Hayden wins after last turn Assen showdown!
24 June 2006
Nicky Hayden has won the Dutch TT at Assen after he and fellow American Colin Edwards went into the last turn side-by-side - and both went off the track.
Edwards, chasing his first ever MotoGP victory, had led almost the entire race - converting his third on the grid into first at turn one, then holding command until the penultimate lap.
At that point Hayden - who had worked his way into second after passing a fast starting Marco Melandri, then Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano and Rizla Suzuki's pole sitter John Hopkins – finally dived inside the Texan, under braking for the back chicane.
Edwards tried to keep his Camel Yamaha alongside, but was forced to lift and straight-line down an escape road - rejoining just over one second from the Repsol Honda rider. That mistake looked likely to settle the race, but the double World Superbike champion dug deep and amazingly recaught Hayden with just half a lap to go.
Both Americans were now on the absolute limit, but Edwards got better drive heading into the fast kinks that precede the final chicane - and sensationally retook the lead with just a few corners to go. Assen veteran Edwards then allowed his M1 to run wide through the fast left hander that caught out team-mate Valentino Rossi in practice, giving the #5 a defensive inside line for the final chicane.
But, championship lead or not, Nicky wasn't giving up and his only option was to try and brave it out around the outside. The pair were literally side-by-side as they arrived at the first apex, but Hayden couldn't make the turn (possibly after selecting neutral) and ran wide across the gravel.
That should have handed victory to Edwards, but he was also slightly off line - and was heartbreakingly thrown from his Camel Yamaha after missing the next apex and running over the slick grass behind, just as he seemed to have his very first MotoGP victory in the bag.
While Edwards high-sided, Hayden rejoined the track to take his second ever MotoGP victory - and, most significantly, his first win outside America. Colin later remounted his battered machine to finish an unjust 13th and a round of applause greeted the Texan as he returned to the pits, but it was a bitter, bitter blow.
By contrast, Hayden was naturally jubilant at breaking his almost year long win drought - and also carved his name into Honda history by sealing the Japanese giant's 200th premier-class grand prix victory. As if that wasn't enough, he has also more than doubled his world championship lead, from 20 to 42 points.
Joining Nicky on the podium were Nakano and Dani Pedrosa. In what was probably Kawasaki's most competitive dry weather race, second on the grid Nakano had held fourth place during the early laps, before passing Hopkins - then just two seconds behind the leaders - for third place at the halfway stage of the 26 laps.
Although unable to threaten Edwards and Hayden ahead, Nakano kept his pace up to drop the pursing pack for what looked like being a safe third - before Colin's last turn tumble. Second place is Nakano's best ever MotoGP result and equals Kawasaki's best MotoGP finish, by Olivier Jacque in the wet 2005 Chinese Grand Prix.
Meanwhile, after being passed by Nakano, Hopkins had continued to fade - and was caught by the three man dice of Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Kenny Roberts with ten laps to go. All three eventually forced their way ahead of Hopper by the finish, with Pedrosa gifted an unexpected podium by the last turn drama.
The Repsol Honda rider has now also moved into second in the world championship standings, having jumped ahead of injured Italians Melandri, Rossi and Capirossi.
All three bravely started the race, but were far from certain to finish it due to their physical conditions. After what must have been 26 tortuous laps, it was Melandri - who, like Capirossi, sustained numerous upper body injuries in last weekend's turn one accident in Catalunya - that salvaged the most points; the Fortuna Honda rider benefiting from a strong start to take seventh at the flag.
Six seconds and one place behind him was world champion Rossi - who fractured his hand and ankle in the Thursday fall. The seven times champion exceeded most expectations by climbing from 18th and last on the grid to take eight world championship points. However, all the ground gained by his previous two victories in a row has now been lost and he is, ironically, 46 points behind Hayden.
Meanwhile, Capirossi finished 15th to take what must have been his hardest ever world championship point and is now third in the point standings, just two in front of Rossi and two behind Pedrosa - but 44 points from Hayden.
Unfortunately for all of those riding injured, round nine of the 2006 MotoGP World Championship takes pace at Donington Park next weekend - with Laguna Seca the weekend after.
14. de Puniet