In August, Ducati factory rider Nicky Hayden received a new two-year MotoGP contract to pilot the red Marlboro-sponsored 800cc GP11 and it’s larger displacement 1000cc successor in 2012.
The middle-aged sibling of the motorcycle racing Haydens, mashed between World Superbike rider Roger Lee Hayden and AMA Superbike’s Tommy Hayden, could very well be the hardest workingman in the MotoGP paddock. He often tallies the most laps during any given testing or practice session, regardless of his final standings on the timesheets.
The No. 69 rider is dedicated and passionate about his craft, no different in the way Ducati produces their form of two-wheeled exotica. Hayden’s improvements this year are reflected in his consistency. Hayden finished in the top five for half of the intial 10 races, but problems with a knee puck set him back at his home track in Indy, and a wreck at the beginning of the last round in Misano resulted in a DNF.
But regardless of the recent complications at the last two Grand Prixs, Hayden is currently 11 points behind the top six of the paddock – Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and Ben Spies, respectively, with 109 championship points at the conclusion of Misano.
His performance, however, cannot be seen as the only reasons Ducati has kept the 29-year-old Kentuckian on the books.
North America is the Italian manufacturer’s single largest market. Having a popular American rider on the rostrum is a great business move for Ducati Motor Holding and their wholly owned company Ducati Corse.
The 2009 Fourth of July release of the 2010 Ducati 848 Nicky Hayden Edition sold out just after it’s unveiling at Laguna Seca. The famous California track is where the former 2006 World Champ has had success and disappointment. In 2005 and 2006, Hayden grabbed the top of the podium there, but 2007 brought a DNF. Fifth place has been secured during the last three years while Hayden longs for another podium finish where his image once adorned his Red Bull sponsors massive track signage.
Ducati has a long racing history, still subscribing to the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” business model. Apart from the motorcycle, Ducati sells a lifestyle, and in this lifestyle you must win Championships. Ducati’s last MotoGP World Championship winner from 2007, Casey Stoner, will be hanging up his red leathers and moving to Honda’s MotoGP effort for 2011. The void will be filled by the nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi.
Valentino Rossi’s move to the Bologna squad will be great for Ducati as well as the sport of international motorcycle racing, not to mention Italian fans. This also makes the Hayden contract a safe move for Ducati.
During Nicky’s rookie season in 2003, the Italian and the American were teammates until Rossi left for Yamaha in 2004. The reunited teammates get along well and “The Doctor” will not have an opposable force to share the garage with in the next two years. This is important for Rossi to focus and be successful and acquire the critical eight premier class World Championship to match Giacomo Agostini’s record.
In the wake of this news we also learned that Ducati is pulling their full factory supported team from World Superbike in 2011. They will remain supportive of satellite and privateer efforts, but the chances for another World Superbike crown in 2011 are slim. Considering the Ducati Factory’s Xerox 2010 results and advancements from newcomers Aprilia and BMW, it looks like a New World Order in World SBK.
When Ducati produces a Sportbike with MotoGP livery for the North American market, will it bear a star spangled number 69 or the famous yellow 46? I’ll be happy with either as long as there is a 2011 MotoGP Rider’s Championship to back it up.