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Nicky Hayden+ Honda: What’s Up?


Pedrosa at Estoril

I don’t put much stock in conspiracy theories and the like, but the way Honda has treated young Nicky Hayden this season makes me want to reconsider. WORDS: Charles Everitt
PHOTOGRAPHY: Courtesy of Honda Pro Images

I don’t put much stock in conspiracy theories and the like, but the way Honda has treated young Nicky Hayden this season makes me want to reconsider. It’s as if Honda thinks the best way for the Kentucky Kid to win the 2006 MotoGP World Championship is to tie one hand behind his back every weekend. And I felt this way long before this past weekend’s race at Estoril, where Dani “Thumbelina” Pedrosa — Hayden’s teammate — skittled both of them into the gravel trap on the fifth lap, and Hayden into an 8-point deficit to Valentino Rossi in the MotoGP title chase instead of a 12-point lead.

Honda’s treatment of Hayden this year began in ways both subtle and overt. The best example of the former has been the after-action race reports distributed by Honda Racing Corp. (HRC) For almost the entire year, even if Nicky put it on the podium (which he did in nine of the first 11 events) and Pedrosa finished behind him, Thumbelina’s accomplishments seemed, somehow, just that little bit brighter.

The more overt and heavy-handed apparent discrimination came at the end of winter testing, when Nicky — the lead rider, supposedly, of his and Pedrosa’s Repsol Honda team — had to choose his weapon for ’06: an evo version of the ’05 RC211V or an almost all-new version. Depending on whom you choose to believe, either Nicky selected the ’06 machine to show Honda he could develop a bike into a winner, and so deserved his position within the team; or HRC shoved Nicky with both hands toward the ’06 bike because of its greater potential. Mind you, the evo RC211V used by Pedrosa and all the Honda satellite teams has been far more consistent.

What’s more, machine choice has affected Hayden’s efforts all season long. First, he’s had to develop the bike while racing it, a situation guaranteed to have the team testing during race weekends instead of focusing on qualifying and getting a good race setup. That was clearly the case at Donington, round nine of the 17-race series, where Hayden came in seventh, his worst finish up to that point. Second has been the issue of the ’06 bike’s infernal clutch, which had — up to Estoril, anyway — resisted all attempts to make it work both for a good start and for the whole race. Indeed, just before the Portuguese round, HRC Managing Director Satoru Horilke was quoted in the London Times, saying, “We can’t fix it.” Honda and HRC can’t fix a clutch in eight months? Some would find it easier to believe in the Easter bunny.

It was also Horilke who said prior to Estoril that there would be no team orders — none: “I have always said that Honda never, ever makes any team orders. If we make team orders, then this is not good for anyone — not for the fans, for the riders, for the mechanics or anyone in the team. We will not do it.” (Emphasis mine.) After watching Pedrosa torpedo Hayden — as well as watching Colin Edwards ride in obvious support of his teammate Valentino Rossi — Horilke’s intransigence seems either merely benighted, or horrifically stupid.

Of course, this is all circumstantial evidence, and proves absolutely nothing. So I won’t even get into some other even more far-fetched conspiracy musings, such as Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau both grumbling into their beards about the possibility of sabotage after each one’s personal annus horribilis in ’05 as sponsored Honda riders.

Is Machiavelli alive and well in MotoGP? Discuss among yourselves.

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  1. sloth
    Posted on: October 17, 2006 1:59 pm

    You have hit the nail on the head.Again.