Former world champion Nicky Hayden will tear up the Phillip Island circuit for the last time as a MotoGP rider this weekend but the American ace won’t be lost to Australian fans forever.
Hayden, affectionately known as ‘The Kentucky Kid’, announced his switch to the World Superbikes series for next season before last week’s Japanese MotoGP, and will be back at the Australian circuit with his new team early next year.
The high point of his storied career came in 2006 when he held off Italian master Valentino Rossi to win the world title on a factory Honda, and he plans to reach the same heights with the Ten Kate Honda team in Superbikes.
“Ultimately the goal will be to become the first rider to win both championships,” Hayden said.
“It’s a lot of talk at the moment but it’s another thing to actually go and do it.
“We’ve got a long way to go before we start talking about that.”
Hayden, currently with the Aspar Homda MotoGP team, broke into the top flight of motorcycle racing in 2003. He will start his 214th race on Sunday, but hasn’t stood on the podium since 2011.
He has been a popular figure in the MotoGP paddock over his 13-year career and isn’t ready to retire at 34 years of age.
“I still love racing, I still love the competition and the fans – I’ve still got pretty good health so why go home now?,” he said.
“To get back on a factory bike was really the thing that sold it to me. There was some discussion in MotoGP but nothing that was really too interesting at all.
“I had an opportunity to stay with Honda in Superbikes with the thought of a new bike coming in 2017 and that really got me excited.
“I’ve had a great run but it’s time to try something different.”