Belfast Telegraph

Tributes flood in after the death of Nicky Hayden

 

By Robert Jones

Michael Laverty says the world of motorcycling has lost a "shining star" following the death of Nicky Hayden yesterday. The Toomebridge man took to Twitter after confirmation that the 35-year-old American, known as the Kentucky Kid, had died following a cycling accident in Italy last week.

Laverty, who raced against Hayden in the MotoGP class, said: "The world has lost a shining star.... my condolences to Nicky's family & close friends. Godspeed #69."

Laverty's brother, Eugene, was a team-mate of Hayden's in the Drive M7 Aspar Honda in MotoGP and like double World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea was competing against the popular rider from the States last month at Assen in Holland.

Rea commented on Twitter: "Champion on and champion off the track! So sad that Nicky has gone. Prayers for his fiancée, family, friends and team! #legend."

Other local racing stars have also passed on their condolences to the Hayden family, including Jeremy McWilliams and North West 200 record holder Alastair Seeley.

"Cannot believe it, the most charming rider I've ever known, it was a pleasure to know you, deepest sorrow to Hayden family - life is so unfair," said McWilliams, while Seeley expressed his sorrow at the "very sad news that Nicky Hayden has passed away".

Hayden was one of the best examples of someone who was born to race motorcycles.

A former MotoGP World champion, he comes from a family famous for racing.

Born in Owensboro, Kentucky on July 30, 1981, he followed older brother Tommy on to the racetracks of America. Younger brother Roger Lee, mother Rose and sisters Jenny and Kathleen have also raced.

Nicky was by far the best of the Hayden bunch, graduating from the time-honoured school of American dirt track racing all the way to the top of the MotoGP World Championship.

He had his first race at the tender age of five. Throughout his club racing career he regularly had to start from the back of the grid as he was so short he needed someone to hold his bike upright.

At 17 he moved up to racing a full factory Honda RC45 despite still being in high school. It was the beginning of a long association with the Japanese manufacturer which saw him become World champion in 2006, famously ending the five-year domination by Valentino Rossi.

He won the American Supersport title in 1999 and the Superbike crown three years later. He also won numerous dirt track races, leading home a Hayden one-two-three ahead of Tommy and Roger Lee at the Springfield TT.

But as with many of the American racers who had risen to the top of their sport on home soil, he moved to Europe to chase glory in the MotoGP World Championship.

Hayden jumped straight in at the deep end when he signed for Repsol Honda, the top team in the series, to partner the all-conquering combination of Rossi and Honda's RC211V.

He appeared unfazed by the prospect, taking the rookie of the year award by finishing fifth in the points standings, but a disappointing 2004 season followed and it was not until 2005 that he took his first MotoGP win in his home race at Laguna Seca, ending the series in third overall.

With Rossi having moved to Yamaha in 2004, it fell to Hayden to spearhead the Honda challenge in 2006 but his hopes of ending the Italian's winning streak at five World titles in a row looked to be over with one race remaining.

Having led the points standings from the third race, Hayden saw his hopes dealt a serious blow at the penultimate round at Estoril in Portugal when he was knocked off by team-mate Dani Pedrosa.

Hayden trailed Rossi by eight points but when the latter crashed trying to make up for a bad start at Valencia in Spain, he handed the advantage to his rival and Hayden claimed the crown by finishing third.

He changed his distinctive racing No.69 for the No.1 plate but could only finish eighth in 2007 without a single win to his name. The following year he struggled again as Honda favoured Pedrosa and before the end of the year he agreed a move to Ducati.

Five years of struggle with the Italian marque were followed by a return to Honda and MotoGP via the Aspar team before he joined the company's World Superbike effort as part of the Ten Kate team in 2016, which became the Red Bull Honda team.

He won the second race at Sepang in Malaysia and also finished on the podium in Germany, America and Holland in 2016.

Although his best years of racing were behind him, Hayden's death has robbed him of many years where he could have reflected on his status as an American World champion.

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