The MotoGP boys make their first U.S. stop of the season this weekend at northern California’s Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It’s crazy to think but this year marks the seventh consecutive time Laguna has hosted the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix
since it was added to the MotoGP tour in ’05.
Laguna is the shortest circuit on the calendar featuring a 2.238-mile, 11-turn configuration that encompasses the surrounding hillside and Laguna Seca Recreation Area, a California State Park. Considering its proximity to the Pacific Ocean the weather is generally very mild but sometimes during the summer months it can get quite hot. This weekend however forecasters are predicting cool but mostly sunny weather.
Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner comes to California with a slight points lead over the reigning champ, Yamaha factory rider Jorge Lorenzo. Stoner has shown flashes of brilliance aboard the factory Honda machine, having won four races this season.
“I'm looking forward to going to Laguna Seca,” said the 2007 World Champ. “It's a circuit I've always enjoyed quite good results at and we've always been naturally quite fast there. The track itself is a very tight and technical track, there are lots of sweeping gradients and unusual corners with a lot of camber, so you need to be delicate on the track and not ‘attack’ it too much. We'll be looking to improve our results from the past three weekends, three podiums are great but I'm here to win races, so we'll be aiming to get back on the top step.”
The other two full factory Hondas, ridden by Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, will also be contenders out front , a testament to both the effectiveness of Honda’s RC212V MotoGP platform this year and the skill of its riders. Pedrosa has recorded two wins this season despite missing four rounds while recovering from a shoulder injury suffered when he and satellite Honda rider Marco Simoncelli came together during the race at Le Mans, France.
“The United States Grand Prix will be another challenge for me,” said last weekend’s winner, Pedrosa. “I know that I will suffer more in Laguna Seca because there are many hard braking areas and very fast direction changes. Anyway, it will be another race and I'll try to prepare well and enjoy it as I did in Sachsenring.”
Speaking of Simoncelli, the Italian Wildman has shown some serious speed on track but has become somewhat disliked due to his very hard charging riding style. Still, if he can chill out a bit and get his set-up right, we could see him at the front of Sunday’s race.
Lorenzo has had mixed results at the “Dry Lake.” Last year the Spaniard won the race but the year before he crashed his brains out—breaking bones and separating his shoulder yet still managing to finish on the box. Currently he sits in the No. 2 spot in the championship chase, trailing Stoner by 15 points.
“We are very strong at the moment,” Lorenzo surmises. “With a great result at both Mugello and Sachsenring, we will try to continue to reduce our gap to Casey. I have had great moments in Laguna; above all last year when I won, but also in 2009 when I got pole position even with a big crash and at the end got a podium. Laguna is amazing; for the American style and atmosphere, but above all because of the Corkscrew. I think maybe it is the best corner in the Championship, the place everybody wants to meet! I am looking forward to being back on my M1 there, riding to fight for the title!"
Lorenzo’s teammate Ben Spies will also be looking to add to his ever-growing resume. The Texan rider goes well at Laguna and will be dressed in his special red and white 50th anniversary livery as seen in Assen where Spies achieved his first-ever MotoGP win.
“It’s always exciting to race in front of the home crowd and it’s going to be a big event for Yamaha with the 50th anniversary colors being run again,” said Spies. “They were lucky for me at Assen and hopefully they can bring me more luck in front of my friends and family. I’ve had some pretty good results in my AMA days at Laguna and I love riding the circuit. It’s going to be a serious race weekend but it’s also going to be a lot of fun so I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of old faces at the track.”
Both riders of the Ducati factory team, Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi, have struggled for the most part this year. The team has developed an updated bike which uses some of the components developed for the new 1000cc bike that will be piloted next season. Still both riders are unsure of the updates and may test them back-to-back with the original machine that debuted in Qatar.
“I think that we’ll try to use both versions of the Desmosedici on Friday so that we can compare them and do some work for both the near term and the future, because we want to learn as much as possible,” explained Rossi. “We’re aware that it could be difficult because we’ll also have to be preparing for the race, but we think that in order to improve our bike, it’s important to try everything possible. For me, Laguna represents a great corner, the Corkscrew, and many nice memories, including one of the best races of my career, in 2008 [epic Rossi vs. Stoner duel]. In any case, it’s always a pleasure to race in the United States because the motorcycle world here is really nice. Of course I’m even happier that Jerry has returned and I look forward to seeing him in the garage again with all the guys.”
Hayden has won here at Laguna twice and knows the track like the back of his hand. Could this be his chance to finally return to the top step of the podium?
“Obviously, I’m looking forward to Laguna, because it’s a track I love that’s very challenging and fun, with a great atmosphere and my home crowd,” says Hayden. “Turn 1 and the Corkscrew are very technical, and pretty much the whole track links together. On a MotoGP bike, there really aren’t any straightaways, because you’re always shifting,
turning or braking. It’s important to have a bike that you feel confident on and can be aggressive with. I’m going to my home GP not in our best moment, but we’ll give our best effort like always. It’s nice that my brothers are both in the AMA race, and my sisters are both doing a lap on the two-seater Ducati. I think we’ll make the final decision on Thursday as to which bike I’ll ride, but we’ll probably try the GP11.1 at some stage, and I’ll see what I can do to try and come up with a good result.”
In the wildcard department, Jordan Suzuki’s Ben Bostrom will be competing in the class in a one-off ride with the LCR Honda team. Honda has shipped in an extra bike for him and word on the street is that Bostrom was selected due to his overwhelming fan popularity. We know Bostrom can be the man to beat if he wakes up on the right side of the bed and having just had a baby could be the motivation he really needs.
Since the AMA boys and girls are also competing at Laguna, the Moto2 and 125 classes won’t run this weekend. But don’t fret as there will be plenty of racing action with the newly formed TTXGP electric bike racing class that you can learn more about in the Laguna Seca TTXGP Preview 2011
. More motorcycle entertainment comes in the form of the XDL Championship that showcases rider’s ability to perform stunts on sportbikes. The contest will be taking place at The Depot Parking lot between Wharf 2 and the Fisherman’s Wharf in downtown Monterey.
While you’re at the track make sure to stop by the Motorcycle-Superstore.com
booth between Turns 3 and 4. Once again it will have a dunk tank where folks can try and dunk one of its models. All the money raised goes to the RiderDown Foundation. Additionally they will be handing out free swag including squirt guns, beer koozies, ear plugs, lanyards and more. Lastly, its giving away a trip to the Indianapolis MotoGP round in late August so make sure to sign up for your chance to win!