Just one day after scoring his first podium of the 2008 season, in Sunday's Indianapolis Grand Prix, it has finally been officially announced that 2006 MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden will join Ducati for 2009.

Hayden's Ducati move, which will see the 27-year-old line-up alongside 2007 world champion Casey Stoner, has been considered a done deal for months. The American will make his debut on next year's Desmosedici GP9 in a test immediately after the season-ending Valencia Grand Prix, on October 27th.

"We are really happy to have Nicky join us," declared Claudio Domenicali, Ducati Corse CEO and Ducati Motor Holding Product Director. "We are certain that his never-say-die attitude, riding style and character will be great additions to our team in 2009. I would like to thank HRC for allowing Nicky to start testing our bike immediately after the Valencia Grand Prix."

Although a Repsol Honda rider for his entire six-year grand prix career, there has been an increasing degree of inevitability about Hayden and Ducati joining forces, which began when the Italian marque first tried to sign the American towards the end of his title-winning season.

Hayden eventually chose to stick with Honda for a further two years - believing, like many, that the Japanese giant would be hard to beat during the start of the new 800cc era - just as it had been when the 990cc class began in 2002.

But it was Stoner, signed by Ducati after Hayden's polite rejection, who romped to ten wins and the 2007 title, then provided the closest opposition to Yamaha's Valentino Rossi during 2008.

By contrast Hayden, and to a lesser extent Honda, have struggled ever since the capacity cut - the Kentuckian claiming just four podiums since the end of 2006, while Honda has won only four races, all with Hayden's team-mate Dani Pedrosa.

Many consider (rightly or wrongly) that Hayden hasn't received the backing he deserves from Honda since the arrival of former 125 and double 250cc world champion Pedrosa.

The difference in physical size (Pedrosa weighs 18 kg less than Hayden) and riding styles means Honda always faced a difficult task in designing a motorcycle suited to both riders - illustrated by Hayden's early switch to the pneumatic-valve engine - whilst Pedrosa's shock mid-season tyre change proved to many the influence the Spaniard and his supporters yield within the team.

Like Hayden, Stoner's team-mates for the past two seasons, Loris Capirossi and Marco Melandri, have also struggled, leading to claims - strenuously denied by Ducati - that the 800cc Desmosedici is a 'Stoner bike'. Melandri will join Kawasaki next season after the second year of his Ducati contract was annulled by mutual consent.

"I would also like to thank Marco Melandri for his professionalism during a difficult year, which was below all our expectations," said Domenicali. "Unfortunately his feeling with the Desmosedici was never good enough to allow him to ride as well as he can. We wish him all the best for the future."

Ducati seems to be placing its faith in similarities between Stoner and Hayden's riding styles - both come from a dirt track background - and have been buoyed by the recent form of Alice's Toni Elias, who has taken two podiums at the last three rounds.

Hayden is also used to working with strong team-mates - having been teamed with Valentino Rossi in 2003, Alex Barros in 2004, Max Biaggi in 2005 and Pedrosa from 2006 onwards - but will be expecting a much better relationship with Stoner than he has had with Pedrosa.

Hayden became the youngest ever AMA Superbike champion (at 21 years old) with Honda in 2002 and secured a place in HRC's factory Repsol outfit for the 2003 MotoGP season - although he came close to joining Yamaha.

After beating World Superbike champions Troy Bayliss and Colin Edwards to be the 2003 MotoGP rookie of the year, with two podiums and fifth in the points, Hayden suffered a tough second season, slipping to eighth in the standings, as Honda faced a difficult start to its post-Rossi era.

The immense pressure on Hayden to deliver a debut victory was finally released on home asphalt at the 2005 US Grand Prix, a race he won again - along with Assen - in 2006.

Despite being knocked out of the title lead by Pedrosa at the penultimate round of that season, Hayden achieved the 'impossible' when he overturned Valentino Rossi's eight point advantage at the season finale. Hayden is the only rider other than Rossi to win a 990cc MotoGP title.

JiR Team Scot Honda rookie Andrea Dovizioso is expected to take Hayden's RCV ride alongside Pedrosa.

Meanwhile, despite Hayden's departure, an American might still be riding an RCV next season, if triple AMA Superbike champion Ben Spies can clinch Dovizioso's JiR seat.

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