Valencia MotoGP: Nicky Hayden fastest in first practice

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Nicky Hayden made the perfect start to his last race for Honda’s factory MotoGP team this morning after the American set the fastest time in a rain-lashed and cold opening practice session in Valencia.

In stark contrast to the extreme heat of the Sepang GP just five days ago, this weekend’s final round got underway under grey and gloomy skies, with torrential rain falling throughout.

Repsol Honda rider Hayden though, who will move to Ducati’s factory squad on Monday, didn’t let the atrocious conditions halt his bid to bow out of HRC in style.

A best lap of 1.47.694 left him a massive 0.775s clear of former world champion and new team-mate Casey Stoner as he was the only rider to duck under the 1.48 barrier.

Conditions during the session worsened as the rain got heavier and most riders spent the final ten minutes sat in the pits.

Hayden only completed 14 laps and Stoner four less as the Aussie escaped injury in a big high-side crash with 13 minutes remaining. The 23-year-old had clocked a best time of 1.48.469 when he lost the rear of his Ducati GP8 on the fast left-handed approach to the final corner.

Stoner was flicked into the gravel trap but didn’t appear to aggravate the left wrist injury that requires surgery in Italy next week. He was able to ride his damaged Ducati back to the pits but he took no further part in the session.

Home favourite Jorge Lorenzo clocked the third best time with a quickest lap of 1.49.037, which just edged out compatriot Dani Pedrosa into fourth.

British rider James Toseland ended the session 11th fastest with a best time of 1.51.210 while world champion Valentino Rossi was down in 13th position. The Italian ended with a best time of 1.51.721, but he only completed eight laps. Only Randy de Puniet completed fewer laps.

Sunday’s Valencia GP will be immediately followed by the first test in preparation for the 2009 campaign.

Highlights at the two-day session will be Hayden’s switch to Ducati, Sete Gibernau’s return from a two-year exile, Marco Melandri’s Kawasaki debut, and Rossi will test Yamaha’s 2009 prototype YZR-M1 for the first time.

Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt