Former MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden is about to start his second season with the Ducati team, having felt he had started to make progress with the bike during a sometimes difficult 2009 campaign.
The American made his first appearance of the year at the "Wrooom" media event at Madonna di Campiglio on Tuesday, where he talked about the trials of last season, his hopes for the future and his relationship with teammate Casey Stoner. Here is what he had to say to the amassed media.
Q. What is your summary of the 2009 season?
Nicky Hayden: Last season obviously we had a bit higher expectations than how it went. It was tougher than we had hoped, but life is like this sometimes – and things don't go exactly as you draw them up and how you lay in bed and vision them. Sure we started off the season and had a couple of big crashes and got beat up, and just really couldn't get any momentum going.
I think the thing that we have to be positive about is that there was a lot of hard work from everybody at Ducati to really listen to me, and give me the help I needed to make the progress, and the people at Phillip Morris.
We were able to slowly and surely start working our way toward the front, and finished the season really positive. Was it enough? No. But I was able to get on the podium at Indy, and finish the season with two top fives in a row – and make some big steps with myself, with the bike, with the team with my setup and a lot of areas. So we are really excited for the new season. We need to pick up right where we left off and keep trying to close the gap to the front.
Q. That leads us on to this season. What are your expectations for 2010?
NH: Well, 2010 for sure is exciting. The  season ended, like I said, in a positive way. We had a good test in Valencia. I liked the bike and another off-season with the team will be a big help for me. We made some changes to some guys in the team just to get the communication a little bit better, so I hope with the off-season and with those guys, it will help me.
We spent some time in the wind tunnel, and Ducati is committed to helping me. We will just wait and see what happens – there is no need to sit here and talk about it, blow a lot of smoke and making a lot of predictions. We just need to get ready for when we get to Qatar and the lights go out to be able to get up front.
Q. A lot of people say that the bike is designed around Casey Stoner. Can you comment on that from your perspective?
NH: I've had that question maybe once or twice before! But, sure, everybody asks that and I don't see it. Sure it is a great match. Casey finds the limit of this bike and I think some of his strong points are to be so fast and so quick it suits this bike. But really, Casey is a special talent – I don't think it's so much just the bike suits his style. Sure it is a good package but I think Casey will be just as fast on any bike.
The bike is a little bit special – I am not going to deny that fact. Sure, it has some things that make it sometimes hard to get the most out of it, but once you do get to the limit it is a bit of a sharp key – when you do get it on the limit is so hard. I think he just finds it. The bike is, as he has shown and other guys at times have shown, the bike is hard but he has shone on it week in, week out that it really sets him apart.
Q. What is your working relationship like with Casey Stoner?
NH: Me and Casey have a great relationship. You know we get on well, we think alike. Sometimes on different things, on one part of the bike we have our different ideas. But we can talk, be open, agree to disagree – and we never really had too much drama. Obviously he beat me a lot, so it is not as if we have been going head to head too much. Me and Casey have a fine relationship.
I get to see him away from the track, and at times hang out a bit and see a different side. Sometimes it is not just the racer, he is also a person. I know Casey quite well. It is not like we exchange text messages every day, and hang out and chit chat, but he is a good guy and obviously I respect his talent. Sure we talk from time to time, and bounce ideas off each other. So we have a good relationship.
Q. You talked about being in the wind tunnel. Can you explain that a bit more, and what the problem was last year?
NH: Well, wind tunnel was just part of the deal. You just look in every area. I went last year to the wind tunnel and went back this winter, to try and gain every tenth we can this year. At times my top speed was never as good as some of the other Ducati riders. I have no doubt I had the same engine and the same resources they have.
I am a little bit bigger and I just try and find the perfect combination of fairing, seat, ride position to get the most out of it. At times this year it was strange why my top speed was less – sure some of it was getting off the corner, but we feel like we are missing something compared to the other Ducati riders. So we wanted to try and find the answer.
Q. You mentioned one of your goals was to get up to speed quicker on race weekend. Do you have a plan of how to do that?
NH: Well a lot of it is me. Last year a lot of times we would be changing the bike. I would get there Friday and be so far off the pace that I would be 13th/14th and we would joke that we needed to race on Tuesdays, because it was not until Sunday morning that we would normally find a setup.
The ideal thing in this world is to find a setup in the winter testing, which is why you have the winter tests – to find a good base setup so that when you turn up on Friday you are just testing a tire, maybe a spring and some clickers. I was still, Saturday morning, changing seat heights and wheelbases, and lots of different shocks and different options.
Our plan is, and it is never that easy, but certainly we hope this winter to find a good base setup that works on a lot of tracks and in different conditions. Our engine package for 2010 we also hope will allow us to be better on Fridays when the track is dirty and we don't have the right setup.
Q. Last year you talked of a "Fab Four," the only four guys who could win the championship. Do you think there will be more men capable of battling for the title this year?
NH: Yeah. I hope, and I believe, the number can be larger, but sure at the moment we have the fact that these guys have an advantage – there are four guys who have a stamp on everybody else and it is up to us to close that gap. I think and believe that this year we can do it, but saying it doesn't really mean much. We have to do it on the track.
Q. In the past, quite a few motorcycle champions have switched to four wheels. Have you ever considered it?
NH: It has crossed my mind, but I am pretty content right now. I have a lot I want to accomplish on two wheels. I love motorcycles too much at the moment. Sure, I am a competitive guy, so the idea of racing cars doesn't sound too bad. I am happy on two wheels and the car thing for me, I've done a little bit, but for me it has been hard. You are so tied in, and that is the thing I like about motorcycles – you are part of the bike. You don't feel restricted. It is an option one day, but for now, two wheels is where it is for me.