Two Luxury Testers: Nicky Hayden Tests Panigale At Mugello, Casey Stoner At Motegi For Honda
Having a test rider who can put in a competitive lap time is important to factories when they are developing their bikes. Having a world champion who can match the pace of the fastest men on the planet is sheer luxury. Two factories find themselves in this situation, with vastly different purposes and outcome. Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner are testing radically different bikes on nearly opposite sides of the planet, to help their respective (former) employers.
Nicky Hayden has been testing Ducati's Panigale 1199R World Superbike machine at Mugello on Wednesday, the American both providing development input on the troublesome machine, as well as using it as an opportunity to test the WSBK waters and decide whether he wishes to switch from MotoGP. Ducati are keen to retain the services of the American, and are reported to have offered him a very generous offer to race the Panigale in World Superbikes with the Alstare Ducati team. Ducati need a rider who is fast, diligent and can put in the effort to help move the Panigale project forward.
Hayden is undecided on the offer, however. His main motivation, he keeps telling reporters whenever he's asked about his future (which is every day at the moment), is to have as competitive a package as possible. On the basis of the results achieved by Ayrton Badovini and Carlos Checa, the Ducati Panigale is not such a package, prompting Carlos Checa to seek another world championship elsewhere, with rumors linking the Spaniard to a ride at Kawasaki alongside Tom Sykes. Hayden is very much in demand at the moment: American Honda are keen to put the Kentucky Kid on a production Honda at LCR Honda, but so far, they have not managed to raise the full budget necessary. Hayden has also been talking to Forward Racing to take one of the Yamaha M1 non-MSMA entries for 2014, which should be a competitive package from the start. And Aprilia are known to be very keen to secure the services of the American, as they believe he would be a powerful marketing tool for the entire Piaggio group. He has been offered a seat on the ART machine in the Aspar squad, possible replacing Randy de Puniet, though if Aleix Espargaro leaves for Forward, then De Puniet could retain his seat.
Meanwhile in Japan, Casey Stoner is testing the production Honda. Or at least he would be, if it weren't raining at the Japanse circuit. Stoner has a two-day test scheduled to continue work on the 2014 RC213V and put the production racer through its paces. Rain on the first day has seen Stoner sitting in the pits waiting for the weather to clear, as there is nothing to be learned about the state of development of a motorcycle by taking it out in the rain. A dry track, and someone who can take the bike to the limits is what is needed. Stoner has been contracted to test the bikes for Honda for 2013, with HRC keen to continue the collaboration in 2014 as well, as having a test rider who can push the bike so far that it runs into the same problems it would encounter in a racing situation is invaluable. In the early part of 2012, when both Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner were struggling with chatter, neither of Honda's test riders could replicate the problem. They were, quite simply, too slow.
Though Stoner's return to testing is likely to once again kick off more speculation about a wild card appearance later this year, or even a return to racing in 2014, reports from Stoner's inner circle reject any idea of him coming back to racing. Though reliable reports from Spain suggest that Carmelo Ezpeleta rejected an application by HRC for Stoner to wild card at Phillip Island this year, there is no one in Stoner's circle who believes he ever seriously entertained racing as a wild card. If anything Stoner looks more likely to do even less racing next year: the Australian is currently racing in the Dunlop Series, the support series to the Australian V8 Supercars, but the media commitments for Stoner in that series are just as onerous as they are in MotoGP, and he gets even less track time, as racing is cut short in the Dunlop series to ensure the V8 Supercar TV schedule remains intact. Stoner has suggested a couple of times that he might take a year of from racing entirely, and see where his interests lie after that. A role as a test rider for Honda is ideal in that regard: he gets to ride the best motorcycle in the world around a race track at very great speed, with no media or other commitments, and can come and go as he pleases. It is all the parts which he loves, without all the parts he hates. The only thing missing is competition. Whether he can live without that, or find that in other areas of his life remains to be seen.