TUESDAY 12TH JULY 2005
Over the coming days and weeks many will be declaring that their faith in Nicky Hayden has finally been repaid with his US GP victory, and that it was only a matter of time before he took his dirt track style to the top step of the MotoGP podium.
But the truth is that, following a highly impressive debut season, Hayden's perceived MotoGP 'potential' had plummeted during a poor 2004 - and equally tough 2005 prior to Laguna Seca - and it is to Honda's credit that they kept public and contractual faith in the Kentuckian.
Success or failure at world championship level rarely happens by accident and it will be imperative for HRC to study exactly what went so stunningly right for the Hayden/RCV/Repsol Honda combination at Laguna Seca - so that it can be replicated.
It is easy to credit Hayden's win as down to a home advantage, but Colin Edwards had even more experience of the Laguna layout and had also won a race on his previous 2002 visit (Hayden in AMA, Edwards in WSBK). Add to that the fact that Bayliss was also a 2002 WSBK race winner, and that Ruben Xaus won in 2003 and there seems more to it.
So what was it that allowed Hayden, who had failed to take a 2005 podium before the US GP, to lead every single on-track session of the weekend bar first free practice on Friday morning (in which he was second behind Bayliss)? Indeed, in contrast to previous events, Hayden didn't appear to put a wheel wrong.
Did prior knowledge of Laguna help Hayden perform well in first practice, which in turn gave him a much needed confidence boost, which in turn helped him go ever faster? After all, a confident racer thinks about solutions; an unconfident racer thinks about problems...
Or did Hayden thrive on the pressure provided by riding in front of his home fans for the first time? Did Honda have a machinery advantage? Did the Repsol Honda team make a set-up breakthrough?
In short, what was different at Laguna? HRC needs to study every detail and find out. If ever there is a time for a report, this is it; putting such domination simply down to Hayden having 'a good weekend' won't be enough to regularly repeat his Rossi beating success.
A machine advantage seems unlikely, since Rossi put his Yamaha second on the grid and Hayden was the only Honda rider to stand on the podium. The home pressure is likely to have contributed to the motivation factor, but it's not like Hayden hasn't been under pressure to deliver in MotoGP before now...
After the race, HRC were putting the breakthrough down to Nicky's ability and bike set-up: "Nicky has been the man to beat all weekend and in the end no one could touch him. His team did a great job and got the bike set-up well, right from the start. They hardly changed a thing," revealed Repsol Honda team manager Makoto Tanaka.
Getting the set-up right, straight away, at a circuit the team hadn't seen before is a seriously impressive achievement - but why were they able to find such a perfect set-up this weekend, at a brand new and technically difficult circuit, and not at racetracks where the team has many years of race and test experience?
Did Repsol Honda follow a different set-up 'procedure' at the US GP, due to the unknown nature of the circuit? Did Hayden's crew start from scratch or take an educated guess? Tanaka's comments would suggest the latter, but what information did they use to take that 'guess' given that Biaggi's side of the garage struggled with set-up right until the race?
Lots of questions, but only Honda and Hayden know they answers...
Hayden celebrates, U.S.MotoGP, 2005