"That title took everything I had to win and I know to keep it is going to be even harder" - those are the words of reigning MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden
as he prepares to start his title defence in Qatar on March 10.
The American wrote his name into motorcycle grand prix history last season by ending Valentino Rossi's five-year reign, but has endured mixed pre-season results during testing with his new 800cc motorcycle.
Here, Hayden talks about those 2007 preparations, his main rivals for the upcoming season and more, after concluding the final pre-season test at Jerez last weekend...Q:
How does the reigning world champion feel heading into the first round at Qatar?Nicky Hayden:
I'd love to say 'hey! I'm so great and everything's perfect!' but it's been a tough off season, recovering from my shoulder operation, but I'm excited to go racing.Q:
How much has changed since the final race of 2006?Nicky Hayden:
It's been a big change. I've really liked riding the 800 more and more - the more I've ridden it the more I've liked it - so I'm excited to find out what it's really about when the lights go out in Qatar.Q:
Can you tell us about the development and evolution of the new RC212V since the first time you got on the bike?Nicky Hayden:
The bike has changed quite a lot - or not so much really; I think we're just riding them differently. We've now got a better understanding of how to ride them, but we'll really find out when the racing starts.Q:
Was the Qatar test the lowest moment for you during the off-season?Nicky Hayden:
Yeah, I feel a lot better than I did in Qatar. That was tough, but this ain't an easy game. It's never easy. There's definitely gonna be hard days along the way but you just gotta keep your head up, keep positive and keep fighting.Q:
So who do you think your main rivals will be this year?Nicky Hayden:
You know, MotoGP - there's no sleepers. It's a tough paddock all the way down. I think maybe some of the people on the outside don't realise that, but these guys are all really tough. Just looking at this [Jerez] test, Dani and Valentino are obviously looking really strong, but you never know - anybody can surprise you on any given Sunday.Q:
Presumably, your aim this season is for nothing less than another world championship?Nicky Hayden:
Yeah, definitely. That title took everything I had to win and I know to keep it is going to be even harder, but that's my target. That's priority number one. And to have fun, that's when I ride my best. I'm a lucky dude, I get paid to race a motorcycle - it could be a lot worse. So I'm going to try to have fun this year and keep improving.Q:
It seems that the 2006 championship only finished yesterday, but now we're just about to start the new season...Nicky Hayden:
Yeah, it's time to go racing. I'm ready.