Motorcycling: Hayden heads up Honda's youthful assault on Rossi

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The Independent Online

Honda's young guns, led by the 24-year-old American Nicky Hayden, dominated the opening sessions of practice at the Turkish MotoGP in Istanbul yesterday, while Valentino Rossi, seeking a win in his 100th appearance in the class, languished in 11th place.

Hayden, who passed Rossi three times at the last race in Qatar, hammered out a lap of the 3.3-mile circuit in 1min 53.623sec. He was followed by Australia's Casey Stoner, 20, the Italian Marco Melandri, 23, and the Spaniards Dani Pedrosa, 20, and Toni Elias, 23, all on 990cc, five-cylinder Honda RC211Vs.

Stoner and Pedrosa, in their first season on the 250-horsepower bikes, showed astonishing cool as they exited the track's daunting fifth-gear right-hander at almost 190mph. It was a display that totally justified Honda's youth policy, as they attempt to wrest the title from Rossi and Yamaha.

Honda's race chiefs, however, know that Rossi and his track-savvy crew chief, Jerry Burgess, will aim to put his Yamaha YZR-M1 on the front row in today's qualifying, and to dominate tomorrow's contest on the 14-corner circuit.

The championship leader, Loris Capirossi, also made a steady start yesterday, taking seventh place on his Marlboro Ducati.

Ducati are currently leading the Japanese makers in motorcycling's two premier championships - MotoGP and World Superbikes - and are relishing this opportunity to show off the blazing power of their Desmosedici GP6 grand prix bike.

James Ellison, Britain's sole MotoGP contender, was only 17th fastest on the Tech 3 Yamaha, 3.32sec slower than Hayden, but only a 10th of a second slower than his very experienced team-mate Carlos Checa, who is making his 185th start.