Race stars unite for Hay­den

Huge out­pour­ing of emo­tion for pop­u­lar Amer­i­can su­per­star after ter­ri­ble cy­cle crash in Italy last week

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Si­mon Pat­ter­son MO­TOGP REPORTER

Valentino Rossi has led the Mo­togp pad­dock’s tributes to Nicky Hay­den fol­low­ing his cy­cling ac­ci­dent last week. In a mov­ing state­ment Rossi spoke of not only the 2006 Mo­togp cham­pion’s skills on a mo­tor­bike but also to his per­son­al­ity off it, de­scrib­ing the Amer­i­can as ‘one of the best friends’ he’s ever had in his 19 sea­sons of Grand Prix rac­ing.

Rossi was team- mates with Hay­den not once but twice – in the Amer­i­can’s rookie Mo­togp year in 2003 and more re­cently dur­ing the woe­ful Du­cati days of 2011 and 2012, where the pair strug­gled with the Des­mosedici.

Speaking be­fore news broke that Nicky had died as MCN went to press on Mon­day night, he said: “It’s re­ally bad news, and when we first heard it, it was dif­fi­cult to take it in. But I spoke with a friend of mine who was the doc­tor there, and he told me that it was a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. Now with a bit of time, we can un­der­stand how much of a shame it is be­cause he is a great tal­ent and al­ways at the top; but more im­por­tantly, he is a great guy. Nicky is one of the best friends I’ve ever had in the pad­dock. He of­ten came to my Ranch, where it was al­ways a show to see him and have some se­cret bat­tles to­gether. He was one of the fastest flat­ters in the world and be­fore go­ing to road rac­ing, he won the most im­por­tant Amer­i­can Flat Track races like the Peo­ria TT.”

And that friend­ship stood the test of time. Still friends de­spite the tight ti­tle fight in 2006 that saw Hay­den come out on top by only five points at the fi­nal race of the year and the bat­tles for top Du­cati hon­ours later in their ca­reers, Rossi says that the re­spect be­tween them al­ways won.

“We were team-mates with Honda in 2003, when he was a young debu­tant hav­ing his first Euro­pean ex­pe­ri­ence. After a few years we fought against each other for the 2006 world cham­pi­onship un­til the last race and in the end, un­for­tu­nately for me, he beat me and be­came the cham­pion of the Mo­togp world. After the race we shook hands and we hugged. After­wards we were still team-mates in the dif­fi­cult years of Du­cati when we fought sev­eral times, per­haps to win the last place in the top five.” How­ever, Rossi also sin­gled out one mo­ment in their friend­ship in par­tic­u­lar – a small ges­ture on the day that he lost the 2015 ti­tle race to Jorge Lorenzo in high emo­tion at Va­len­cia, a day that also marked Hay­den’s fi­nal day as a full-time Mo­togp racer. “The most beau­ti­ful mem­ory I have of him is when he came to shake my hand after the un­lucky race at Va­len­cia in 2015, on the lap of hon­our. For him it was a farewell to Mo­togp and I had just lost the world cham­pi­onship. “The sup­port­ing look in­side his hel­met is one of the most pos­i­tive mem­o­ries I have of that day. Nicky, we’re all with you.” Kevin Schwantz is find­ing it ‘very tough to swal­low’ the sad sit­u­a­tion of his Amer­i­can mo­tor­cy­cling buddy Nicky Hay­den. Emo­tions ran deep for Schwantz as he con­tin­ued with his Suzuki GSX-R1000R me­dia ride days at Mugello after re­ceiv­ing news of the in­juries suf­fered by Hay­den in a cy­cling crash. Schwantz was in Italy in his role as am­bas­sador for Suzuki and stay­ing

By Colin Young Schwantz heart­bro­ken after turning down of­fer to join Hay­den on fate­ful ride ‘A great tal­ent and, more im­por­tantly, a great guy’ VALENTINO ROSSI

on the Adri­atic Coast at Gabicce Mare, close to Hay­den’s Ital­ian base at Cat­tolica.

Just a cou­ple hours be­fore Hay­den’s hor­rific bi­cy­cle crash near the Misano Cir­cuit the two Amer­i­cans were to­gether jog­ging on the beach front near Cat­tolica. That is when fate in­ter­vened.

“I was run­ning to­wards Ric­cione when I came across Nicky also jog­ging on the beach front near Cat­tolica,” Schwantz said. “We ran for a while and chat­ted and then as I left for my ho­tel Nicky asked me to join him for a bi­cy­cle ride but I said no be­cause I did not have my road bike with me.

“A cou­ple of hours later I get the news of his crash and his in­juries. Nicky’s sit­u­a­tion is a tough thing for me to swal­low. I’m not say­ing it would have been any dif­fer­ent if we were to­gether but who knows, maybe we would have been in a dif­fer­ent place at an­other mo­ment.”

Schwantz, the 1993 500cc World Cham­pion, says he vividly re­calls his thoughts as he left Hay­den after their morn­ing run.

“The real irony is that about one minute after I started run­ning back to my ho­tel I thought that I should have taken a selfie with Nicky to post on Face­book,” Schwantz said.

“The mes­sage would have been: ‘Look who I bumped into in Cat­tolica this morn­ing!’ But I thought, no prob­lems, I’ll see Nicky soon over the next few days be­cause we are both in Italy.”

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Rossi and Hay­den were team-mates at Du­cati for two sea­sons

Good friends: Schwantz and Nicky Hay­den ec­static after win­ning 2006 world Mo­togp ti­tle Hay­den also had a glit­ter­ing flat track ca­reer in Amer­ica Hay­den had been a wel­come ad­di­tion to the WSB pad­dock since 2016

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