KUALA LUMPUR: A pair of red lions pranced around to greet the arrival of Ducati rider Nicky Hayden at the Dainese grand opening in Taman Tun Dr Ismail yesterday.
Hayden was captivated by the lion dance spectacle, especially after being told that the dance was for good luck, which is what he will need as he seeks his first-ever podium finish in the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit this weekend.
Hayden, the world champion in 2006, is riding for Ducati this year alongside the legendary Valentino Rossi but has yet to step onto the rostrum at Sepang, where he has had the best results of finishing fourth on five previous occasions.
Rossi, who counts the track among his favourites, already has six wins and three podiums from previous outings here.
“I have never finished in the top three but I have always been very consistent, with five fourth-placed finishes in my career, along with one fifth and a sixth from all my visits. I hope to step up this time,” said the American, who felt that it would be a different challenge here altogether compared to the Australian Grand Prix last week.
“The conditions in Malaysia are typically hot and steamy, very different from what we had at Phillip Island last Sunday.
“The Sepang Circuit has a good mix of everything, so you need the bike to do everything well. There are some long straights, where you need a fast bike that brakes well, and some fast corners.
“There are also some slow little hairpins ... so it’s a good mix of everything that really challenges the rider and his bike.
“It will be interesting to get back on this track after spending a lot of time here in February (winter testing),” added the 30-year-old from Kentucky.
Hayden needs to do well here if he hopes to finish better than his illustrious team-mate Rossi.
Hayden is just behind Rossi in eighth spot on 132 points. Rossi has 139 points with the field heading for the final round of the championship in Valencia in two weeks’ time.
Hayden was a special guest at the grand opening of international bike apparel and accessories brand Dainese, which specialises in protective wear for motorcycling and downhill skiing.
It has also developed an innovative suit that has an airbag integrated into the one-piece leather suit, which inflates when the internal microprocessor detects a crash.
Hayden was appreciative and he will be among the riders using it in the MotoGP this year.
“At the speed we are going, we are bound to crash as everyone is pushing the barriers. Health is important for me as it is an 18-round championship. It is comfortable and I don’t feel it when I’m wearing it,” said Hayden.