4th September, Sepang - With just five rounds remaining and a healthy 25-point advantage over his closest rival, Nicky Hayden is on the verge of bringing back the glory days of of the American legends in the world’s premier motocycling event.
With a total haul of 201 points, Hayden goes into Round 13 at the 2006 Marlboro Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix in Sepang this weekend in search of his third victory of the season and a mission of strengthening his claims of joining the ranks of fellow Americans Kenny Roberts Sr and Kenny Roberts Jr; Freddie Spencer, Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz as champions in the premier class in MotoGP.
“American riders used to rule the premier class in the late eighties and early nineties. Nicky Hayden has the perfect opportunity this year to join that elite group of world champions,” said Datuk Ahmad Mustafa, General Manager of Sepang International Circuit.
“Without doubt, Hayden is currently the top favoruite for the MotoGP world title. A win in Sepang boost his chances to be the world champion by a very long way. Perhaps, more importantly, to neutralise the threat of Valentino Rossi,” added Ahmad, who is also the event director for the 2006 Marlboro Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
The event starts Friday (September 8) with free practice sessions and Qualifying 1 for the 125cc and 250cc. Saturday (September 9) will feature qualifying for all three categories with the races to be held on Sunday (September 10).
According to Ahmad, having won three times in Sepang, Rossi would have a slight advantage over the American, who has yet to climb the winners’ podium in Sepang. In all his previous races around the 5.543-km Sepang since 2003, Hayden had been placed fourth.
Currently third in the overall standings, the seven-time world champion is 38 points behind Hayden but remained as Hayden’s biggest threat along with three-time world champion and MotoGP rookie Dani Pedrosa, who is lying second with 176 points.
“Despite Pedrosa being closer to Hayden in the championship standings, I still see Rossi as Hayden biggest threat; given his experience and overall capabilities on a MotoGP bike,” said Ahmad.
Third overall last year, Hayden made his debut in the MotoGP World Championship with the legendary Repsol Honda team in Suzuka at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2003. He finished that season fifth in the overall standings but slumped to eighth in 2004.
First held in 1991, only three American riders had won the Marlboro Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix with John Koncinski winning the maiden 500cc Malaysian GP in Shah Alam and Wayne Rainey two years later in 1993.
When the Marlboro Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix shifted to Sepang in 1999, it was an American rider again making an immediate impact through Kenny Roberts Jr, who won it again in 2000 – the year he won the 500cc world title.
Born in Owensboro, Kentucky on July 30, 1981, Hayden contested the MotoGP class after having crowned in his country as the youngest winner of the American Superbike Championship AMA, on a Honda SP-2. Three years into MotoGP, he is ready to rule the world championship.
Like the American heroes before him, Hayden has been involved in motorcycles all his life. His father was a pro dirt tracker, famously using the number 69 because he wanted his bike to be identifiable "whether it was right way up or upside down", and both his mother and elder sister contested so-called 'powder-puff' ladies' events.
Apart from Hayden, Rossi and Pedrosa, Marco Melandri and Loris Capirossi are also well in contention to challenge for the world title with Melandri and Capirossi – winner of the Malaysian GP last year – currently fourth and fifth in the overall standings respectively with 163 and 161 points.
While the battle in the MotoGP class is without doubt the main highlight of the 2006 Marlboro Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix, Ahmad said the contests in the 250cc and 125cc classes are just as thrilling and exciting.
“Similarly, the support races in the Malaysian Super Series will be as enjoyable for the fans,” added Ahmad.
500cc/MotoGP Malaysian GP Winners
1991 (Shah Alam) – John Koncinski
1992 (Shah Alam) – Mick Doohan (Honda)
1993 (Shah Alam) – Wayne Rainey (Yamaha)
1994 (Shah Alam) – Mick Doohan (Honda)
1995 (Shah Alam) – Mick Doohan (Honda)
1996 (Shah Alam) – Luca Cadalora (Honda)
1997 (Shah Alam) – Mick Doohan (Honda)
1998 (Johor Circuit) – Mick Doohan (Honda)
1999 (Sepang Circuit) – Kenny Roberts Jr (Suzuki)
2000 (Sepang Circuit) – Kenny Roberts Jr (Suzuki)
2001 (Sepang Circuit) – Valentino Rossi (Honda)
2002 (Sepang Circuit) – Max Biaggi (Yamaha)
2003 (Sepang Circuit) – Valentino Rossi (Honda)
2004 (Sepang Circuit) – Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
2005 (Sepang Circuit) – Loris Capirossi (Ducati)
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