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Matt Roberts' MotoGP round-up

By Matt Roberts
BBC Sport in Valencia

Nicky Hayden in action in Valencia
Hayden's new sticker caused a bit of strife with his team
The final race of the MotoGP season was almost relegated to being an entertaining sub-plot to the real story at Valencia: the start of the 2009 campaign with a two-day test on Monday and Tuesday.

This was the first opportunity to see a host of new rider-machine combinations which will battle for honours in 2009; the most eagerly anticipated being Nicky Hayden on the Ducati Desmosedici.

With Marco Melandri having failed to master the GP8 in such spectacular style, Hayden's early adaptation to the bike will be crucial, and his form on Monday was promising.

His fastest lap of 1:33.960secs was just six-tenths shy of his best effort during Sunday's race, and it made him the 12th-fastest rider out of 18 on the track, with Casey Stoner topping the timesheets.

Melandri, meanwhile, is hoping to salvage his reputation and MotoGP career at Kawasaki, and he showed signs that he is much more suited to the Ninja ZX-RR with a time of 1:33.782secs - four-tenths quicker than his best effort on the Ducati.

Mika Kallio was the most impressive rookie, clocking 1:34.793secs to outpace his new satellite Ducati team-mate and factory test rider Niccolo Canepa.

Hayden, whose commercial value to Ducati in America was hinted at with a special Stars and Stripes livery, was the quickest of only a handful of riders to lap in wet conditions on Tuesday.

Hayden had become used to being the centre of attention at Valencia, the circuit where he won the world title in 2006.

And this weekend, determined to sign off with Honda in style, he dominated free practice and set the fastest time in all three sessions before just missing out on pole position to Stoner in qualifying.

After a public slanging match with Dani Pedrosa's manager, Alberto Puig, in which Hayden claimed the Spaniard "runs HRC (Honda Racing Corporation)", Puig issued a damning statement about Hayden.

Alberto Puig has a word or two with his rider Dani Pedrosa
Puig (left) has had quite a bit to say of late

He called him a hypocrite and claimed that Hayden does not know how to set a bike up and would copy all his settings from Pedrosa (despite Hayden having outscored Pedrosa in five of the seven races previous to Sepang, when the statement was made).

Hayden laughed it off with typical good grace and humour, and on Saturday morning he ran a new sticker on his bike that read: '69, N. Hypocrite'.

HRC were not impressed and asked him to remove it before qualifying, which he reluctantly did like a schoolboy asked to remove his cap in class.

HRC would have been less amused if he had not decided against using the other sticker that had been prepared from him. That one read: 'PRC', which, as if you cannot guess, stood for 'Puig Racing Corporation'.

Sete Gibernau's typically dramatic return was officially announced in a press conference on Thursday.

And while there was nothing particularly remarkable about the conference itself, other than confirming that Gibernau's penchant for flowery spin was still intact, the accompanying press release was blissfully succinct.

On the team's step-up from 125cc racing to MotoGP, the release said the team were "looking forward to moving up to the queen category".

Hayden and Pedrosa had a new paint job for Sunday, with the Repsol Honda team reverting to their original livery in celebration of their 40th anniversary of motorsport tradition.

The retro, white design with blue and red stripes - reminiscent of Steve McQueen's 'Gulf' racing suit in the movie Le Mans - was worn with effortless style by Barry Sheene when he rode for Derbi in the 250cc class.

As our quick-witted commentator Charlie Cox pointed out, however, the pint-sized Pedrosa looked more like the Milky Bar Kid.

Not one to be outdone, Jorge Lorenzo also had a special livery for Valencia, although typically, his was more a celebration of his own achievements rather than anybody else's.

Jorge Lorenzo in action in Valencia
Jorge cut a dashing figure in Valencia

The 'Lorenzoland' design, which was the winning entry to a competition run by the Italian magazine Sportweek, incorporated the flags of all the 14 countries in which Jorge has celebrated a victory during his career in the 125, 250 and MotoGP categories.

Incidentally, Lorenzo will also be changing numbers for 2009 following a split with his manager Dani Amatriain, who wore 48 during his own undistinguished racing career.

Lorenzo, who is yet to publicly confirm or discuss the acrimonious break-up, has provisionally reserved numbers 23 and 99.

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see also
Steve Parrish's MotoGP review
27 Oct 08 |  Motorbikes
Stoner romps to season finale win
26 Oct 08 |  Motorbikes
Stoner holds off Pedrosa for pole
25 Oct 08 |  Motorbikes
Rossi cruises to win in Malaysia
19 Oct 08 |  Motorbikes
Bridgestone win MotoGP contract
18 Oct 08 |  Motorbikes
Stoner fixes wrist surgery date
16 Oct 08 |  Motorbikes
Superb Stoner wins in Australia
05 Oct 08 |  Motorbikes
Rossi celebrates 'toughest title'
28 Sep 08 |  Motorbikes
Rossi roars to sixth world title
28 Sep 08 |  Motorbikes

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