Q&A: Nicky Hayden on Indy, his Ducati exit, and MotoGP competition

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Ordinarily we don’t devote a lot of time and coverage to the MotoGP World Championship but with the motorcycles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, we’ll have a couple pieces planned. This marks MotoGP’s third and last U.S. round of the 2013 season.

MotorSportsTalk had the opportunity to chat with 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, one of several Americans in the championship  and a Tissot brand ambassador, heading into this weekend’s race. It’s been a challenging year for Hayden, who enters Indianapolis ninth in the standings with 65 points and a best result of fifth. He’ll be leaving Ducati at the end of the year but is motivated to succeed in his home race, particularly as he was forced out here last year due to injury from an accident in qualifying. He has two podiums at IMS, second in 2008 and third in 2009.

Q: First off, how nice is it to have another go at Indianapolis after your accident here a year ago?

NICKY HAYDEN: Man, I missed racing here. It was a tough accident and I hated sitting out. But for me, Indy is very exciting for two reasons. We kick off the second half of the season, and it’s my true home Grand Prix. Laguna and Austin are nice, but Indy is truly in my backyard (Hayden is from Owensboro, Ky.). It’s my favorite race of the year.

Q: What makes setting up a bike at Indianapolis such a challenge? How do you balance maxing for straight line speed and having enough through the corners?

NH: Yeah no doubt. Indy is a very tough track for gearing and with the big, long front straight and all the twisty stuff in the infield. It’s a big engineering balance. It’s certainly a tricky little track even though it doesn’t have a lot of – well hardly, any – elevation changes. It’s a very tight track and can catch riders out. But the track is so legendary, with a great history that you want to do well there. There’s lots of opportunities to pass, there are some relatively easy parts of the track where you can.

Q: No doubt it’s been a challenging year for you at Ducati, and you’ve announced your exit at year’s end. How do you stay motivated given it’s been a tough year?

NH: It’s been a very challenging season, for sure, we’re a little off the Hondas and Yamahas. We keep pushing and hope to make some progress on the engineering side. You can’t ever let it get you down; throughout it you have to be a professional and stay focused. It’s not mixed emotions leaving, I am still committed through the end of the season. We still have the opportunity to salvage something after this five-year period.

Q: You’ve been teammates with some of the greats – Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa come to mind. How are you and new teammate this year Andrea Dovizoso getting on?

NH: “Dovi’s” good; I’ve got no issues with him. He’s a very solid rider. He’s very consistent, and tough to beat on Sundays. He digs deep, always finds a way to get a good result and gives solid feedback.

Q: How do you rate the MotoGP competition level now compared to your title year of 2006?

NH: However it is, the competition level keeps you focused every year. Now near my first few years, when I came in and then won the World Championship in ‘06, it seemed higher then than anything I’ve seen. It was incredibly high and everyone was unbelievably fast. But you always seem to get someone new who comes in and changes the game. (Rookie Marc) Marquez this year has come in with a new style, and raised the bar again (Marquez has won both U.S. races this year -Ed.).

Q: Lastly, as one of your cool off-track items, is a Tissot limited edition watch of yours that’s available. What does that mean to you to have?

NH: For sure. I have been with Tissot a long time and the relationship has just gotten better over time. To have my own watch, for my fans, and be able to have my input, colors and a say on designing it is just awesome. This year’s probably my favorite one. I’m very proud of it.