In the minutes building up to the start of the Laguna Seca MotoGP
race, the excitement was palpable. Riders began firing their bikes and the estimated crowd of 60,000 responded with cheers and the sounding of horns. Heading the front row was Australian Chris Vermeulen
, a former victor at the circuit from WSB, joined by odds-on podium favorite Colin Edwards
and the resurgent Kenny Roberts Junior on his Team Roberts machine. Nicky Hayden
sat in the second row and Valentino Rossi was positioned in 10th leading the fourth row. The riders would have 32 laps to decide the USGP victor under the sweltering heat of the Monterey circuit.
Hayden does it again! Taking control halfway through the race and riding to a convincing victory at Laguna Seca.
KRJR took the led through the first turn followed by Vermeulen and Hayden, but Vermeulen overtook on the front straight to lead the first lap. Rossi turned the first lap 2.5 seconds behind. Casey Stoner was fourth with Edwards fifth.
Vermeulen began to stretch out a lead in the early rounds with KRJR and Hayden lurking back and biding their time. At Lap 5 the front order remained unchanged. Rossi has moved up to ninth but over four seconds off the leader.
Working up to the 10-lap mark Vermeulen kept a 1.7-second advantage. Battles erupted on the track with Hayden challenging and passing KRJR for second, and the two standout rookies, Pedrosa and Stoner, duking it out for fourth. Edwards began to fade, losing spots to Pedrosa and Melandri. Rossi wandered back in ninth seven seconds back
Pedrosa made either an amazing move or an amazing save in the corkscrew to overtake KRJR on Lap 12, but was still behind Casey Stoner who moved into third. Hayden continued to put a bead on Vermeulen and track him down. Edwards dropped past his teammate Rossi, who was in seventh and still seven seconds off the leader.
Stoner crashed on Lap 15 while running in third, putting everyone behind one position ahead and Shinya Nakano was stalled off to the side of the track. At the halfway mark Hayden caught up with Vermeulen, waiting to make a pass. Toni Elias ran off the track and dumped the bike.
Hayden passed Vermeulen on Lap 17 after the Australian made a mistake and started to check out on his Repsol Honda mount. Pedrosa ran third followed by Melandri, KRJR, and Rossi, who was stuck at seven seconds back.
The Doctor would pass KRJR on Lap 19, however, and with 13 laps remaining began a charge towards the leader. On Lap 20 Rossi dispatched Melandri. Vermeulen continued to hang in there, but The Kentucky Kid has widened his lead to 1.84 seconds.
With nine laps to go Rossi began to make up some ground, but not on third-place rider Pedrosa, who worked on reeling in Chris Vermeulen. The Australian was trying to hold onto a podium, with Hayden well out of reach. On Lap 25 Pedrosa made the pass on the Suzuki and but was over three seconds behind his Repsol teammate. Meanwhile, Rossi continued to plod forward, tracking the final podium spot from Vermeulen.
In the end it wasn't the track that did in The Doctor, instead the culprit was his Yamaha mount.
Five laps to go and Hayden was in the control, opening almost a four-second gap. Pedrosa had settled into third, with third-place rider Vermeulen doing his best to fend off The Doctor. Rossi began to have troubles, however, and dropped way back, losing spots to Melandri and KRJR.
Rossi's machine began blowing smoke and started dropping positions with apparent bike problems. Vermeulen also encountered some trouble and both Melandri and KRJR were able to pass. On the final lap, Rossi was once again pulled off on the side of the track with a defunct M1 with a triumphant Hayden taking the checkers and perhaps the championship with it.
Hayden celebrated with a victory lap for the fans and an encore lap on the grass with the Star and Stripes in tow. The Kentucky Kid was joined on the USGP podium by teammate Dani Pedrosa and Fortuna Honda's Marco Melandri. Kenny Roberts Junior was a second off the podium in fourth, with Vermeulen fifth and American John Hopkins sixth. Rossi ends with a DNF, while running in fourth-place and a possible podium in his sights.
Hayden now owns a 34-point championship edge on his nearest rival, teammate Dani Pedrosa. Reigning champion, Valentino Rossi, is now 51 points behind, his title hopes looking grim.
MotoGP Laguna Seca Results:
1. Nicky Hayden
2. Dani Pedrosa
3. Marco Melandri
4. Kenny Roberts Junior
5. Chris Vermeulen
6. John Hopkins
7. Carlos Checa
8. Loris Capirossi
9. Colin Edwards
10. Sete Gibernau
11. Makoto Tamada
12. Randy de Puniet
13. James Ellison
14. Alex Hofmann
15. Toni Elias
16. Jose Louis Cardoso
DNF Valentino Rossi
DNF Shinya Nakano
DNF Casey Stoner
MotoGP Championship Points:
1. Hayden - 194
2. Pedrosa - 160
3. Melandri - 150
4. Rossi - 143
5. Capirossi - 126