Unfortunately, Nicky Hayden did not pull through. The passing of the American rider was announced by Bufalini hospital of Cesena through a press release that was sent out early by mistake.
The motorcycling world mourns the loss of Nicholas Patrick “Nicky” Hayden. It was his father Earl who instilled a passion for motorsports in him from a young age, so much that he chose the same number - 69. First in motocross and then with factory derivatives, Nicky participated in the 1998 AMA Supersport Championship. That same year he also had a chance to tackle WorldSSP at Laguna Seca in a Wildcard slot, but for Nicky it would be a race to forget, as he was forced to retire astride his Suzuki.
Still, there was certainly no lack of talent and in 1999 that was made clear as he triumphed in AMA Supersport with a bounty of five wins and 372 points. The following year was his big step into Superbike, where he finished the season in fifth place. Eager to advance quickly, it took him only two seasons to achieve his consecration: it was in 2002 that the American won the AMA SBK Championship, making him the youngest rider to ever take the title with an impressive nine wins.
In the meantime, there was also time for a second wild card, again at Laguna Seca, for the factory derivative world championship round. This time, number 69 lived up to the expectations, finishing fourth astride his Honda in Race 1 and then finishing thirteenth in Race 2.
From SBK to the World Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing Championship it was a short step, because in 2003 he began his adventure in the premiere class alongside a certain Valentino Rossi. Nicky did not know it at the time, but that young man with the number 46 on his top fairing would become his great rival in a few years. However, his mind was on the present, filing away a rookie season fifth in the overall standings and boasting two third place finishes, one in the Pacific and one in Australia.
The next year, Hayden would have to reckon with a new teammate. It was no longer Rossi, but Alex Barros. The season was anything but simple for the American who, among other things, was the victim of a broken collarbone, which forced him to skip the Portuguese GP. He did, however, manage to bring home some satisfaction, finishing on the bottom step of the podium in Brazil and in Germany.
Still number 69 dreamed of victory; that was his goal. It finally came in 2005 when he was sharing a garage with Max Biaggi. The setting of his first MotoGP triumph would be none other than on his home turf, namely at Laguna Seca, where Nicky had something extra, as he was the first to ride under the checkered flag ahead of Rossi and Edwards’ Yamahas.
Now he committed himself to an even higher goal – the World Title. In 2006 the American demonstrated consistency and intelligence from the start, making his ambitious intention clear. While Rossi would have to deal with DNFs and crashes, he proved to be calculating with a cool head, avoiding even the slightest of errors.
It took a risky maneuver by Pedrosa in Portugal on the first lap to reopen a season that had been all but written. Dani collided with the number 69 Honda, forcing him to retire for the first time. For the moment it seemed that the Championship Title might slip through the Kentuckian’s fingers because now Rossi had moved into the lead. But fate had something magical in store for Nicky. In fact, in Valencia something happened that no one ever would have expected.
Despite taking pole position, the Doctor struggled to maintain the pace of the race leaders, dropping back lap by lap until his crash. For Hayden, the Championship Title became reality. The American’s achievement was acknowledged by the nine-time world champion, so much that he admitted, “It was my first true defeat.”
And so, Nicky achieved his dream and went on to stay with Honda for two more seasons before taking off with Ducati. He shared the garage with a guy named Casey Stoner and adapting to the Desmosedici proved to be anything but simple. However, there was a bright spot in his Italian adventure with a third place finish in Indianapolis, followed by a podium in 2010 at Aragon.
He finished in the top three again in 2011 at Jerez, once again with Rossi by his side for the season, just like in his Honda days. However, Jerez would be the American’s last MotoGP podium. In 2013, his experience with Ducati would come to an end and he would go back to a Honda, this time with the Aspar satellite team. Those were two years where Nicky struggled to be as competitive as he would have liked, so much that he said goodbye to MotoGP after thirteen years.
However, on November 6th, 2015 he was honored by Dorna when they inducted him into the World Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing Hall of Fame.
Awaiting number 69 was another Honda, this time in World Superbike, though. 2016 was his rookie year; but that didn’t matter much because Nicky demonstrated his talent, giving Ten Kate the first podium finish at the Assen round. Then, in the driving rain of Sepang, a historic triumph arrived, followed by his third place in Race 1 at Laguna Seca.
Unfortunately, in 2017 the Honda would prove to be anything but a competitive bike. Between electrical problems, DNFs and crashes, Hayden’s face appeared resigned, reflecting the sense that Honda might never resolve all the problems. But in his final interview, given exclusively to GPOne at Imola, Hayden revealed his intention to never give up. Sometimes, however, fate is just too cruel.