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Nicky Hayden: "It's every man for himself"

Nicky Hayden: 'It's every man for himself'

Nicky Hayden: "It's every man for himself"

Nicky Hayden started the 2004 preseason testing schedule at Sepang two weeks ago with a new brief. After spending his rookie season as number 2 to World Champion Valentino Rossi in the prestigious Repsol Honda box, the 2002 AMA Superbike Champion emerged from the shadow of the Italian with some worthy displays in the final few races and established himself as a main contender for the role of the factory's lead rider when Rossi defected to Yamaha. With testing now underway Hayden is challenging for that right with three experienced Grand Prix winners in the shape of Sete Gibernau, Max Biaggi and Alex Barros, as well as former World Superbike Champion Colin Edwards and HRC's latest Japanese protégé Makoto Tamada. However, the 22 year old remains unfazed by the challenge and, as he told in the following interview, "it's every man for himself." After such a long break, was it a relief to get back on board the bike at Sepang?

Nicky Hayden: Yeah, no doubt it was really nice. I hadn't ridden the bike since the first week of November at Valencia so it was good to get back around my guys, on the bike and at the track and just feel like I'm doing something. After the surgery it was good to get some confidence back in the hand, there was no problems and, yeah, it was nice.

Q: The weather conditions in Malaysia were as tough as ever – how did you feel physically after the holiday and after the operation?

NH: Alright – I'm just getting strength back in my thumb because I had it in a brace. Under braking down the front straight at Sepang from 200mph to a first gear corner was a little bit hard but apart from that it was fine. I like it in the heat - I don't really like riding in the cold. I'm kind of a sissy so I'd much rather be in the warm weather!

Q: What was the bike like compared to the end of last year?

NH: It's definitely a step up. You know, Honda's always working, so the bike is better – it revs a bit higher and there were plenty of bits and pieces that I liked. I'm getting more comfortable with the new engine and the way it puts the power down but I still haven't ridden the new chassis and the new shock so hopefully that will be ready for the next test.

Q: What is your understanding of the situation at Honda now that Valentino Rossi has gone?

NH: I don't really know the situation – they say everybody is starting the year equal so I think that's fair, you can't ask for any more than that. If one person establishes themselves as the leader and the guy for the championship then maybe they do deserve the new things as they come down. For my part all I expect is to be equal and I hope to be Honda's future. Right now I'm the youngest rider by a long way at Honda – all the other guys are a fair bit older. Max and these guys have been around a long time and I know Honda are always looking at the future so I want to be that guy. I've been with Honda for a while, they've obviously put a lot of faith in me and given me this opportunity so I want to be able to give back and deliver.

Q: Do you feel you have the right credentials to be the lead rider at Honda?

NH: Well, not necessarily the lead guy but, as I say, I definitely want to be the future guy because we don't know how much longer the others will be around. I enjoy learning about the bike and trying to make things better. Maybe I'm not the best right now but I do enjoy that side of it. I mean, some of the things I've learned working with the staff is incredible – the technology is almost too much sometimes, you're just thinking ‘where do they come up with these ideas?' The bikes are getting so advanced – in some ways it's good for the sport but in some ways I don't think the rider is control as much as they used to be. Still, at the end of the day it's down to whoever pulls the throttle.

Q: What do you think about Rossi's move to Yamaha – can he be competitive?

NH: Well, we're going to find out! Regardless, I think it's good for the series, good for the sport and it's definitely brought some excitement in and I think it's going to be wide open. Personally I think it's better for me – it's every man for himself. I'd rather him be down there than be second to Valentino. People were quick to write him off because last year the Yamaha wasn't so good and the Honda and Ducati were so great but, you know, he is World Champion I don't know how many times and you can't just sleep on a guy with that kind of calibre. It's going to be interesting – next year is going to be wide open and I'm ready for it.

Q: What about your new team-mate Alex Barros?

NH: To be honest I don't even know Alex. I've said hello to him a couple of times but that's it, I probably haven't spoken more than ten words to him in my life but everybody says he's a nice guy. One thing I've learned here though is that, whereas in the US team-mates seem to work closely together, share information and talk about things, here it's every man for himself. That's just the way it is – last year me and Valentino hardly ever spoke about anything. We got along great and all that was all good but… you know, as long as the atmosphere in the team is good and we're not bitter rivals... as long as there is plenty of love in the team!

Q: You had plenty of doubters when you began your MotoGP career – do you think you have proved them wrong?

NH: It's all good, I don't really care – you know, a lot of people doubted me but that just made me want to do better. People were quick to say that someone else should have got the ride but my feeling is to bring in somebody new, some young kids, and give them the opportunity and not keep changing around people who have already been here. You're always going to have the doubters and the haters but that's good – obviously, I'm glad that at the end of the year I was able to prove myself. At the start of the year I had a few problems a lot people don't know about, things that weren't really my fault, that hit my confidence and slowed down my learning curve a little bit – not that I want to make any excuses. But finally I started to settle down with the bike and the team too. This year I've got no excuses, but last year was a big step.

Q: Looking forward to this season, what are your personal targets?

NH: It will be tough, no doubt, but my goal is to win the World Championship. Like I said I don't really have any excuses now – I know the bike, I know the tracks and it's pretty much up to me. It will be tough because there are a lot of great riders and I'm not saying I'm the favourite by any means but I want to put my name in the hat, be consistent, stay healthy and try to be up there each weekend. It's not going to be easy, I'll have to elevate my game a lot but I'm ready to do whatever it takes - it's what I do.

MotoGP, 2003, Nicky Hayden

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