Several years ago, when Kenny Roberts began teaching European riders how to slide motorcycles (by having them ride XR100s around small ovals in the dirt), it was because the Europeans were routinely getting their butts kicked by American flattrackers-turned-roadracers. Guys like Kenny himself, and then Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, and others. Basically, by the time the Europeans reached the 500 class, their background on small displacement two-strokes became somewhat of a disadvantage, because they never became comfortable sliding.
The 500s benefitted from a “point-and-shoot” style, where the corner was squared-off to some extent before the throttle was wacked open and the big beast fired down the next straightaway.
Which brings us to Nicky Hayden. Why? Because Nicky is a great flattrack racer, and perhaps the most comfortable MotoGP racer during a slide. Nicky’s style has worked fairly well up to this point (although arguably, not as well as it would have worked on a 500 two-stroke), but the new 800s seem to work better with the wheels in line.
These new bikes carry higher corner speeds (like smaller two-strokes) and may just complement the style of Dani Pedrosa and other European riders who are the true masters at carrying massive corner speed. You cannot be as successful as Pedrosa was on a 250 without this ability. At the same time, no one would argue that Pedrosa is as comfortable sliding a motorcycle as Nicky Hayden.
So, can Nicky run at the front next year when the new bikes will apparently work better for the European style? Nicky has learned to slide the bike less, already, in order to better conserve his tires, but the big 990s still allowed him to square up corners where it worked to his advantage. He probably will not have that advantage next year.
If this is starting to sound like 2007 could be Dani Pedrosa’s year, you are getting the idea. I am sure there are several reasons why Honda made its new 800 so tiny,but one of them has to be Pedrosa’s diminutive stature.
Oh, by the way, there are several other riders in MotoGP who cut their teeth on small two-strokes, and even became World Champions aboard them. One of those riders is named Valentino Rossi. Hayden will definitely have his hands full next year.