In this first instalment, Alex gives us his thoughts on what it’s like to be a professional MotoGP rider and looks back over his career – his inspiration for getting into motorcycling, his favourite bike and tell us how he deals with the “Legend” mantle in the sport.
JOJO JOSEPH VARGHESE/NAWANG LAMA: What inspired you to start racing bikes and getting into MotoGP?
AH: For myself it was pretty much coincidence because my father never did anything related to motorsport before he could ride a motorcycle, but where I used to grow up in Bavaria we had a motocross track close and I went to one event there when I was about 2.5 years old, and obviously I saw those little mini bikes riding around with kids on them. That was the moment when I didn’t stop telling my Dad that I need a motorcycle, and I think I must have been convincing because by my third birthday I already had one!
KIARA EVANS THOMPSON-BIEBER: What’s the toughest part of being a racer? Is it the set-up process or is it the mental preparation or is it the racing itself? What’s the real difficult bit?
AH: Well, I think in the end it’s the passion that we have for the races - you do what you love to do and that’s the most important thing in life for yourself. The start is usually pretty easy, but there’s always going to be one point or you come to a point where it becomes work, and it’s not pure pleasure anymore and you don’t only do it for fun. It becomes a job and there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of other things are involved like media and T.V. I think the most difficult thing is to keep balance for yourself under those conditions, and I think that’s pretty much what all the key riders are able to do - that’s the point where they all have to find their own balance of how to deal with all the travelling, with the pressure of sponsors and injuries that come with it. Obviously there are days when you race and you don’t feel 100 percent, but you have to do it. It’s always fun and I think 99 percent of everybody does it for pure joy because that’s what you love the most, and there’s a point when it becomes work and you have to deal with that and all the injuries and stuff, so it isn’t always easy.
ISAAC HICKEY: Have you had a major crash that made you reconsider your career choice?
AH: Unfortunately in my case, my last MotoGP year was 2007. I was sitting in a good seat for getting a factory ride for 2008 the next year. I was waiting for Pramac, but in that year at Laguna Seca I got run over and had a broken hand and a couple of surgeries and it wasn’t my fault. It was like three laps into free practice and everybody was cruising along, and another rider almost corkscrewed the most famous corner and I was the one that got hit. Things like that can change lives and a career and to me it was pretty much going the wrong direction, because at that time I could have gotten another couple of good results and could have gotten myself into a position to get a full factory ride for the next year, but I ended up being in hospital for a couple of months and by the time I came back there were no good seats open because nobody knew if I was going to come back or how bad my hand was really, so they didn’t have me on the list anymore for contracts and that was pretty much the end for me. Afterwards I decided that I don’t want to stay in teams like this anymore, I had seen it and knew you can’t really get better and I missed out on that one because of an injury.
AYOUB IBRAHIM: How do you feel when people call you a legend and label you as that because quite rightly that’s a nice sticker to have on your back, how do you feel about that when you’ve stepped out of the sport?
AH: I think legend is a very, very powerful word! I think Valentino Rossi when he retires... I think he can talk about himself as a legend, but I think of myself as an ok, average MotoGP rider in the past and legends are probably the ones that come along every century and there are only one or two, so it’s difficult to say that, but I think there is a feeling now that I’m working for TV and I’m not racing - a lot of people stop by and say that they’ve always been cheering for you and it’s a pity you’re not there anymore. It’s those little words, the kind words I think...that’s the stuff that makes you feel proud of having achieved something like that. Legends are made of different steel - I don’t think I fit in that category, not even close.
COLE NICHOLSON: What’s been your favourite bike to ride and have you got a favourite car as well?
AH: Well, as professional racers we usually don’t ride a lot in our free time. Personally, I don’t even own a motorcycle! I still get to ride for my Aprilia test job, I still get to ride the RS Superbike race bike twice a month. I’d say that bike is the best bike I’ve ever ridden; it won the World Championship last year with Max Biaggi. I’ve been in the development from the very early stages and I’ve seen it grow. I had the opportunity to make my little dream bike and it’s just a lot of fun to ride, so I’d say that’s the best. When I was riding MotoGP and I was on Kawasaki we had a hard time - the bike was not up to the level and it’s hard because you never really get the chance to work with the factory guys up front.
AARON DARBY: If you hadn’t have been a MotoGP rider, what else might you have done? What would your other career path have been?
AH: By the age of 12 I had to pick a sport because in the winter I was in the national selection of skiing in Germany and in summer I was racing motocross, so at the age of 12/13 they called you to go to ski training and it was right before the season for motocross and the time was just not there anymore. I had to pick a sport and I didn’t want to freeze my whole life, but that would have been an option! Now that I’m done with sport I think I’m an endurance sports guy, so probably mountain bike racing would have been something I would have enjoyed, but now it’s too late.