By Peter McLaren

Honda could put its new-for-2008 pneumatic engine on hold and switch back to the standard spring-valve system for the upcoming MotoGP season, it emerged at Sepang on Tuesday.

After three post-season tests spent developing the radical new engine, which is yet to match the performance of the 'traditional' 2007 design, Repsol Honda's Nicky Hayden revealed that the factory team had reverted back to the standard unit during the first day of 2008 track action.

"We had the standard engine, from last season, in the new chassis today," confirmed Nicky, who set the eighth fastest lap time. "But the bike felt a lot better here [during testing] last year when it had the pneumatic-valve engine in. I'm not sure if it's the extra power or what [from the standard engine]. I was really having a hard time with the front end today, I couldn't lean the bike the way I wanted... A different engine means different settings, tyres - everything."

When pressed about Honda's change of heart, Hayden revealed that an updated version of the pneumatic-valve engine is present at Sepang for evaluation - but that they don't have permission to test it yet.

"The latest version of the pneumatic valve engine is here, but we haven't been able to use it yet," he said. "They were testing it on the dyno in Japan [today] but I don't think they are completely happy with it. We didn't get the green light to put it in. So we'll see what they say tonight in Japan and possibly put the engine in, hopefully, tomorrow.

"Unless they make big progress with the pneumatic engine, we might not be running it [at the start of this season]," Hayden warned.

When asked by for his 'gut feeling' on which type of engine the team should go with, Hayden said he still backs the new technology - as already used by Suzuki and Kawasaki.

"I would like to go with the pneumatic-valve engine," the 2006 world champion replied. "I would like to see them make big progress... I mean, it's the future. I think it's got a lot more potential. I really need to try the new version of the pneumatic engine to see how far away it is."

To complicate matters even more for Honda, Dani Pedrosa's hand fracture (see separate story) means that HRC will now have even less data available to make the final decision on engine design.

But while Honda is considering putting its pneumatic-valve project on ice, Yamaha appears to be heading in exactly the opposite direction.

"The pneumatic-valve engine is here, but its still under development at the moment," Yamaha Tech 3 rider James Toseland told at Sepang. "Maybe I'll have it by the first race. It depends how it progresses. It's obviously got to be an advantage and reliable."

Factory star Valentino Rossi is unsurprisingly leading development of Yamaha's restarted pneumatic-valve project and, despite problems with exactly that type of engine during the second half of last season, the Italian is now said to believe, like Hayden, that it is "the future".


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