Nicky's 2006 season began in January with the first of five three-day tests. Hayden and his Repsol Honda crew put in a tremendous amount work developing the 'next generation' RC211V, designed specifically to beat Valentino Rossi and Yamaha. Before the season even began Hayden had completed 3819 miles during test at Phillip Island, Barcelona, Jerez and two tests at Sepang in Malaysia.
Unpredictable weather saw Hayden doing plenty of laps in the rain, often as the sole rider on the track, working on improving his performance in the wet. It was time well spent with the first races of the season featuring an unusually high number of wet sessions. Confirming his new-found wet-weather confidence, Hayden took his evolution RC211V to second place in the official timed pre-season shootout at the IRTA test in Barcelona and qualified second in a wet qualifying session in Turkey.
Displaying tremendous speed, confidence and consistency Hayden took an early grip on the championship stringing together an impressive sequence on podium finishes, before recording his first dramatic win of the year at Assen. He followed this up with another fantastic victory at his home race in Laguna Seca. While the form of other rose and fell, Hayden maintained his performance throughout the season, displaying race-winning pace when things were going well and grinding out important points finishes when the going was tougher.
This is the story of his season, in his own words;
ROUND 1 - Jerez, Grand Prix of Spain - "It wasn't pretty!" (Qualifying 4th- Race 3rd);
From fourth on the grid Nicky fights to a well-deserved third place, scoring his fifth consecutive podium finish and continuing his excellent from the end of the previous season.
"It wasn't pretty with a few guys dropping out, but nonetheless we'll take the 16 points and the podium. Last year I crashed out here so it's nice to get off and running with some momentum. We were testing here two weeks ago and at that point we didn't have a chance but the team's made a big step. It's early man - it's only round one and we'll get stronger."
ROUND 2 - Losail, Grand Prix of Qatar- "I pushed Valentino hard today." (Qualifying 4th - Race 2nd);
Hayden duels with Rossi for the win, finishing just 0.9s behind. The performance confirms the promise of the evolution RC211V and of Hayden as a title contender.
"Battling for the win is so much more fun than battling for fourth place! I pushed Valentino hard today and I pushed myself about as hard as I could too. On the last lap in a left-hander I got into a little slide, Valentino gapped me and it was hard to recover, but the new bike's definitely getting better and we're heading in the right direction. Six podiums on the trot is cool, but it would be nice to get a few wins along the way!"
ROUND 3 - Istanbul, Grand Prix of Turkey- "Leading the world championship is something to be proud of." (Qualifying 2nd - Race 3rd);
Hayden takes the World Championship lead after a close race. Despite a niggle with the front brakes Hayden fights at the front once again and gains another valuable podium. Championship lead : 1 point.
"It was a wild race. Everyone was riding super-aggressive and fighting for position but nobody was doing any bone-head stuff. I had a problem on the starting line when one of the tyre warmers melted to the front disc. The brakes actually came in pretty good, but it didn't feel perfect. Leading the world championship is something to be proud of but I've gotta keep working hard and stay focused, and really I've gotta win races if I'm going threaten for the title."
ROUND 4 - Shanghai, Grand Prix of China - "I tried to put some heat on Dani but that dude wouldn't crack!" Qualifying 5th - Race 2nd);
In a Repsol Honda one-two, Hayden pushes his team-mate all the way but can't deny his team-mate Dani Pedrosa his first MotoGP win. Hayden records eight consecutive MotoGP podium finish. Championship lead : 13 points.
"I tried to go a little bit faster every lap and put some heat on Dani, but that dude just wouldn't crack! So I definitely give Dani credit because he rode a really strong race. Congratulations to all the guys involved in Repsol Honda - they deserve it and Honda's fighting hard for this championship. I'm trying to be consistent in every race and every session and I like to think that win's not far away. It's nice to pull out a little gap in championship but it's early days."
ROUND 5 - Le Mans, Grand Prix of France - "Since we got off the plane from China it hasn't come real smooth" (Qualifying 10th - Race 5th);
On a gruelling weekend Hayden battles illness to recover from 10th on the grid to take a valuable 5th place at the finish. Championship lead : 4 points.
"It's been a tough weekend, all weekend! Since we got off the plane from China it hasn't come real smooth - it's been bad with the weather, bad with the flu we've had a few things go against us. We fought as hard as we could today and ended up fifth which is not the result we want - but we're still holding on to that championship lead. I hated to see that consecutive podium streak end but hey, we'll bounce back and get ready for the next one."
ROUND 6 - Mugello, Grand Prix of Italy - "These are the races you really enjoy!" (Qualifying 4th - Race 3rd);
Hayden fights back from a bad start to duel with Rossi, Capirossi and Melandri at their home track. Despite "only" finishing third, Hayden enjoys every minute and returns to the podium. Championship lead : equal with Capirossi.
