Motorcycling: Hayden relishes new clutch to put Rossi in the shade

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The Independent Online

Nicky Hayden pulled a wheelie on his slowing-down lap in practice for the Portuguese MotoGP here yesterday as though he had just won a race, when all he had done was to lap faster than his championship rival Valentino Rossi.

But it was a sign that the 25-year-old American may be on the verge of recovering from a four-race wobble in which he has failed to finish on the podium on his factory Repsol Honda.

He lapped the 2.6-mile circuit in 1min 38.268sec, 0.05sec slower than the Australian Casey Stoner, who rides a Honda for the satellite LCR team.

Kenny Roberts Jnr rode the Honda-engined KR211V into third place ahead of Carlos Checa on the Tech 3 Yamaha, but Rossi languished in eighth place on his Camel Yamaha.

Hayden attributed part of his new-found confidence to an improved clutch supplied by Honda to cure mechanical problems that have blighted his recent results. "I don't know if we have a solution, but the new clutch felt better," Hayden said. "We put a control on it to stop the revs going too high. When I let the clutch out I don't feel like I'm going so fast, but they tell me that my times are no slower."

If Hayden wins the championship, it will not only be his first world title, but he will also become the only rider to defeat Rossi in the five-year era of the 990cc MotoGP formula, which ends this year. With two races remaining, Hayden leads Rossi by only 12 points.