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Hayden sets the standard with Sepang scorcher

Hayden sets the standard with Sepang scorcher

Hayden sets the standard with Sepang scorcher

A frantic three day test at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia came to a climax this afternoon, with blue skies having ruled on the final day once more, giving riders the maximum opportunity to lap the 5.542 kilometre track. Officially the title-holder of the biggest smile in the paddock, if at all possible Nicky Hayden was grinning even wider than normal today, after he and his half of the Repsol Honda garage packed up just before one o'clock, declaring that all the work necessary was done for this test, and now they could move on to Australia in high spirits. The rider had good reason to be pleased, with an astonishingly fast lap of 2'02.041capping all other efforts on the day, despite the lap having formed the early part of a race simulation.

"It would be easy to be cool about it and say that I'm not happy to set this fast time, but I am! I can't lie! I'm excited by it. But this is testing we have to remember," beamed the Kentucky-born star, who beat his own best by around eight tenths of a second. Hayden's lap attracted praise from the entire paddock, although it must be noted that the time was set in the cooler, earlier part of the day. "We've made a lot of progress here, especially with Michelin," he continued. "The 16.5-inch now is great, I feel so confident with it and it helps me get closer to the limit. I'm the kind of guy that with my background when the rear's moving around I don't mind, it doesn't bother me. Up until now I hadn't had the feel and feedback in the front like this new tyre has brought."

All other Honda riders, except team-mate Alex Barros, joined Hayden under the 2'03 mark, along with Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha's Valentino Rossi. The day wound down slowly after Hayden stopped riding, some riders continuing to put in the habitual race simulation tests, while others were simply forced to stop after tyres or parts reached the end of their supplies. The Honda riders were obviously all happy with the results achieved, whilst the same could not be said for all the Yamaha riders. Rossi and Checa made progress on their machines, but Melandri and Abe both continued to find the going difficult despite some late improvements in times.

It was another tough day for Ducati, although they made progress in lap times. Troy Bayliss was stopped for around three hours after a serious problem with his bike, whilst a similar problem also stopped Neil Hodgson early. At least both these riders had the chance to put in several good laps, unlike colleague Ruben Xaus, who complained of the same electrical problems as on the previous two days, and was visibly frustrated by the team's misfortune.

Suzuki, Kawasaki and Moriwaki will not follow the other teams down to Australia, although the first two will be testing there from the 23rd of February. Both noted improvements in the performance of their machines, Suzuki without the services of Kenny Roberts once more, but their tests were cut short after Bridgestone had nothing else left for them all to test. Aprilia lapped with both Byrne and McWilliams, despite the latter suspecting a possible broken rib after yesterday's crash, needing to put in as much lap time as possible to keep up with the other factories.

The action now moves over to Australia, where Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and Aprilia will all be testing at the Phillip Island circuit in Victoria, beginning on Tuesday 17th February .

Unofficial lap times supplied by the Sepang International Circuit

Nicky Hayden (Honda) – 2'02.041
Max Biaggi (Honda) – 2'02.108
Sete Gibernau (Honda) – 2'02.496
Colin Edwards (Honda) – 2'02.597
Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) – 2'02.746
Makoto Tamada (Honda) – 2'02.962
Carlos Checa (Yamaha) – 2'03.100
Loris Capirossi (Ducati) – 2'03.530
Troy Bayliss (Ducati) – 2'03.554
Alex Barros (Honda) – 2'03.558
Kousuke Akiyoshi (Suzuki) – 2'03.729
Shinichi Itoh (Honda) – 2'04.076
Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki) – 2'04.625
Neil Hodgson (Ducati) – 2'04.674
Marco Melandri (Yamaha) – 2'04.753
Gregorio Lavilla (Suzuki) – 2'05.756
Alex Hofmann (Kawasaki)– 2'04.817
Ruben Xaus (Ducati) – 2'04.929
Norick Abe (Yamaha) – 2'05.059
Shane Byrne (Aprilia) – 2'05.150
Jeremy McWilliams (Aprilia) – 2'06.574
Andrew Pitt (Moriwaki) – 2'06.912

MotoGP, 2003, Nicky Hayden

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