Q How was your off-season? What did you do?
A Pretty normal off-season: I had an operation, which some years seems about normal for the last few years. Immediately from the three days test at Valencia, I flew straight to Ting's and had a screw taken out of my wrist, which had started causing me a lot of problems this year, because it started to come loose. It turned out to be a little bit more tricky surgery than first planned, because since it was loose, it had actually kind of backed up and was rubbing the radius bone, and made it a little bit hard to get to. So did that, and truthfully the rest pf the year was was pretty mellow, because I was still under contract until December 31 for Ducati, so wasn't doing any PR events this year for them, and couldn't, my contract didn't start with Honda ?til January 1. That made it a pretty quiet December for me, which was good. I was able to focus on rehab and recovering.
Nothing too exciting. I was home in Kentucky most of the time. Had a great holiday. Getting fresh, and now getting ready for another go-round.
Q You mentioned Ducati. Let me ask you this. When you walked out of there the last time, was it with mixed feelings? How did you feel?
A Well, there was some mixed emotions. For one, for my team. I'd been with those mechanics and those guys for five years, and you get very close to them. That's just the way it is. Especially, I made a few tweaks the first years, and changed some guys, so for the last, I would say, three years, I had the same guys. People throw the term around, "oh, your team is like your family". I mean, it's not family, but it gets close. You see those guys day in and day out, and you trust them with your life. I will say Ducati mechanics definitely don't have it any easier than, sometimes, Ducati riders. It's a tricky bike to work on. So in that regard, was a little bit bittersweet, because I had built up quite a very good relationship with those guys, and they also felt some disappointment, because obviously it didn't go as I'd hoped, the whole five years at Ducati.
But on the other hand, it was time to move on, and try something different, and go back to Honda, a place that I always felt good at, and had a lot of friends at, so I was happy for that.
I would say it was a little of both.
Q Sepang One. When I saw the first photos from the first day, and I looked at your face in the photos, and thought, "Oh, crap."
Was it kind of a shock, as to the state of the bike in terms of top speed?
A Yeah, I would say the speed was definitely a shock. I guess my face probably definitely was a good picture, because I didn't expect that. I had definitely expected to go there and to be much closer to the factory riders, and to be a lot more competitive. I can't deny that fact. I would be selling myself short if I said otherwise. So it's true, the bike, we need to work on acceleration and top speed. We were down 18K on the factory bike, and that's just too much. I am confident Honda wants to make it work, and they promised us a competitive bike, so I'm not saying for the next test we're going to recover everything, but I do think, I do get the feeling they want to see this project still work, so I'm very optimistic about the future.
Q It is a bit of a helpless feeling to be down that much in top speed, and also, it makes a rider's life really hard work.
A Oh, that it does. Especially, it's one thing when you're on the track by yourself, but when you get in a race and you're down on top speed, it makes it even much tougher. But there's still some things I did improve each day, and I still got a new team, so I definitely can learn to work better with those guys and communicate better, and probably I've already been speaking with my data guy from there, and some areas where we can improve.
And also me. I have a couple habits as far as from my Ducati days, particularly on corner entry, with this bike, that you can approach different, and do different, that I probably need to still adjust back to more. But we do need some help with the top speed.
Q Take the top speed out of it. What's the bike like to ride? Is it a fun bike to ride, or what feeling does it give you?
A Oh, it's a great bike. Really. The chassis and everything is very smooth. It has a lot of feeling, a lot of feedback. Really feels the limit. It's a consistent bike, works as you would expect with the changes. It does all the things you hope a bike would do. So hope, when we put some more power into it, it still works just as good. Sometimes a bike, when it's not running so good, it will always handle a bit better. But it's a really nice bike. It's just a Honda. I mean, it ran perfect every day, never one hiccup. It was very smooth.
|"But it's a really nice bike. It's just a Honda. I mean, it ran perfect every day, never one hiccup. It was very smooth.|
So all that's good. There's a lot of positives. The team is very motivated. I have, luckily for me, HRC has given me, a great data guy that has a lot of experience with this bike. He was with Casey, he was with Marquez. I'm very lucky to have him in my corner. Also, Christian, Stoner's ex-crew chief, is very involved with this project. So that's two guys that really know this bike very well, and someone that can certainly help us, point us in the right direction. And I like the team. Aspar himself was as advertised, as people had told me. During the negotiation he seemed really involved but at the tests he was there every morning, listening to riders' feedback out on track, watching. And definitely, the boss sets a good example for all the guys, and he was as I expected, really passionate about it.
Q You spent the last five years running a motorcycle into the corners that really didn't like going into the corners very well. Just to get past that psychologically, in a few tests, has got to be tough.
A Yeah, for sure. Especially, I would say, like you mentioned, corner entry and braking. The Bridgestone tire is, the more you can apply pressure and load the front, the better the bike turns. So sometimes with the Ducati, not to dwell on it, that's all in the past, but the weak point was the front of the bike. Where this bike, starting to trust more and more, how long you can stay on the brake into the corner, and actually help the bike turn by loading the front tire more. So I would say that was the biggest adjustment.
Q Last question. You ready for it?
A I'm not sure. You put it like that ...
Q I keep hearing that you've gotten married. I must hear it every week. Somebody says, "I heard Nicky Hayden got married. He got married last night." What in the world is going on? I've heard it every week for two months.
A Well, I hear a lot of stuff too, but I mean, I'm not sure how to make it any more clear, but that is totally false. Hasn't even been discussed. I do have a girlfriend. She's been around for a while now. So maybe that's where it comes from. But truthfully, there's no truth in that one whatsoever. I guess I have heard worse stuff about me, but if that's the worst thing somebody accuses me of today, I'll be okay.
Where this all began, I suspect, is that my youngest sister got married last year in October.
Q That's about when it started.
A Yeah. She's married, Big Sis is married, Tommy's married, so it's really down to me and Rog now. It's a two-horse race now, I guess.
Q Last man standing.