much every other year. But after Qatar, it was just as easy to come back home. But yeah, once we get going and once Ducati starts and Marlboro sending me on PR trips and have to do some real work, then, sure, I won’t be coming home. But I’m not going to plan my life around a volcano, and that sort of thing.
EMMETT: Another question about the engines. You’ve got six engines to last you the year. I presume so far you’ve really only rolled out two in Qatar, one in eachof your bikes.
HAYDEN: Yeah, correct. One has one lap on it. The other one is … I don’t know. I haven’t worked the numbers, but it’s still got a long way to go before we get to put in a fresh one.
EMMETT: So you’re really going to work through your engines sort of sequentially, one at a time, rather than switching them in and out?
HAYDEN: No, not necessarily. The team has a plan for that. On some weekends, I’ll ride both bikes. But it so happened in Qatar, we had tested there; we pretty well had a pretty decent setup. And actually just had one bike working good, and I didn’t really ever roll the other one out except Sunday morning. I say Sunday morning – Sunday at about 8 o’clock at night – just to do a lap to make sure it ran good in case I needed to jump on it for anything. But no, we’ll be using, most tracks, be using both bikes a lot more frequent.
EMMETT: Because of this, will you actually be, or did you ride fewer laps that you would normally? Are you more careful about planning the number of laps that you’re riding, or are you going out, doing the work you need to do and get back again?
HAYDEN: For the opener, sure, it didn’t even cross my mind. I was only think about doing the maximum. But sure, as the season goes on, it might be something to look at. I normally always do a couple of extra laps, well, not to most guys, but I’m always on the high end. But sure, it will be something to look at, especially if weather is dodgy. Track is damp, patchy, whatever, where you’re not learning anything. Probably set that out. Won’t be doing any carrying on on no cool-down laps, clowning around. But for now, we’re just focusing on trying to get results.
EMMETT: Do you have any idea when you’ll be expecting engine upgrades? Will it mostly be just software and chassis bits that you’ll be getting?
HAYDEN: We haven’t talked about it. I know the test team is constantly working and going. But once the season starts, it’s not like a lot of stuff changes. Them bikes, they’ve got the parts made. Everything is there. It’s not like they can just start hacking out new parts here, especially for the engines. They can’t just fire in a new engine. It takes a long time to test reliability, to test it on dyno. A lot of their test work is already thinking about next year. But sure, they’re not sleeping over there.
ADAMS: Hey, Nick, let’s say they have to bail the entire MotoGP season because of the mad volcano in the unspeakable place. So what are your options then? Let’s say if you wanted to go racing, would it be going dirt-track racing here in the U.S., or would it be going dirt-track racing here in the U.S. And yes, this is an inside joke between Nick and I.
HAYDEN: Can I choose both?
ADAMS: Beautiful. But you were at Indy last year and saw the impact Roberts had there. What are your thoughts on will you ever go back and race dirt track?
HAYDEN: Indy, to be truthful, I skipped out before I got to see Kenny. I was looking at the watch, and I didn’t make it. But I’ve seen it on YouTube, and I’ve actually seen him ride that bike before, about 10 years ago at Del Mar. I got to see him do a couple of hot laps. But yeah, but it’s still on the radar. I don’t have a date picked or a race picked. When I go to dirt tracks, I still joke with some of the guys, you know, “Make sure I still got my number plates, save me a bike, this and that.” But it’s getting harder every year that I’m away. You don’t just show up and win a mile. It don’t work like that, as much as I hate to admit it. But it still eats at me, no doubt.
ADAMS: And all you need is a mile win to be in the Grand Slam club here in the U.S., right?
HAYDEN: Yeah, yeah. I have a couple of short tracks and TT’s, half-mile, I think plenty of Superbike races. But mile, I never got it, man. I led into (Turn) 3 at Del Mar and I led Springfield with a couple laps to go, but never did the deal.
ADAMS: Somewhat following up on that, the Marlboro ski event in northern Italy last winter, a lot of people expected guys like Casey Stoner or Felipe Massa or Alonso to win that shifter kart go-kart race held on the lake, on the ice. And it was the kid from Owensboro that won it, and won it by a big margin. Can you talk about that a little bit?
HAYDEN: You know, I expected them to win, too. Casey, he’s got karts in his garage, and the other guys train on it. But the track was slippery, on ice. And the year before, I only beat a couple of test drivers, so I wasn’t expecting to kill it like that. But I don’t know, I got a pretty good start, and I had to be so smooth working the throttle, smooth, smooth. Maybe they overdrove a bit and made some mistakes. I was pretty happy. It was a pretty cool event. This year was the 20th for Philip Morris and the whole Vroom deal, so they didn’t do no penny-pinching. They pretty well threw down and made for an awesome event. To win and beat those guys … Yeah, we were all just playing, but we’re all competitors. It don’t matter if we’re in horseshoes or something. We still want to win.
ADAMS: And after the win, you broke the hearts of those media car nerd guys by saying you had absolutely no interest in going car racing once your motorcycle career was over.
HAYDEN: I wouldn’t say no interest. I’ve unfortunately realized that I’m probably not going to be able to race motorcycles my whole life, and I’m going to want to do something. But at the moment, man, I’m committed to two wheels. But I wouldn’t say never on four wheels. Yeah, who knows? But in the meantime, I’m two wheels.
