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Fans of the 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden are excited about seeing him make his race debut with Ducati in Qatar in April and the Stateside roadracing media are fully aware of the significance of the move for both Ducati and the rider himself.
Since the switch to 800cc machinery in the premier class at the beginning of the 2007 season Nicky Hayden’s legion of supporters across the globe have been frustrated to see him struggling for consistency in MotoGP, the American finishing eighth that year and sixth last season as he failed to repeat his 2006 success.
However, towards the end of his sixth season in MotoGP with Honda the Kentucky Kid was offered the chance to switch manufacturers and enjoy a change of scene at Ducati, causing considerable excitement for his band of fans and for Ducatisti in the U.S. and beyond.
Hayden is a popular figure in the MotoGP paddock, thanks to his courteous style, charming smile and hard-working attitude, with his new team-mate at Ducati, Casey Stoner, being one of his biggest admirers.
The significance of Hayden’s signing for Ducati, in terms of marketability for the Italian brand and the opportunity it gives the 27 year-old to be truly competitive once again, is not lost on the media in his native U.S. where he is cherished as the latest in a long line of American World Champions.
Chris Jonnum, the editor of Road Racer X magazine and the author of the biography on the Hayden brothers, ‘The Haydens: Nicky, Tommy, & Roger, From OWB to MotoGP’, picks up the story, stating, “Nicky’s new deal is an exciting development for Ducati North America and for U.S. Ducatisti. This market is extremely important for the Italian brand, and it enjoys a special status among American motorcycle enthusiasts.”
“Road racing isn’t as big in the U.S. as it is in Europe, but the people who are fans are very dedicated and passionate, and a large percentage of them love both Ducati and Nicky. They’re each popular on their own, but the pairing has the potential to increase that popularity exponentially, sort of like when two moviestars get together. Now that Nicky and Ducati have joined forces, there is a groundswell of excitement in the U.S. racing world.”
Jonnum also points out, however, that Hayden is not guaranteed a Hollywood style happy ending to his Ducati move, underlining the pressure that the rider is under. The journalist explains, “It will help considerably if Nicky enjoys success at Ducati, and American fans are eager to see how he gets along with the Desmosedici. They’re fully aware that no rider other than Casey Stoner has enjoyed consistent success with the bike, and they’re hoping that Nicky will be an exception. Perhaps his aggressive style and dirt track background have prepared him well for this challenge.”
Meanwhile, Matthew Miles, Managing Editor of Cycle World magazine, adds, “My personal take on Nicky Hayden is that he may not have the most talent in the MotoGP paddock, but no one can argue with his determination. The past two seasons with Honda were difficult for Hayden. He struggled in 2007 and, once again, in 2008 on the tiny RC212V, but when Honda finally – and grudgingly – delivered the pneumatic-valve version of the V-Four engine, he finished strong, running at or near the front and never placing worse than fifth in the final five races.”
Miles continues, “Hayden will need everything in his personal arsenal to achieve success with Ducati. It won’t be easy to catch front-running teammate Casey Stoner, even if the Aussie’s wrist isn’t fully functional, as Marco Melandri learned this past season. There are other potential hurdles, too, such as a largely Italian-speaking crew, new electronics and the series-spec Bridgestones. None of this will be made easier with the recently announced rule changes, namely shortened practice sessions.”
On Hayden’s task of helping Ducati sell more bikes Miles also comments, “If he is able to win another title, Hayden will greatly boost awareness of the Ducati brand in the U.S. If his infectious smile and escalating popularity can bring more potential buyers into Ducati dealerships, he will have done his job both on and off the racetrack.”
Hayden’s marketing value to the Italian factory is also highlighted by Henny Ray Abrams, of Cycle News, who states, “Nicky instantly raises Ducati’s image in the U.S., where they’ve been without a public face since pulling out of American Superbike racing at the end of 2006. Ducati has survived the economic downturn in the U.S. better than almost any other brand. Despite a weak fourth quarter, their 2008 sales were nearly equal to 2007’s, which was a record year.”
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