This year, for the first time since 1997, two of America's most promising future stars - Eric Bostrom and Nicky Hayden - haven't faced each other on a racetrack, after Nicky made the jump from AMA Superbike to MotoGP. However, he hasn't escaped yet: Eric is eager to join him and has been watching his progress closely.

Hayden first rose to AMA SBK prominence in 2000 - the year Bostrom took the Supersport crown - by finishing a close second to series champion Mat Mladin, but the following year it would be Kawasaki mounted Bostrom who grabbed the limelight, falling just 15-points shy of the Australian as he beat Hayden's Honda to third by season's end.

However, those battles would prove a mere prelude to the 2002 season, which went down in history as the 'Nicky and Eric show': The pair won thirteen of the sixteen rounds and such was their competitiveness that almost half of the events saw Hayden and Bostrom finish first and second on the racetrack.

Ultimately it would be Hayden - enjoying a 250cc engine capacity advantage - who clinched the title at the final round, then used his Honda links to seal a dream MotoGP ride with the factory Repsol team. Meanwhile, Bostrom stayed loyal to Kawasaki, setting his sights on taking the Kentuckian's AMA crown and again providing the Japanese marque with their only hope of top class success in 2003.

While Nicky juggled learning new circuits, taming the mighty RCV and being Valentino Rossi's team-mate in the early part of the GP season, Eric was back performing near miracles on his aging ZX-7, against 1000cc competition, and more specifically Mladin's all new GSX-R1000 Suzuki.

Despite his machinery disadvantage, the #32 led the AMA championship heading into Laguna Seca in mid July... at which point his hopes were torpedoed, literally, by an out of control Aaron Yates in the first turn of the first World Superbike race.

Bostrom dislocated his shoulder in the accident, ruling him out of the title fight, and indeed the rest of the season, but giving the Las Vegas resident plenty of chance to study his former rival's progress in the premier MotoGP class - and the verdict is encouragingly for both their futures.

"First and foremost, Nick is doing exactly when I thought he would do," began Eric, pictured (top) at Laguna Seca leading five future MotoGP stars - including three world champions - as a WSBK wild-card. "He struggled at the beginning of the season, I knew he would, there are some big adjustments to be made, especially with equipment. It takes a little bit of time to fit in with a team over there - something I haven't had the chance to do yet, but I understand the initial challenge because I have experienced that."

EB and the Hayden have raced bar-to-bar more times than either can remember, putting each in a perfect position to understand the others strengths and weaknesses - as Eric explained:

"A good battle for us was Laguna Seca in 2002 where I thought from times in practice and qualifying I was by far the fastest guy and yet when the race came he put his head down and really hung in there when no-one else could," smiled Bostrom, who took victory that day. "Even though eventually we were able to break away, it showed the kind of tenacity that you need to have - you're probably already beaten before you even start, but you try like hell anyway.

"Rider wise Nick's strong in every aspect, but more than anything, he's a good racer. If you up the ante, he can usually step it up with you. He charges on," Eric continued. "That's why I think at the end of the year last year we charged away from everyone else because we kept pushing each other further and further, and away from everyone else... I've seen him push a bike beyond its limits and I would expect nothing less from him."

'The Boss' was particularly interested in Hayden's performance at Phillip Island, where Nicky took his first 'real' GP podium - which moved him to fifth in the championship, and top rookie - since the circuit contains features challenging to the Owensboro born rider's style.

"One thing in particular I was impressed with was just how well he did at Phillip Island," enthused EB. "Because racing against him I never thought he was that strong on a fast, flowing circuit, and to me it was a weakness for him. So to go right over there and do so well on such a fast track he's obviously overcoming some of his weaknesses and doing a fantastic job.

"I knew he would come on strong before the season is over and I don't believe we've seen the best of him yet - I think Valencia will be even better - and all of this will give him more momentum for next year," added the 26-year-old.

Listening to Eric, it's hard not to feel disappointed that the pair haven't graduated together and continued their rivalry - as World Superbike stars Colin Edwards and Troy Bayliss have - but Bostrom, it seems, is a victim of circumstance: Were he contracted to teams such as Honda, Ducati or Yamaha (with multiple GP grid slots) Eric would probably already have a MotoGP ride, but with Kawasaki holding just two entries, 'green' premier-class seats are a rarity.

Bostrom's GP options for 2004 therefore appear slim, with Andrew Pitt all but officially confirmed as being retained to partner new race rider Alex Hofmann, leaving Eric to campaign the new ZX-10 in the AMA, together with probable wild-card rides on the ZX-RR.

Nevertheless, having claimed 9 wins, 27 podiums and 45 top-five finishes in the last four year's - outperforming every other Kawasaki rider in SBK competition anywhere in the world - team green are likely to face a 'use him or lose him' situation in the near future, should they be unable to offer Bostrom his much deserved GP break.

Indeed, recent comments from Mick Doohan that Hayden will be a world champion within the next few years has only highlighted Eric's potential - and he'd love to be one of the men standing between Hayden and a world crown.

"I hope to race against Nick again soon and relive some of the great battles we've had in the States," concluded Bostrom.



Loading Comments...