Hayate Racing (née Kawasaki) and Marco Melandri were full of surprises in 2009.
From the shock announcement that the manufacturer was pulling out of the series, to the revelation it would make a tentative return as a slimmed down operation under a different banner, this was a story that ran throughout the off-season.
However, the biggest surprise wasn't that Hayate made it onto the grid. No, the biggest surprise was that it was present and it was competitive…
The turmoil surrounding Kawasaki's withdrawal attracted plenty of column inches, not least because the rumours surfaced just days after the team gave its 2009 machine its first outing and after Kawasaki had put in a considerable amount of effort acquiring the services of Melandri and John Hopkins.
With the manufacturer's demise prompting some furrowed brows at Dorna as it faced the prospect of a dwindling grid, Hayate would eventually emerge from the ashes with a single bike for Melandri. There was no room for Hopkins.
Following a desperately disappointing single season with the factory Ducati team, the uncertainty around the competitiveness of the largely untouched ZX-RR (a bike that wasn't particularly quick in 2008) meant little was expected of the Melandri-Hayate pairing.
It didn't take long for the Italian to prove why he is a race winner at MotoGP level though, Melandri thriving in his status as underdog to quickly establish Hayate as the mid-field contenders Kawasaki had rarely been.
Top six finishes at Motegi and Jerez caused ripples in the paddock before Melandri used his experience in difficult conditions at Le Mans to take a shock second place finish.
However, with the development process on the bike slowing down, Melandri wouldn't get close to replicating that feat again as his and Hayate's form became inconsistent as the season wore.
Despite this, Melandri remained well in the fight for seventh in the overall standings until the final round, when he was eventually forced to settle for tenth.
With Kawasaki electing not to change its MotoGP policy, Hayate's endeavour is destined to end after a single season, but Melandri reputation is enjoying a much-needed revival. A ride at Gresini Honda duly awaits where Melandri will look to build on the respect he has gained in reminding Kawasaki what it could have achieved if it had stuck around ust a little bit longer…
Hayate Racing Team
2nd (Le Mans)
Top 10 MotoGP Rider of the Year 2008:
Top 10 MotoGP Rider of the Year 2009:
- Andrea Dovizioso
- Toni Elias
- Loris Capirossi
- Nicky Hayden