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Nicky Hayden reflects on his first season as a factory MotoGP rookie

Nicky Hayden reflects on his first season as a factory MotoGP rookie

Nicky Hayden reflects on his first season as a factory MotoGP rookie

With four races remaining of his rookie MotoGP season, Nicky Hayden has already done enough to suggest that he could be the next serious contender to Valentino Rossi's dominance of the World Championship. The former AMA Superbike Champion (his crown was recently inherited by ex-GP veteran Mat Mladin) has made gradual improvements throughout the season and has taken three top six finishes from the last four races, moving up to eighth place in the championship.

"I actually started the year pretty good – I got two sevenths which was okay because everything was new," says Hayden. "When we got to Europe I had a big crash at Jerez and got beat up a little bit, so from there I got into a bit of a rut. I came through it and now I definitely feel like I've got it going in the right direction. The last few races have definitely been my best. Usually my lap times at the end of the race are pretty good, so I have to work on my qualifying and getting a better start – that's my goal over the last few races."

Sharing a garage with Rossi in the highly successful Repsol Honda team has proved to be an extra motivation for the youngster, even amongst the added pressures that come with being a factory rider. "Myself and Valentino pretty much get on with our own business but any time I've ever asked him something he's been really cool and overall I like him. He's a funny guy to be around but for the most part we do our own thing. All the mechanics work well together and the sponsors want to give the riders the best, so I have no complaints as far as the team goes. Sure, people say there is a lot of pressure on me and, at times, being team-mate to the World Champion does make it a little more interesting but I wouldn't want to be in any other garage."

Away from the track, the 22 year old has had to make huge adaptations to his lifestyle, having grown up amongst a close knit family which travelled together to virtually all of the AMA races. "I come from Kentucky, which is a lot different from the countries I have visited this year but I've enjoyed it. Some of the places you go to you don't really like and some others you really enjoy - just like in America really. When I have had time off it's been nice to see the world, but to be honest I've just been focussed on my riding – trying to get better and trying to improve."

Learning to ride the RC211V at largely unknown circuits has been a major challenge for Hayden, but he admits to being amongst good company. "You look around you on the track and there are so many World Champions – so many good riders - and these boys don't play that's for sure. They come out Friday morning and they're just swinging, so that's been hard to get used to, no doubt, but I feel I'm getting closer. In America you'd get a few guys going quick at certain tracks but here everybody is so quick. That's what makes it so tough.

Following in the footsteps of Kenny Roberts, Kevin Schwantz, Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey into the World Championship, Hayden is now hoping he can emulate or even better the achievements of his compatriots. "I'm here to try and be World Champion - and I won't be happy unless that happens. It's going to be tough, I'm going to have to improve a lot in a lot of areas but definitely Americans have had a lot of success and that motivates me to do even better. As a kid it was always my dream to be in Grand Prix but now I am here it is not enough. This year my results haven't been so great yet but hopefully over the next few races I can step up and get to that next level."

MotoGP, 2003, Nicky Hayden

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