Official: Nicky Hayden swaps MotoGP for WSBK

Former world champion Nicky Hayden calls an end to MotoGP career with move to World Superbike for 2016.
Official: Nicky Hayden swaps MotoGP for WSBK

Nicky Hayden will try to become the first rider to win both the MotoGP and World Superbike titles after confirming a move to Ten Kate Honda for 2016.

World champion in 2006, Hayden decided to switch to WSBK after enduring his least successful season in MotoGP and with few options for competitive machinery next year.

Hayden announced his decision, rumoured since his visit to the Laguna Seca WSBK round in July, on the eve of this weekend's Japanese MotoGP.

"This will be my last year in MotoGP. I'll be moving to Superbike next year with Honda and the Ten Kate team. That's about all there is too it. Nothing too dramatic," Hayden said with a wry smile.

Pressed further about the decision, the #69 added: "These last two years have obviously not been so good and I wasn't in a position - I haven't been able to get the results on an Open Honda to really keep a high level bike in MotoGP.

"I've always thought Superbike might be something I'd like to try. I've always liked the racing there and this opportunity just felt like a good fit. I'm obviously getting a little bit older, but I still enjoy the sport and thought it'll be a fresh challenge and new opportunity to go there and try and have some fun.

"Of course I'll miss MotoGP. I've had a great opportunity here, was part of some great teams and worked with some great people. But, you know, nothing lasts forever. That's life. So keep moving. Go to Superbike with Honda and hopefully have some fun."

Picking out his MotoGP highlights, Hayden said: "Winning at Laguna was nice, especially that first year [2005], but the world championship was some feeling and by far the best moment of my career."

The popular American then received a lengthy round of applause from the other riders and media present.

A factory Honda and then Ducati rider for his first eleven grand prix seasons, Hayden joined Aspar and the new Open class for 2014, but missed five races last year due to major surgery on his right wrist.

Currently fourth in the Open class (and second best Open Honda behind Jack Miller) Hayden has scored just 13 points this season - compared with last year's total of 47 - and is 19th in the world championship.

Hayden previously admitted there were a lack of 'exciting' MotoGP options for 2016 - a test role with KTM seemed the most tempting - and, at 34, knows time is limited if he is to end his racing career on a high.

The former dirt track ace will now attempt to follow in the footsteps of American WSBK champions Fred Merkel, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, John Kocinski, Colin Edwards and Ben Spies.

While Kocinski, like Max Biaggi, was also a 250cc grand prix champion no rider has yet won the premier 500cc/MotoGP and WSBK titles.

Hayden joined MotoGP with Repsol Honda as the reigning AMA Superbike champion in 2003. He won his first race in 2005, adding two more victories on the way to a dramatic 2006 championship victory - when he became the first rider to beat Valentino Rossi since 2000.

The change to smaller 800cc machines grated with Hayden's power-hungry style, but for the first nine years of his MotoGP career - six at Repsol Honda, then three at Ducati - the #69 stood on the podium at least once a season.

Hayden also scored just seven points less than Rossi when the pair reunited as team-mates at Ducati in 2011. Rossi left the struggling Italian squad at the end of 2012, with Hayden replaced by Cal Crutchlow one year later - just as Gigi Dall'Igna arrived and new concessions were granted to Ducati by the Open class rules.

Dall'Igna moved to Ducati from Aprilia, the manufacturer Hayden was on the verge of joining for 2014 via his deal with the Aspar team. "Ducati are not doing me any favours! Not only do they sack me, but they take the guy that was going to be my new engineer!" Hayden joked at the time.

In the aftermath of Dall'Igna's exit, Aspar switched from Aprilia to Open Honda machines.

The initial 'for sale' RCV1000R proved woefully underpowered and was replaced by the pneumatic-valve RC213V-RS model for 2015, but the bike still lacks a seamless gearbox and appears to struggle more than the Ducatis and Yamahas with the Open-class ECU.

Aprilia originally looked like Hayden's favoured WSBK choice, but doubts over the factory's 2016 plans helped send Hayden into the arms of Ten Kate Honda, which has endured a winless season with Sylvain Guintoli and Michael van der Mark.

Hayden will be taking over from former WSBK champion Guintoli, who is switching to the new Crescent Yamaha team. A much-needed new version of the Honda Fireblade is rumoured to debut in 2017.

Aspar meanwhile has already signed Yonny Hernandez for next season, with Hayden's rookie team-mate Eugene Laverty in the first year of a two year deal and thus expected to continue for what is rumoured to be a switch from Honda to Ducati machinery.

With Hayden departing, there will be no American riders in MotoGP next season.

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