Straight away there was a bond there and Herve thought I could do well in the sport and we kept in touch. In 2002 I actually dropped racing to go and be their test rider on the 500cc two stroke. The bike was fantastic but I didn't really enjoy the year because I wasn't competing. When you're not competing, it's hard.
In one way it was good because I was able to buy a house in the south of France and I could spend a lot of time there with the team. To get me on board must have been a struggle for him with the sponsors actually because I was doing well in 250 Aprilias but I wasn't winning anything. He finally made it [MotoGP] happen in 2007 on Dunlop tyres.
It was a great year, the work was interesting and there was a lot to try and develop and things moved on a lot over the year. For me, the best race was the last one, I think I qualified fourth. At that time James Toseland was signed by the team though and as a double world champion he was an interesting signing for them, Yamaha wanted to keep Colin [Edwards] so there was no more room for me in the team and I managed to find that ride on the Pramac Ducati. There were no hard feelings, that's just the way this sport goes.
Can you put your finger on what makes the Ducati Desmosedici so difficult?
If I knew, I'd probably still be there. In short, I don't know.
I'm not the only one who broke his arse on that bike. It's a very different bike in many ways and at the time it was also different to the one they're using now, we were using the tubular frame. It's a bike I enjoyed riding but it just wasn't fast.
To this day there was only one rider who could make the bloody thing work. Some people say the front end is vague but if you look at how Casey was using it, you could say there was no massive problem with the bike because he could do it. He's not a bloody magician, he just understood it. Either he was more clever or more brave, whatever, he was permanently 'on it' on that bike.
We had his data available to us and I remember looking at it and thinking ''F**king hell, this guy is entering every corner like he doesn't want to get out'. He was doing things on the bike that you wouldn't normally do.
Did you try to adapt your style?
Yeah, like everybody. I tried and it's very, very, very hard to change the instincts. Your style in terms of the way you ride and the techniques you use especially after all these years is very hard to change. You can tweak things but changing your whole style… hmm. There's a lot of talk about it, I don't think it really happens though. You ride like you ride, that's it.
So you think that a rider's style can't be fundamentally changed?
You've got to have your own way to feel what you're doing. During the season, you don't get that much practice anyway so it's hard to find time to try to change. If you start faffing around trying to change things in practice, you can end up slow, lost and with zero confidence.
For me, in the past few years, the rider who has been the best example of this is Cal [Crutchlow, at Tech 3 Yamaha]. He's adapted to that machine really well. You can tell he rides differently from when he started in MotoGP, he's understood how to be more efficient. The radical style he's got is the same though, he brakes late, he's aggressive, and his position on the bike is similar, it's just that he's blended into the bike better. He hasn't changed his style, he's just made tweaks to it to work with the bike better.
When you're on the bike and you start thinking what you're doing too much, you go slower. Riding a bike fast is about letting yourself go and feeling the bike, and for me, if I enjoy it I go faster.