Roger Lee Hayden, brother of current MotoGP world champion Nicky, will ride a factory Ninja ZX-RR at the Red Bull US Grand Prix later this month, as a wildcard rider.
Already representing the Japanese motorcycle manufacturing giant in both the AMA Superbike
and Supersport series in America, the 24 year old from Kentucky will race a third bike for the Kawasaki Racing Team at the event in California, 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 also enjoyed a brief opportunity to ride the new ZX-RR at Japanese circuit, Autopolis, recently. With his considerable experience of the Laguna Seca track, the team hope he'll raise their profile in front of a knowledgeable and enthusiastic American crowd and have some fun on the powerful, 800cc machine while he's at it.
The young Hayden boasts an impressive pedigree. As part of the Hayden family racing dynasty, he 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. Furthermore, he's done well at Laguna Seca in the past, including gaining a Supersport win there 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 Kawasaki ZX-6R in the latter, in addition to his wildcard ride.
He won't, however, race his ZX-10R Superbike that weekend as otherwise he'd never be off the grid!
"The test last week went pretty well and I felt comfortable on the Ninja ZX-RR straight away. 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”, said Hayden. “ It's a dream come true to race a MotoGP bike at Laguna Seca and it's been years since I raced against Nicky. 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."
The Kawasaki Racing Team very much look forward to Hayden joining them in California for the race on 22nd July, in what will no doubt be a fast, hot and exciting crowd-pleaser.
"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. 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. Who knows? Maybe this will be the start of us using wildcard riders more in the future or, possibly, running a third bike full time in the championship next year”, explained Kawasaki Competition Manager Michael Bartholemy.