Americans Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards return for their second MotoGP at Indianapolis. Hayden, from Owensboro, Ky., finished second to Italian Valentino Rossi, the series' superstar, and Edwards, from Houston, was 15th in a race run in torrential rain and extremely windy conditions, which forced it to be stopped eight laps short of its scheduled distance of 28.
Hayden typically produces his best performances at a home grand prix. He won his first MotoGP at Laguna Seca Raceway in California in 2005 and followed it with a second victory there in 2006 en route to becoming World Champion. Hayden's best finish of this season is fifth at Laguna Seca.
"I love Indianapolis," Hayden said. "It's a great track and there is something about coming home. That home crowd gives you some extra adrenaline and it's worth a couple of extra tenths (a second) a lap. I only live three hours and can drive to the race. My friends and family come to the race and I'm a little nervous about that. I don't want to let them down.
"Last year it was a great weekend for me. The crowd was great and Indy did a great job of organizing their first race and made us proud of it. I would love to have another good weekend like that one."
Hayden has had a rough season, his first with Italian manufacturer Ducati. He's an uncharacteristic 14th in the championship going into the 12th of 17 races. The 28-year-old has never finished worse than eighth in six previous seasons in the premier motorcycle road racing series in the world.
"I spent 10 years with Honda and it was a big change coming to Ducati," Hayden said. "I've struggled more than I expected. It's been a tough road for me. That's how it goes sometimes, but it was a big transition at the beginning of the year, a nightmare really. I had a couple of big crashes and was carrying some injuries in the first two races of the year. Nothing went smoothly."
Hayden crashed at 130 miles per hour in qualifying in the season opener at Qatar. Riding with an extremely sore back and three stitches in his chest, he finished 12th in the race. Two weeks later, on the opening lap of the Japanese Grand Prix, Hayden was taken out of the race by rookie Yuki Takahashi.
"I actually landed in the same place on my back as the crash in Qatar and my leathers and helmet have got exactly the same marks," Hayden said. "Luckily, I feel OK."
After Hayden finished 15th in the third race of the season, the Spanish Grand Prix, Ducati decided major changes had to be made. It hired Juan Martinez to be Hayden's new crew chief.
Hayden had problems communicating with previous crew chief Cristhian Pupulin.
"I struggled at the beginning with the team," Hayden said. "It's a great bunch of guys, but the team had to make a crew chief change. The language barrier was too big. His English wasn't very good and my Italian wasn't very good. Juan Martinez speaks good English and is fluent in Italian and it was a big step forward."
Hayden also has had trouble adjusting to the Ducati.
"It's a lot different than the Honda," Hayden said. "I grew up riding Japanese bikes my whole life and this is an Italian bike. The electronics package is different and the Ducati is built from carbon fiber. Japanese bikes are built from aluminum. I've ridden different Japanese bikes and they react somewhat similar and the Ducati reacts differently."
Hayden has five top-10s in the last six races, including sixth at the previous race at Brno in the Czech Republic.
"We've turned a big corner and we certainly have come a long way from where we were," Hayden said. "I think there's more to come. I'm bummed there are only six races to go. We're not going to make those last advances overnight. They're going to come with more hard work."
Edwards, riding for Yamaha Tech 3, is fifth in the points with a best finish of second at Donington Park in the British Grand Prix two races ago. He also has been fourth at Qatar and TT Aasssen in The Netherlands this season and has 10 top-10s in 11 races.
This is expected to be the final MotoGP season for the 35-year-old Edwards, who will likely switch to the World Superbike championship or return to United States to race for Yamaha next season. Edwards was the 2000 and 2002 World Superbike champion and has been in MotoGP since 2003. He is still seeking his first MotoGP win.
"It's Indianapolis," Edwards said. "All the memories I have as a kid growing up and watching the Indy 500 and now to be able to go there and ride that track, just to ride on it, much less race on it, I think is pretty special in itself. OK, we're not doing the full four corners (of the oval), but we're using part of the track, running over the bricks (at start/finish)."
Rossi, riding for the Fiat Yamaha team, won his sixth MotoGP World Championship a year ago and appears headed for a seventh. His 212 points leads Spanish teammate Jorge Lorenzo by 50. Australian Casey Stoner, the 2007 MotoGP champion, is third, 62 points back, but he's not entered at Indianapolis. Indy is the second of three events Stoner has withdrawn from for undisclosed medical reasons.
The world championship 125cc and 250cc classes are also racing at Indianapolis. Practice begins Friday at 12:40 with the 125cc motorcycles. Qualifying is Saturday afternoon and the three races are Sunday. The 28-lap MotoGP is scheduled for a 3 p.m. start.