Roger Lee Hayden's Laguna ride confirmed
Roger Lee Hayden, younger brother of reigning MotoGP world champion Nicky, has now been officially confirmed as riding a third Kawasaki at the US Grand Prix later this month.
Hayden usually rides for Kawasaki in both the AMA Superbike and Supersport series in America, but the 24-year-old will now make his MotoGP debut as a wild-card alongside regular riders Randy de Puniet and Anthony West.
Hayden rode Shinya Nakano's 2006 Kawasaki 990cc MotoGP bike during a test at Valencia at the end of last season and more recently enjoyed a brief outing on the new 800cc ZX-RR at the Japanese circuit of Autopolis.
"The test last week went pretty well and I felt comfortable on the Ninja ZX-RR straight away," said Roger. It'll definitely take a bit of getting used to but I'm really grateful for the support of Kawasaki, who flew me all the way to Japan so I'd already be a little bit familiar with the bike before the race. It's a lot smaller than the bikes I normally ride, and revs a lot higher, but it handles really well and I feel I made the transition quite smoothly."
Hayden will now aim to use his considerable experience of the Laguna Seca track, a venue where his brother has taken victory on both of MotoGP's previous visits, but claims he has no major expectations heading into the event.
"It's a dream come true to race a MotoGP bike at Laguna Seca and it's been years since I raced against Nicky," said Hayden. "I'm not putting any pressure on myself: I'd just like it to be a positive experience and if I can score some points, that would be awesome. With quite a few Americans on the grid, the crowd will certainly have something to cheer about, plus my family and friends are going to come along so it should all be pretty cool."
As part of the Hayden racing dynasty, Roger Lee was put on a motorcycle at six and began racing just a couple of years later, eventually turning professional in 1999. He came second in the AMA Supersport championship in both 2004 and 2005, scored fifth in that series last year and is currently running second in the 2007 title fight. In 2006, he won Rookie of the Year in the AMA Superbike championship. He's also done well at Laguna Seca in the past, including a Supersport win in 2004.
Both AMA Superbike and Supersport will feature as support races at the Monterey circuit over the course of the MotoGP weekend and Hayden will ride his ZX-6R in the latter, in addition to his wild-card MotoGP ride, but won't race his ZX-10R Superbike.
"Originally we had no intention of running any wild-card riders this year, but we were able to look again at the possibility after the Catalunya race and it quickly became apparent that there was an opportunity for us to run a third bike at Laguna Seca. America is a very important market for Kawasaki, so that's why we've made the decision to be the first manufacturer to run an American wild-card rider in the U.S. Grand Prix since it's return to the calendar in 2005," explained Michael Bartholemy, Kawasaki competition manager.
"We chose Roger Lee because he's a long serving member of the 'Kawasaki family', representing Kawasaki in the domestic championships in the United States. We don't have any particular expectations of him in the race, as his time on the bike so far has been limited, but we know that he will be out to secure the best result possible for himself, and I hope that he will enjoy the chance to ride Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-RR in front of his home crowd," Bartholemy added.
Roger Lee's ride means there will potentially be seven 'home' riders for the Laguna Seca fans to support - his name joining brother Nicky, Colin Edwards, John Hopkins, Kenny and Kurtis Roberts plus AMA rival Miguel Duhamel on the provisional entry list.