Roger Hayden Shares His Thoughts on New Race Team for 2014
NEWS February 10, 2014
Photo by Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing
Written by Evan Williams:
February 10, 2014 - AMA Pro SuperBike race-winner Roger Hayden has seen his stock rise the past three seasons. After returning from a frustrating year in World Superbike, the Kentuckian joined the Michael Jordan Motorsports team in 2011 as very much an unproven entity in the SuperBike class. But Hayden quickly proved he could run up front.
Hayden won in Miami in 2012 and followed up by challenging in several races in 2013, even though he didn’t add to his win total. The Barber and Mid-Ohio events saw Hayden put in hard charges, along with the Utah races.
It may be hard to believe, but the youngest of the racing Hayden brothers is now 30 years old. Roger has had a fantastic career. He’s been an AMA Pro champion and won a Superbike race. He’s also faced adversity, including the type of injuries that can end a career.
Hayden always comes back harder than ever. That tenacity has won him a loyal fan base over the years.
In the offseason, his world underwent a tumble when the Jordan team decided not to carry on. Hayden, however, landed in a great spot when he signed to race with series stalwart Yoshimura Suzuki.
AMA Pro: Obviously a lot of things have changed sinced the last race of the 2013 season.
Roger Hayden: For sure. A lot of things have changed with me, especially when the Jordan team decided not to come back racing. I really felt bad for those guys more than I did myself. I know how much time and effort Pete (Mauhar) and Richie (Alexander) put into that team. It seemed like they had finally gotten it to the point they wanted it but it wasn’t supported anymore. They had told me, “Next year depends on sponsorship,” right away and in plenty of time. So after they knew for sure, it was just me trying to find a ride for next year. Obviously I wanted to stay on a Superbike. My manager called Yoshimura Suzuki and they were definitely interested but they had to try to find the money to put me on the bike. It was looking bleak for a while.
I went and tested with them in November and the team, the bike, and me, we all got on really well. I was up to speed. My lap times were good and we didn’t really change anything on the bike.
I was the one who wanted to test and they let me work with Chris Clark and his crew. I rode one of his bikes and didn’t change a whole lot, just kinda did my thing. I think it helped Martin, too, having someone who got up to speed fast out there. I think he went quicker than he had before. I think the team realized it elevated things and I think they really, really went to work trying to find ways to run one more rider. That search went on for a while and then I got an offer to ride a 600 in Daytona SportBike from a really good team a week or two before Christmas. I really considered that.
At that point, I knew I was going to be racing for sure so I was feeling better about everything. I wanted to stay on Superbike because that’s where I am at now in my career and that’s my dream and where my attention has been the past few years.
On Christmas Eve, Don Sakakura called me and said Yoshimura and Suzuki were able to put the funds together to make it happen.
AMA Pro: That’s a pretty good Christmas present.
Roger Hayden: It’s the best one I’ve had since I was a little kid and we got new dirt bikes or something. It made Christmas a lot more enjoyable, I can tell you that much.
AMAPro: You were something of an unknown when you first signed with Jordan Suzuki three years ago. Since then, you were able to get some results and prove yourself. Where are you at nowadays with the Superbike?
Roger Hayden: I feel like the last two years I have been a contender. Last year, besides Daytona and Road America, I was right there. I lost both of the races at Barber by a tenth. We battled for the win in both races at Salt Lake City. I was going well at Mid-Ohio and ran off the track once and then something else happened in the other one. I feel like I know how to ride a Superbike and I think I proved that. Going into next year, I have a lot of confidence in myself especially after last season. Even though I didn’t win, I was a lot more competitive at more places and was in contention more consistently.
AMA Pro: There were some times when you put a lot of pressure on Josh Hayes last year, sometimes more than Josh Herrin was able to do.
Roger Hayden: Josh Herrin won the championship and some races but I felt that in the midseason, I was putting the most pressure on Hayes straight up. At Barber, nobody had a penalty and we went to the last lap. Salt Lake City was similar on the first day. That’s not to take anything away from Josh Herrin. He had a great season, definitely better than mine. I feel that week-in, week-out, on a consistent basis, I was there a lot.
AMA Pro: What’s the biggest difference between riding a 600 and riding a Superbike?
Roger Hayden: For one, you have to be in a lot better shape. You have to be a lot stronger. You also have to be mentally sharp, too. Josh Hayes is fast unloaded out of the truck. If you’re not as fast, you spend all weekend catching up.
I think the biggest thing people may not understand how it is to ride a Superbike during the race, how your shoulders get tired and your arms. To me, that’s the biggest thing -- along with picking the bike up early and getting the power to the ground. That’s one thing I worked on last year. I got a lot better and I think that’s the one thing that helped me the most.
AMA Pro: You can fight the Superbike or make it work for you, right?
Roger Hayden: Exactly. Some people try to tune a Superbike with electronics too much. It takes away all the power. I don’t use as much. I think it needs to move around a little bit. I think you are supposed to work it.
AMA Pro: Do the tires go off sooner on a Superbike than a Daytona SportBike?
Roger Hayden: They are pretty much the same as on a 600 but when they go off, you notice it a lot more because of the horsepower. When the grip starts to go, you have to slide around a lot more and sometimes you have to change how you ride.
