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Hayden on top as MotoGP returns to Laguna Seca

Hayden on top as MotoGP returns to Laguna Seca

Hayden on top as MotoGP returns to Laguna Seca

The MotoGP World Championship returned to the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the first time in over a decade today as the first free practice sessions signalled the start of the Red Bull US Grand Prix in front of a bumper crowd. With tickets for tomorrow's qualifying practice and Sunday's race already sold out, today provided a unique chance for thousands of fans to see the world's premier motorcycles and riders perform at the legendary venue.

Local enthusiasts were certainly not disappointed as home favourite Nicky Hayden set the fastest time of the day in the hour-long afternoon session after conceding superiority to compatriot John Hopkins in a split morning practice totalling one hour and 50 minutes. Hayden's time of 1'24.228 was enough to drop Troy Bayliss to second place by 0.223 seconds after the Australian had dominated for much of the session, with Max Biaggi and Alex Barros completing an all-Honda top four.

"It's nice to be fastest here at home – a real good feeling," said Hayden. "The weekend has started out great. The bike is working well and we have made a pretty good guess with the settings. Laguna is about how I remember it although I haven't been here for three years. It does seem a little smaller on a MotoGP bike though; I seem to remember the straight being really long but it feels pretty short now! I'm really enjoying myself here with my brothers and my friends, so hopefully the weekend can continue like this."

Hopkins built on his scorching early pace with an improved lap time in the afternoon but eventually dropped to fifth on the combined time sheets, with fellow American Colin Edwards also on the pace with the sixth quickest time. Sete Gibernau was the fastest of the ten riders in the current MotoGP field to have no previous race experience of Laguna Seca, lapping just 0.574 seconds slower than Hayden in seventh place overall.

However, it was a tough first day for the Spaniard's team-mate Marco Melandri, who suffered a spectacular crash in the notorious ‘Corkscrew' section and was lucky to escape with only bruising to his ankle and wrist. The Italian's fall came at the end of the morning's first outing and, even though he missed the next 50 minutes of available track time as he underwent checks in the Clinica Mobile, he bounced back in the afternoon to set the eighth fastest time.

Melandri's brave efforts eclipsed a disappointing first day for his compatriot Valentino Rossi, whom he trails in the championship by 63 points. Rossi, who has won six out of seven races so far this season, clocked the ninth fastest time on his first visit to the track riding in the black and yellow colours of Yamaha USA, also sported by his factory team-mate Edwards.

Whilst Ducati rider Carlos Checa completed the top ten, his team-mate Loris Capirossi ended the day 16th fastest after suffering a bout of nausea, headache and fever after just a few laps of this afternoon's practice. The Italian was treated in the Clinica Mobile for gastroenteritis, although doctors are not sure whether the sickness was caused by cold or bad food. MotoGP's medical clinic also gave brief checks to Ruben Xaus and Franco Battaini, who both escaped unhurt after crashing.


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