Reigning MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden continued his sudden and shock return to form at the British MotoGP this morning while Valentino Rossi suffered a bizarre crash in the third and final free practice session.
Hayden clocked a best time of 1.29.798 with two minutes of the session remaining to top the timesheets at the end of the first dry session after yesterday’s deluge at Donington Park.
But Fiat Yamaha rider Rossi was left languishing in eighth place courtesy of a last lap of 1.30.493 after he’d crashed out at Redgate with 22 minutes remaining.
The seven-times world champion had only just exited the pitlane when he ran off track, hit damp mud before the gravel trap and tipped off his factory YZR-M1.
TV cameras missed the incident but on-board shots showed Rossi simply ran off track on his out lap.
Witnesses told MCN that he appeared to be looking into the crowd or at a big TV screen at Redgate and didn’t realise he’d run off track until he hit the trackside mud.
But other witnesses said he was looking back over his right shoulder to make sure he wasn't going to disturb a rider on a fast lap when he inadvertently ran off.
Rossi also crashed yesterday morning at Coppice in the wet.
Before his last lap attack that only saw him climb to eighth, Rossi had been as low as 16th as Repsol Honda rider Hayden put months of misery behind him on the factory RC212V to post the best time.
He first moved to the top of the timesheets with 16 minutes gone with a 1.30.410 lap that edged him just 0.003s clear of compatriot Colin Edwards.
Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa then took it turns to lead the session before Hayden moved back into second place with 11 minutes remaining with a lap of 1.30.150.
That was 0.216s off Stoner.
His best of 1.29.798 on his lap was good enough to relegate team-mate Pedrosa into second by just 0.131s.
After finishing second in yesterday afternoon’s rain-lashed second session, Hayden told MCN: “Well, I’d say that was the most fun I’ve had on the 800.
"It’s nice to be at the sharp end and have a good feeling with the bike and to be able to push.
"We need to turn it into a good result on Sunday, so we’ll see.”
Pedrosa did look like snatching the best time back off Hayden at the death, as he was fastest through the first three timed sections on his last lap.
But Gresini Honda rider Marco Melandri on the approach to the Goddards corner baulked him and he had to settle for third behind factory Suzuki rider John Hopkins.
Pedrosa’s best of 1.29.930 came with seven minutes remaining.
That was after the Spaniard suffered a massive scare just seven minutes into the session.
Pedrosa suffered a huge rear tyre slide going into Starkey’s Bridge but miraculously regained control despite being repeatedly bucked out of the seat of his Repsol Honda.
Hopkins finished second quickest with a 1.29.929 to beat Pedrosa by just 0.001s.
The American headed the timesheets after 12 minutes when he logged a 1.30.940 to move 0.028s clear of Edwards.
He was eventually second but had slightly better fortunes than team-mate Chris Vermeulen.
The Aussie walked away unhurt from a massive crash at the bottom of the perilous Craner Curves with 16 minutes remaining.
He lost the front and slid for over 300 metres on the wet grass to end up with the 10th best time.
MotoGP world championship leader Stoner finished fourth fastest after he’d set the best time in yesterday’s torrential rain.
He was fastest with 20 minutes remaining with an impressive three-lap burst.
He first clocked a 1.30.271 to move 0.139s clear of Hayden. On his next lap he posted a 1.30.099 to edge 0.311s clear of the American, and on the third lap he was the first rider to break into the 1.29s. A 1.29.934 moved him 0.476s clear of Hayden, but he eventually finished 0.136s adrift of the reigning champ.