2006 MotoGP Championship - Round Eleven - Laguna Seca, USA - July 21/22/23 - Coverage by MCNEWS.COM.AU
The Laguna Seca track was
resurfaced only weeks ago to throw some surprises into the mix
for the tyre companies. Michelin has 25 podiums out of a
possible 30 so far this season but the new surface at Laguna
Seca provided an opportunity for Bridgestone, or perhaps even
Dunlop, to promote their riders to the fore.
Kenny Roberts Jnr continued to enjoy his new
Honda powerplant to qualify third quickest ahead of Dani
Pedrosa., John Hopkins and Nicky Hayden rounded out the second
row. In quite a strange twist however Nicky Hayden had actually
set the fastest lap of the weekend during Saturday morning's
free practice session, a 1m22.843 second scorcher some 3-tenths
of a second better than Vermeulen's pole time. Casey Stoner had
been right up the front in the qualifying session while running
race rubber but slipped back to seventh when his LCR machine did
not respond so well to qualifying rubber but a sure sign that he
would have a good race pace.
Kenny Roberts led the field off the line with Vermeulen and Edwards in tow but Edwards was soon shuffled back to fifth by Hayden and Stoner in the first turns. Rossi was back in tenth position. Late on the first lap Chris Vermeulen slotted his Suzuki past Kenny Roberts to take the lead. Dani Pedrosa and Marco Melandri were pressuring Colin Edwards but were also tripping each other up in their efforts to get past the Yamaha.
Chris Vermeulen was keen to try and make a break and pulled more than half a second out on Roberts on lap three while Nicky Hayden was all over the back of Kenny Roberts while Casey Stoner was struggling to stay in touch with the pair and Edwards continued to hold off the advances of Melandri and Pedrosa.
Pedrosa started his charge up the ranks on lap six after getting the better of Melandri and then Edwards to move up to fifth place and started closing on Stoner. Hayden looked to have settled in behind Roberts after finding that he couldn't get past his countryman, instead choosing to bide his time until the 2000 world champion makes a mistake. Pedrosa moved up onto the back of Stoner quite easily and the pair started to close on Nicky Hayden.
Hayden took second place from Roberts on the entry to the corkscrew on lap nine of the 32 lap race and immediately set out to try and claw back some of the ground that Chris Vermeulen had managed to take out of them in the first third of the race. Vermeulen had two seconds on his pursuers as they started lap ten while Pedrosa made his move on Stoner to take fourth place and immediately closed on the tail of Roberts. Half a lap later Pedrosa was up to second place but then Stoner pulled a surprising move to take both of them and promote himself up to third position.
John Hopkins had nosed in front of Colin Edwards for sixth position but half a lap later Valentino Rossi had sneaked past both of them to promote himself up to seventh place. Meanwhile up front Hayden had started to eat into Vermeulen's lead and by lap 13 the American had narrowed the gap down to a second. Stoner had broken away from Pedrosa and Roberts to make third place his. Vermeulen looked to already be struggling for rear grip with his rear Bridgestone already starting to snap sideways on him when he picked up the throttle on the way out of the turns. Pedrosa had escaped from Roberts and the American then started to come under further attack from Marco Melandri. Pedrosa was back on the tail of Stoner by lap 14 while Melandri had moved past Roberts for fifth. Stoner and Pedrosa were 2.6 seconds behind second placed Hayden as they approached the halfway point of the 32 lap race. Stoner then went down at turn five to put an end to his chances of a decent result.
Hayden slipped past Vermeulen to take the lead as the race entered its second half as the Australian looked to be struggling for grip from the front end with his hard compound Bridgestone struggling to cope with the extreme Laguna heat. Melandri had taken fourth spot from Roberts who then started to come under attack from Valentino Rossi. Lap 19 saw Rossi make his move to take fifth from Roberts before setting his sights on fourth placed Melandri. Dani Pedrosa had the bit between his teeth and was trying to close down the considerable gap the front duo had built. Out in front Hayden had left Vermeulen in his wake and was pulling away from the Rizla Suzuki. Rossi got Melandri on lap 20 but with only 12 laps to run it looked unlikely that he would have the opportunity to catch championship leader Nicky Hayden out in front. Vermeulen's Suzuki also started to develop an intermittent misfire that was him slip further back through the field.
Pedrosa pushed Vermeulen back to third on lap 25 but the Spaniard had his work cut out for him to chase down his teammate as Hayden had a healthy four second lead.
With five laps to run it became clear that this was not going to be another Rossi miracle as both Melandri and Roberts pushed the reigning world champion back to sixth place.
Melandri closed down Vermeulen with three laps to run while Rossi's Yamaha started bellowing smoke and looked sure to expire before the race end. With a couple of laps to run both Melandri and Roberts pushed Chris Vermeulen out of a possible podium result as the Suzuki man continued to ride around a destroyed front tyre.
Pedrosa was unable to close the gap to his teammate and Nicky Hayden went on to take his second win at Laguna Seca for a popular home victory. Valentino Rossi was forced to park his Yamaha on the last lap and watch from the sidelines as his title hopes started to disappear once again after a mid-season revival. Marco Melandri took good points for third position ahead of Roberts while Vermeulen cruised home to salvage fifth and his Suzuki actually expired just after he crossed the line to take those 11 points.
The MotoGP paddock now has a long break before reconvening at
Brno in the Czech Republic on August 20. Plenty of time to test
those new 800cc prototypes in preparation for 2007.
Michelin are already well underway with development strategies
for the new lower capacity 800cc machines. The French
manufacturer soon will begin working with development partners
Honda and Yamaha with tests scheduled soon away from prying eyes
on the safety of Japanese soil.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, we still have a 2006 championship to be decided. And on current form it just might come down to the final corner on the final lap at the final round for it to be decided. Will Rossi be able to further cement his legend in the record books or will 2006 mark the rise of a new legend? I think we may have to wait until Valencia on October 29 to find the answer to that one. Can Rossi come back from a 51 point deficit with six rounds to go? Surely that is too much even for the doctor. Hayden's win extended his championship lead over Pedrosa by a very significant 44 points as the Repsol 1-2 stranglehold at the head of the championship continues to strengthen.
Dani Pedrosa 1m23.33 (Lap 6)