ADAMS: Have you ever raced a car, outside of the odd, informal rental car race?
HAYDEN: Oh, you’re going to love this story. The dirt track here in my town, every Halloween … that makes me sound like a complete hillbilly, but I guess I am one. They used to have what they call a Halloween 100, where you knock the windows out of junk cars, and they mud the track down, and it’s a 100-lap race. And I did that two years in a row. And believe it or not, my buddy actually even rode with me. You think he’s not crazy? So that was about the extent of my car-driving days.
HENNY RAY ABRAMS: We saw that Rossi ran out of gas on the cool-down lap, and he did that even though he had the slowest top speed. Did you finish with much gas in the tank?
HAYDEN: I finished with the right calculation. I probably couldn’t have did another half-lap, but they have it down to a complete science. The fuel consumption changes as the race goes on to make sure you get across the line. If it knows you’re not going to finish, it leans out. If it knows you’re ahead of schedule, it richens the bike and gives you power because they can’t ever control wheelspin, draft, things like that. So it calculates itself as the race goes on.
ABRAMS: Did you notice much difference as the race goes on? Was the bike getting any slower?
HAYDEN: No, no. The percent my bike changed was nothing, even. We were pretty good.
ABRAMS: I noticed Bridgestone has a different way of handing out tires this year. How’s that been?
HAYDEN: Well, it’s only been one race. The rears, we have two less rears. So the fronts is not a problem. But the rears, we’re right on the limit. If there ever was a red flag or something … Before you used to always keep one good backup tire, that sort of thing. So we’re on the limit on rears pretty good. I would definitely say at some tracks you use the tires a lot. And the fronts is better. Now you can choose after the first session if you want hard or soft, which makes it a lot easier to manage the rest of the weekend. Because last year sometimes your bike only worked with the soft tire or hard tires, and you wanted to save those for qualifying and the race. You’re out there setting up your bike on a different tire than you’re going to race. So I think now you have ‘til 6 o’clock on Friday decide if you want, which front compounds you want to go. This is something we wanted, so that’s an improvement.
JONNUM: I wanted to ask you about these 2012 regulations. They seem to be a moving target at the moment. I think the latest iteration, it seems like they want to do most of the factory bikes on 800’s and still allow in the 1000, production-based engines. Do you think it’s OK to have kind of a mix like that? And if not, what would be your ideal platform?
HAYDEN: I haven’t gotten caught up in all of that because until the rules come out black and white, I really haven’t paid a lot of attention because right now I’m riding an 800 Ducati, and I don’t make the rules. So unless they’re going to call and let me weigh in and write up the rules, no need to waste a lot of time or energy on something I can’t control. I don’t know, man: Everybody riding two different bikes, man, that all sounds a little bit crazy. The FIM, I think do a good job, other than the switch to 800s. For the most part, they’ve got some sharp people in there and will make something to go racing. It’s unfortunate now that the economy and the manufacturers are hurting, and they can’t just fire in a new rule and teams can spend all the money to develop parts. Really, I haven’t followed it that close. The idea of going back to 1000s, I love that. Because the bore and stroke, the difference between the 800, 1000, really, I’m a rider, not an engineer. I really don’t understand some of it, so I don’t even know.
HOST: As you know, Indiana is a basketball-crazy state, and everybody knows you’re a big fan of the UK (Kentucky) Wildcats, so two-part question here for you. One, have you gotten over the fact that the Wildcats didn’t make the Final Four, and two, with them losing nearly their whole starting lineup to the NBA, do you think they can get there next year?
HAYDEN: I’ve gotten over it. I don’t bleed blue like some people around here, my little sister being one. Sure, I like the Wildcats, but I don’t paint my face, or anything, on all the home games. But I hated to see them lose. They had such a good squad this year. Next year, all of them leaving, it hurts. But Coach Cal, he knows how to recruit and bring in them McDonald’s All-Americans. I know they’ve already signed No.2 in the nation. My buddy follows all that stuff. It’s going to be tough, starting all over again with a bunch of freshmen, to hang any banners. But I think they’ll be able to make another run.
ABRAMS: What story did you get from your dad on saving Tommy’s pickup truck?
HAYDEN: I’ve only heard Tom’s side of the story. So I’m still waiting out to hear what happened, get both sides of that story. I just heard his truck was on the hook, headed out of there, something. Squirrel had parked it in the wrong spot, and I don’t want to incriminate anybody until I have both sides of the story. So I’ll just leave it at that.
HOST: With that, we’ll let the wheels of American justice and we’ll thank Nicky very much for joining us today on the call. Nick, we wish you the best of luck today, and enjoy the extra time off.
HAYDEN: All right, sounds good. Look forward to seeing everybody at Indy. I know with three Americans up front doing pretty good, the buzz is higher than ever. It’s cool. We’re going to need the support from the American crowd, so hopefully everybody come out. I know last year everybody had a ball. They do a good job. IMS knows how to put on events. Not just a race. They know how to do the whole event – the downtown, the dirt track, stunt shows, whatever. They do it right. So we’re looking forward to it.