Nicky Hayden was the man who ended Valentino Rossi’s 5 year, back-to-back title run when he was crowned the MotoGP champion at the season finale at Valencia 2006
The title was seen as controversial by many with people blaming Yamaha’s issues for Rossi not winning the title. Nicky was the lowest point scoring champion since Mick Doohan in 1995 with Nicky scoring 252 points with two wins and ten podiums. However, Nicky proved consistency is key and that points make prizes, he finished the season with the most points and was champion fair and square.
Dani Pedrosa taking Nicky Hayden out of the race at the penultimate round
It was not like Nicky had an easy ride to becoming the champion, he had a little bit of luck on the way as every champion does, however, he also had misfortune when he was taken out by teammate Dani Pedrosa at the penultimate round of the season at Estoril. Fellow Honda rider Toni Elias came to Hayden’s aid and won the same race by one of the smallest margins in MotoGP history, beating Valentino Rossi to the line by 0.002, taking 5 points from the Italian, Hayden would go on to win the title by 5 points.
The 0.002 gap which gave Elias the win
Hayden began the season in fantastic form with 4 back-to-back podiums whilst Valentino Rossi was knocked off by Toni Elias at the season opener, Rossi only took one race win in the opening four rounds with a DNF in round four. This gave Hayden a healthy lead where he took 2 more podiums in the next 3 races and a P5. His first win of two came at Assen when Colin Edwards crashed at the final chicane at Assen, this would’ve been the two-time World Superbikes champion’s only MotoGP class win, this handed Hayden an extra five points which as you can remember, was how many points he won the title by.
Colin Edwards crashing at the final chicane at Assen
The ‘Kentucky Kid’ would go on to win his second race of the season at home track Laguna Seca, this was his last career win in the MotoGP class. Hayden would follow this up without a podium until the last round of the season, he finished in ninth, fourth and then fifth in the following races before being knocked off by teammate Pedrosa at Estoril.
The DNF meant that everything went down to the last round of the season, tensions were high and the pressure was even higher for Rossi and Hayden to perform with Rossi winning every title since 2001. It was written in the stars this day that Hayden would win the title, something the American had worked his entire life for. Valentino Rossi crashed out of the race on the fourth lap and dragged his Yamaha M1 home to thirteenth place whilst Hayden ended the race in third place on the podium behind wildcard Troy Bayliss who won the race in spectacular fashion and Loris Capirossi.
This meant one thing, Nicky Hayden was the 2006 World Champion, his emotional cooldown lap captured the hearts of many as pure emotion and happiness were shown, giving the USA the title once again, something they have yet to win since Hayden did so.
“When you dedicate your life to something and the dream comes true it feels so good! This is a proud day for me, the team and my family. When I went down at the beginning of the Estoril race I thought the dream was over but I just didn’t give up. Anything can happen in racing and you just keep fighting until the end. I just believe good things happen to good people and this is a great day for me” said Nicky after winning the title.
Nicky Hayden worked harder than anyone in 2006 and it paid off, he was triumphant and his goals were met. Nicky Hayden is a MotoGP Legend with 3 wins and 28 podiums in 218 starts. The champions legacy lives on and he will never be forgotten, RIP Nicky Hayden.
Featured image – www.motogp.com