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ROAD RACING - Hayden Tops at Sepang Test
Movin' on Up 2/13/2004
Repsol Honda’s Nicky Hayden leapt to the top of the pack on the final day of the testing at the Sepang circuit, clocking the fastest ever lap by a motorcycle, well under the pole time from the October Malaysian GP.
In swelteringly hot conditions, Hayden led a Honda sweep of the top four spots by posting a 2:01.94 , under the 2:02.48 Valentino Rossi clocked in taking the pole for the race and better than the benchmark 2:02.585 that Camel Honda’s Max Biaggi had run in testing earlier this year.
No doubt it was done on a qualifying tire and some will suggest with the help of parts only the Repsol Honda squad has access to. Still, for the second year rider to best all comers is an accomplishment to be justly proud of.
“I’d be lyin’ if I said it didn’t feel good but I gotta’ remember this is still only practice!” Hayden said. So confident was the team that they packed up at lunch after setting the fast time, their development program complete. “It really helps to be comfortable with the team and I think it shows. We’ve done a good job over the last few days and I’m happy. We’ve had a few problems but we are more experienced about fixin’ them now. I’ve never been that good in testin’ – I’m usually best on Sunday so we’re feelin’ positive. The bike feels good – Honda have made a great bike even better over the winter. The 16.5 inch front feels real good – just like I’m used to with a superbike. I just feel I can be more focused on ridin’ the bike this year than last. Last year I guess I had some excuses – I was learnin’. This year I wanna’ win races. I’m lookin’ forward to getting’ down to Phillip Island – a track I really like – and getting’ the bike to go fast there. Then back to Europe for more tests; then racin’. Can’t wait.”
Trevor Morris, Hayden’s crew chief, said they packed up early because they’d achieved everything they’d set out to do…and more.
“Day one was hard – getting back into it and getting used to a slightly different feel to the bike,” Morris said. “Yesterday we found a really good base setting and managed to put in some fast laps. Today Nicky went straight out and rode fast and consistently. We now go down to Phillip Island and look to get a good base setting and go fast again – at a track Nicky likes. We’ll then come back to Europe and try to do the same again. We packed up early today because we had done our work early – and fast.”
Biaggi, who’d been fast the first two days, ended the test with the second fastest time, his 2:02.108 his best lap ever in Sepang and nearly 0.4 seconds up on Telefonica MoviStar Honda’s Sete Gibernau.
“Another good day for me at this track,” Biaggi said. “I showed I can go fast in these difficult conditions, and consistently too, so that is a good thing. The 16.5-inch front tire from Michelin gives me a lot of confidence on the front end of the bike, which is so important from the rider's point of view. I like it a lot!”
Gibernau ran 21 laps in a row, the race distance, and the time was “quite a bit quicker than in the race here,” the Spaniard said. “That's alone, without the stress and pressure of a race too. That makes me happy, that's what we wanted. We were putting 2:02s together, and that's why I'm happy, we want to be there at the first race.”
Gibernau’s teammate Colin Edwards ended the test with the fourth fastest time while continuing to acclimate to his team and the re-worked Honda RC-211V.
"When you get with a new bike you start from scratch, and the key is to gather as much information as possible, so that when you get to the first race you know what to do, what to change, what setting you're looking for,” the Texan said. “At the moment, I'm just getting that information together, the bank is not full, but it's getting there.”
Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha’s reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi was fifth fastest, running once again with the same engine prototype as yesterday, before stopping a little earlier than expected due to a small problem with the new engine spec.
"At this test the new engine spec has given us a great improvement because I can accelerate more easily and it gives me more torque from the bottom,” Rossi said. “This is only the first prototype so for sure there is much more work to do and there is not enough horsepower right now. I think if I had not had to finish a bit early then I could probably have gone faster. Phillip Island will be a very important test because we need to understand how much time the bike takes to set up at a new track; the Yamaha has a reputation for needing a lot of changes each time it moves to a new circuit. But then of course it's one story when you have three days at a test to work on set-up, and quite another when you have about three hours in a race weekend. For now we will go to Phillip Island with our current settings and see how we get on."
Rossi’s crew chief Jerry Burgess said the engine hiccups weren’t unexpected.
“We had been running close to the limit with some of our parts, but we fully expected this,” he said. “The biggest step of these three days has been the introduction of the new engine spec and we are very pleased with our progress, however I'm sure the opposition are pleased with their progress too!”
Kenny Roberts Jr. sat out the final day of the test, preferring to rest for an upcoming test at Phillip Island in Australia.
1. Nicky Hayden (Honda) – 2:01.94
2. Max Biaggi (Honda) – 2:02.108
3. Sete Gibernau (Honda) – 2:02.496
4. Colin Edwards (Honda) – 2:02.597
5. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) – 2:02.746
6. Makoto Tamada (Honda) – 2:02.962
7. Carlos Checa (Yamaha) – 2:03.100
8, Loris Capirossi (Ducati) – 2:03.530
9. Troy Bayliss (Ducati) – 2:03.554
10. Alex Barros (Honda) – 2:03.558
11. Kousuke Akiyoshi (Suzuki) – 2:03.729
12. Shinichi Itoh (Honda) – 2:04.076
13. Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki) – 2:04.625
14. Neil Hodgson (Ducati) – 2:04.674
15. Marco Melandri (Yamaha) – 2:04.753
16. Gregorio Lavilla (Suzuki) – 2:05.756
17. Alex Hofmann (Kawasaki)– 2:04.817
18. Ruben Xaus (Ducati) – 2:04.929
19. Norick Abe (Yamaha) – 2:05.059
20. Shane Byrne (Aprilia) – 2:05.150
21. Jeremy McWilliams (Aprilia) – 2:06.574
22. Andrew Pitt (Moriwaki) – 2:06.912