"After Le Mans I needed to come back this weekend and answer the bell, and today I did that. Everybody was out for blood today. With the atmosphere here and the crowd, these are the races you really enjoy. I didn't help myself with the start though - I mean there's no excuses for getting a start like that! Now the season has really started and we're coming to a few tracks I really like."
ROUND 7 - Catalunya, Catalunya Grand Prix - "I wanted to be smart and stay consistent today - I can't afford any off-days." (Qualifying 7th - Race 2nd);
Steering clear of a big first corner crash that claims several riders, Hayden stalks for the entire race Rossi and finishes in a strong second place. Championship lead : 20 points.
"Sure I want to win, but I'm happy with being able to run at that pace today because I've struggled a bit all weekend. I was 10th in the warm up this morning and 10th on Friday, and I knew today that when the light went out I had to find some speed and dig in. So I was really happy to be able to raise my game. Rossi was playing today - he had more in the tank and was saving his tyres so I knew it was going to be hard to stay with him at the end of the race. I wanted to be smart and stay consistent today - I can't afford to have any off-days."
ROUND 8 - Assen, Dutch Grand Prix - "It's a great feeling to get that win away from home." (Qualifying 4th - Race 1st);
Hayden takes dramatic victory after fierce battle with Colin Edwards which sees both riders run off the track at the last corner. As rivals stumble, Hayden extends championship lead. Championship lead : 42 points.
"It was a wild one today and I definitely enjoyed it - it's just a really good day for me. I'm proud to win for Repsol Honda and really proud to score Honda's 200th win in the top class of Grand Prix too. At the end of the race I felt really good and really strong. Going into the last chicane he was going in so deep so I used a move I'd used on Hopkins earlier in the race. Huge thanks to my team and everyone working around me at Repsol Honda, and also to Michelin. It's a great feeling to get that win away from home."
ROUND 9 - Donington, British Grand Prix - "It's been quite a tough weekend." (Qualifying 11th - Race 7th);
With new chassis parts to evaluate, Hayden loses some set-up time in practice and never fully recovers. Despite running off track in the race he grinds out a useful 7th place finish. Championship lead : 26 points.
"It's been quite a tough weekend and things didn't quite go for us here. We used a quite lot of time on Friday testing some new parts and yesterday we made some progress, though we had a little electrical problem in the afternoon. That's all excuses though and the bottom line is that we didn't get it done this weekend. We'll regroup now, think about what didn't go so well this weekend and try to do better in Sachsenring."
ROUND 10 - Sachsenring, Grand Prix of Germany - "I'm proud to be going to Laguna leading the championship." (Qualifying 3rd - Race 3rd);
A thrilling race-long scrap at the front sees Hayden leading the early laps. In an incredibly close finish Hayden crosses the line in third and maintains his championship lead. Championship lead : 26 points.
"We had a good battle today and I really enjoyed it. Everybody rode well and fought hard and nobody gave an inch. I'm not completely satisfied with third because this is a good track for me and I thought I had a shot at the win today, but I really enjoyed the battle. I'm proud to be going to Laguna leading the championship - we'll definitely be trying to get 25 more there."
ROUND 11 - Laguna Seca, USA Grand Prix - "This win feels better than last year - I really had to work for it." (Qualifying 6th - Race 1st);
Under intense pressure and in searing heat, Hayden takes his second consecutive win at Laguna Seca to extend his championship lead going into the summer break. Championship lead : 34 points.
"I think this win feels better than last year, if that's possible! Last year was perfect and it all came pretty easy but this year I really had to work for it. At some races it doesn't pay off to be fit but today was so hot and really physical. So thanks to my trainer Aldon Baker - my life revolves around training and days like this make it worth it. It was really big for the championship today but there's a long way still to go and I've just got to stay healthy and go for some more wins."
ROUND 12 - Brno, Czech Grand Prix - "I knew it was going to be hard work." (Qualifying 4th - Race 9th);
An unlucky race sees Hayden slip back through the field as clutch and tyre problems combine to thwart the efforts of the Kentucky star. Championship lead : 25 points.
"I was going pretty good for the first part of the race. I made a good start and was feeling comfortable running in third. But the result's frustrating and we had a few little issues in the race with the clutch and the rear tyre - I'm not going to dwell on it though. One week you win and the next you're ninth - that's the level of the competition in MotoGP. I knew it was going to be hard work but we'll put in a couple of days testing and we'll come back fighting for the next race."
ROUND 13 - Sepang, Grand Prix of Malaysia - "I didn't quite have enough speed today." (Qualifying 2nd - Race 4th) Hayden takes fourth in the Sepang heat. Championship lead : 22 points;
"It was a frustrating race because we didn't have quite enough speed today. I felt like I rode my hardest and for that I'm proud, but at this level sometimes that isn't good enough. I've got no excuses - the bike, the set-up and the tyres were pretty good, but we couldn't quite go at their speed. We'll keep fighting though - there's four races to go and some tracks that I really like coming up."