AMA Pro: Was there a point where you had an “a-ha moment” when you understood how to be fast on a Superbike or did you just see it as steady progress?
Roger Hayden: I think the end of my first year at Jordan, the second half of the year we got the bike working and weren’t having issues every weekend. I started running better. I got on the podium at Mid-Ohio. I started getting it then because I got to ride with Tommy (Hayden), Josh (Hayes), and Blake (Young) and see how they did it. When it really came together was the last race of the year that year at New Jersey. With about five laps to go, I was in eighth place. I told myself to go for it and I almost did. I was there to make a move on the last lap for the win but it didn’t work out. I felt like I belonged.
AMA Pro: You’ve tested the Yoshimura bike a couple of times already. Is it a lot different or does it feel the same as your old bike?
Roger Hayden: It’s different. I think a lot different. The teams have different suspension and electronics and how it all works together … I don’t know how to explain it. It’s still a Suzuki but it is a lot different to me.
AMA Pro: What was the first thing you noticed on the factory bike?
Roger Hayden: How smooth the power was and how much there was.
AMA Pro: How well do you know your teammates?
Roger Hayden: I don’t know Martin very well to be honest. About the time he started racing 600s was the time I got out. We always said hi to each but he’s kind of a quiet guy and doesn’t say a whole lot but we talked at the test. Chris Clark came to Owensboro and rode dirt bikes and cycled with us so I probably know him a little better than Martin. So far, the whole team has been awesome and made me feel welcome. It’s a great atmosphere.
AMA Pro: Are your style and Martin’s style compatible? Are you going to be able to help each other with setup this year?
Roger Hayden: I think it’s too early to tell exactly on that. After the Vegas test, I feel like he goes through the corner faster than I do and does his electronics different than me. I get in the middle of the corner, stop, and shoot out. But that’s just the electronics. On the other settings, we are pretty close on a lot of stuff that they did to my bike that I liked. We tested some things back and forth and our feedback has been spot-on or pretty close. I feel like we can help each other out in some ways for sure.
AMA Pro: You’ve been around a while and it is kind of surprising you haven’t ridden for Yoshimura Suzuki before.
Roger Hayden: Yeah, it is a little strange. At the end of my first two-year deal with Kawasaki, I almost went to Yosh. They offered me a ride then, but I knew Kawasaki had a Superbike coming and they were the only ones that wanted to give me a chance at the end of, I think, ’03. If it wasn’t for Kawasaki, I wouldn’t have been racing and we won a lot of races together. I felt like I owed it to Kawasaki.
Looking back on it now, was it the best thing for my career? Probably not. The Kawasaki Superbike needed a couple of years of development. I pushed it way too hard beyond the limits and ended up in the hospital a couple of times.
But yeah, it is kinda strange I never rode for Yoshimura Suzuki but it is a team I always respected. They have been a force in AMA Pro Racing since I have been here. It’s a cool feeling. I went to the shop and they had all the championship banners hanging up so there’s a lot of history. It gives you a lot of confidence.
AMA Pro: Your crew chief Davey Jones worked with your brother Nicky back in his AMA Pro days with Honda.
Roger Hayden: I’ve known Davey a long time. Forever. Nicky’s whole team with Honda back then, our family has stayed close with them to this day … Davey Jones, Dan Fahie, Merlyn Plumlee before he passed away. Davey was with Kawasaki when I was, although we didn’t work directly together. He’s someone I always talked to about things. When they asked about him being my crew chief, I was all on-board. He’s been around and worked with great people like Merlyn and Peter Doyle. I think after testing with Davey, he is going to do a great job. Yoshimura let me be involved somewhat in who they hired. My chassis guy from Jordan, Francois de Martini, I get to work with him this year. Another guy from Kawasaki that I didn’t work with that Davey knew well and thought highly of, Dan Schwartz, is part of the team, too. Our data guy, Darin Marshall, was the other rider’s crew chief at Jordan so he knows me from working out of the same truck.
AMA Pro: The format has changed somewhat this year with fewer races and two-day events. For the riders and teams, has there been any consideration for this?
Roger Hayden: You know what? I was talking with my team about this last week at the test. You have no time for a mistake, whether that is rider error, a mechanical, whatever. There’s little time before the first race. Practice, qualifying, race on Saturday. There’s not as many events, so if you crash or DNF, it’s going to be hard to make up points. There is not much time to get up to speed, so you have to be on your game straight away. I think everyone has to be focused on the job more than ever. The big thing is you no longer have that Friday night to look over data and spend the extra time going over things with your team and coming up with a plan for Saturday. You don’t have that long Friday debrief anymore. You have to be ready to go.
It’s definitely going to make it more hectic and maybe more exciting. I hope it makes it more exciting and if not, they tried something different.
AMA Pro: It’s going to take a little something more to beat Josh Hayes. Are you the man to do it?
Roger Hayden: I hope I am. I think everyone needs to think that going into the season. I feel like I have put in the time as far as training goes. I am in really good shape and on a factory bike. I feel like all the pieces of the puzzle are there. It’s up to me to beat Josh … or not. There’s no excuses. I have everything I need. A factory bike, a good team … it’s on me to do it.
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