ROUND 14 - Phillip Island, Australian Grand Prix - "What a wild race!" (Qualifying 1st - Race 5th);
Hayden takes pole position but suffers a terrible start before putting in a brilliant come-back ride and swapping places with Rossi, who escapes punishment despite overtaking under a yellow flag. Championship lead : 21 points.
"What a wild race! I had some problems getting off the line and I was just getting eaten up and losing positions at the beginning. Then it started to rain, we came in and switched bikes and it was actually really good fun. I got Rossi, he got me back and it was looking ok until he got Sete in between us which was not great, but we're still holding on with three races to go and we'll just roll into Motegi and keep fighting."
(ROUND 15 - Motegi, Grand Prix of Japan - "This class is really tough." (Qualifying 7th - Race 5th);
Motegi isn't one of Hayden's best tracks yet the American fights up to fifth place after another slow start and a combative first lap. Championship lead : 12 points.
"Lap one was pretty wild and luckily in the first couple of corners I made up a lot of positions because my start was a bit of a disaster. I actually got hit by another rider on the first lap and bent the clutch lever up which didn't help. I tried to come through the pack but it's hard - you're coming past fast guys and in this class it's really tough."
ROUND 16 - Estoril, Grand Prix of Portugal - "I don't know what to say really. It just hurts" (Qualifying 3rd - Race DNF);
Hayden and Pedrosa battle with the leaders before Pedrosa falls and takes Hayden down too. Despite the huge disappointment for the team, all is not lost. Championship lead : -8 points.
"I don't know what to say really - it just hurts. I couldn't believe how comfortable I felt in the first few laps and I felt I could go and see what Valentino had. I've proved this weekend that I wasn't going to give up without a fight and even now I believe I'm pretty strong. This was not one of my best tracks and I've come here and gone quick - I was fastest in one session, got on the front row and had a good race pace. I need Dani's help now because anything could happen in Valencia. I told him there's a way to make it up to me and that's if we run one-two in Valencia then the championship's still possible."
ROUND 17 - Cheste, Comunitat Valenciana Grand Prix - "When you dedicate your life to something and the dream comes true it feels so good." (Qualifying 5th - Race 3rd);
Nicky Hayden, Dani Pedrosa and the Repsol Honda Team make a superb race that finally bears fruit. Rossi crashes after a bad start and Hayden, with the help of team mate Pedrosa, escapes from the rest of the pack going for the third position. Nicky Hayden 2006 MotoGP World Champion. Final championship lead: 5 points.
"When you dedicate your life to something and the dream comes true it feels so good. This is a proud day for me, the team and my family. I want to thank everybody back home and I hope they're partying back there in Owensboro. When I went down at the beginning of the Estoril race I thought the dream was over but I just didn't give up. Anything can happen in racing and you just keep fighting until the end. I just believe good things happen to good people and this is a great day for me. I swear on the warm-up lap I was riding round in front of a full house and I had tears in my eyes because I knew this was the chance of a lifetime and I had to go for it. I've felt all year that this was my year - even at Estoril when Elias beat Rossi I believed it. I knew that win or lose I was going to sleep well tonight because I was gonna give it my all today. I got a good start and I was just fighting to get to the front in the first few laps. I saw some marks on the track and then I came round and my pit-board said "Rossi P19". Then it went to P17, P15 and P14 and it was a tough situation because I knew there was probably going to be a couple of riders pull over for him. And I knew that you can never count Valentino out - if his bike was ok then he can make up a lot of positions in a hurry. I didn't know if I was going to have to fight the guys ahead of me because if you get in a dogfight with Loris and Troy you know you're going to take some chances. But I stayed close enough that I felt like I was going to be able to go for it if I needed to. Then I saw "P3 OK" on my pit-board and I had faith in my team that they had figured it out that I was safe. Then I just tried to be smooth and tried to be smooth. Honestly I didn't know it was over until the chequered flag. It feels really good to beat a guy like Rossi because he's a real competitor with seven world titles and that just makes it that much more rewarding.
Dani didn't have team orders today but he let me by at the beginning of the race. We spoke last night had a gentleman's agreement and I told him that if he helped me to win the world championship that we would be straight and I won't forget it. In two or three years from now if we're still team-mates and I can help him then I'll return the favour - he's a good man. I really want to thank everyone involved in the Repsol Honda Team, and Michelin because it's their 5th straight title in MotoGP so a big thanks to them too. I'm looking forward to getting that number-one plate on my RCV next year."
Nicky Hayden Tribute