MotoGP 2011 – Round Ten – Laguna Seca

MotoGP arrives Stateside for Laguna Seca show

The 2011 MotoGP season enters its second half this weekend at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where the Red Bull US Grand Prix follows a Sachsenring round which narrowed the gap further at the top of the Championship standings.

Round 10 promises to be as entertaining as Germany, where Dani Pedrosa took victory in only his second race back from injury and Jorge Lorenzo chipped further away at Casey Stoner’s advantage at the top of the standings to get within 15 points of the Australian at exactly the halfway stage of the season.

Laguna Seca will offer a fantastic setting for another thrilling weekend before the premier class breaks for almost three weeks ahead of the Brno round, and with home interest in four riders adding to a close Championship fight the scene is set perfectly for a MotoGP centrepiece with neither the Moto2 or 125cc categories in action.

Stoner remains the man to catch in the premier class and with third place in Germany he recorded a seventh straight podium finish, his longest sequence of rostrum results in GP racing to date. The Repsol Honda rider is being hotly pursued by defending World Champion Lorenzo however, and it was they who formed the one-two across the finish line last season as the Spaniard took his sixth win of the 2010 campaign.

Third in the Championship is Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda), who has twice come close to a podium finish at Laguna but is yet to finish inside the top three there. At 21 points behind Lorenzo the Italian’s motivation will be as high as ever, as will that of compatriot Valentino Rossi. The Ducati Team rider finished on the podium at Laguna last year in only his second race back after breaking a leg, and currently sits fourth in the Championship heading to a circuit at which he took a famous victory in 2008 following a battle with Stoner which has become one of the most memorable of recent years.

Dani Pedrosa’s return to the fold was confirmed in spectacular style in Germany, where the Repsol Honda rider took victory in only his second race back following injury. With his second win of the season Pedrosa became the rider to have won the most premier class races (14) without having yet taken an elite category title. His victory also levelled, once again, the number of wins that Honda and Yamaha have achieved in the four-stroke era (65 each), and also made it a fourth different rider to have won a race in the last four rounds of the 2011 season.

Leading the home charge in front of a patriotic American crowd will be Ben Spies. The Yamaha Factory Racing rider, who at Assen took his first MotoGP victory, will hope to add to the seven American riders who have taken World Championship wins at Laguna in the 12 premier class races which have been held there. It has however been five years since a home rider stood on the podium at the track, Nicky Hayden being the last man to do so when he took victory in 2006, and the Ducati Team rider will join Spies in his desire to record a memorable result.

Likewise Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), who has a best result of second (from 2005) at the track will be highly motivated on home soil, and Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini) will continue his search for a first premier class podium at a track he experienced a less than favourable introduction to last year.

Rookies Karel Abraham (Cardio AB Motoracing) and Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) will race at the circuit for the first time, as will Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) who missed last year’s round due to injury in his first premier class campaign. Héctor Barberá (Mapfre Aspar) is in line to make his 150th Grand Prix start across all categories this weekend, whilst fellow Spaniard Álvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki) will be buoyed by a stirring display put on in Germany.

Toni Elías (LCR Honda) continues to seek an upturn in fortunes in his 2011 season, as does Pramac Racing’s Randy de Puniet whose fellow Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli remains on standby to substitute for Loris Capirossi – as he did at the Sachsenring – if the Italian has still not recovered sufficiently from injury.

There will also be a special wild card entry this weekend, with American rider Ben Bostrom on an LCR Honda RC212V alongside Elías.

The Red Bull US Grand Prix gets underway on Friday at 10.10am local time, when the MotoGP bikes take to the track for the opening practice session of the weekend.

– Ducati Preview

This weekend the MotoGP teams face the United States Grand Prix, which will be their sixth race in eight weeks, and then they’ll enjoy a well-earned short summer break.

It’s a very special event for Nicky Hayden, being his first of two home-country races and a track where he has won twice, and for Valentino Rossi, who has one win and three podiums. Both riders are very popular with the American fans, and the riders themselves love both the relaxed atmosphere and the California track itself, which is famous for its signature Corkscrew section.

At Laguna, Valentino will also be reunited with his crew chief Jeremy Burgess, who has missed the last two races.

From a technical point of view, the Ducati Team’s development work will continue at the American track and both riders will have both the GP11 and the GP11.1 at their disposition. Rossi and Hayden, along with the Ducati technicians, are determined to do everything they can to speed up the development of the Desmosedici, and they are considering a possible back-to-back comparison of the bike’s two versions on the first day of free practice.

VALENTINO ROSSI, Ducati Team
“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. 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. 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.”

NICKY HAYDEN, Ducati Team
“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. 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.”

VITTORIANO GUARESCHI, Team Manager
“The Laguna Grand Prix is an important round, and it means a lot to Nicky as his home race where he has won twice. His whole family will be here, and both of his brothers will also race during the weekend. We want to put him in a position to have a nice race, he did a good job at the Sachsenring and is on a positive trend. The GP11.1 will be available to him so that he can compare the two versions of the Desmosedici. Valentino will have the same option, we decided to gather as much information as possible for the development of this bike and to help with the GP12. We’re also happy to have Jeremy with us again, as he’s important for Vale and the whole team.”

– Yamaha Preview

The iconic Laguna Seca circuit in California prepares to welcome the MotoGP paddock this weekend for the first of the two US rounds on the 2011 season. The event will be a special one for Yamaha Factory Racing; the team will again wear the special red and white YZR-M1 WGP50th Anniversary Edition livery as seen at the Assen TT where Ben Spies stormed to his first ever GP victory.

Last year saw Jorge Lorenzo triumph from a pole position start to take his first Laguna Seca MotoGP race win, his sixth victory and fifth pole of his 2010 season dominance. Team mate Spies is a three time AMA race winner at Laguna and scored an impressive sixth place finish in his MotoGP rookie visit last year. Having won last time out in the red and white colours confidence is high for more success on home ground for the local hero.

Situated amongst the hills just a couple of hours from San Francisco, the Laguna Seca circuit claims jaw dropping elevation changes and possibly the most famous corner in the racing world, the infamous ‘corkscrew’. Weather can be unpredictable with cold misty mornings followed by dry hot days providing exciting racing for the American fans.

Jorge Lorenzo – “We are very strong at the moment 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!”

Ben Spies – “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 colours being run again. 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.”

Wilco Zeelenberg – “Laguna was a very nice event last year when Jorge won after a great race. We will have a big break afterwards so it is a very important moment in the season with ten races completed. Jorge really enjoys Laguna and it’s a home circuit for Ben so I think our guys will be able to do a good job. The whole crew are looking forward to getting out to California!”

Massimo Meregalli – “I’ve been waiting for Laguna for ten years! I’m really excited about going there. As usual we are confident, especially after the strong results of the last three races. Jorge did a great job there last year and it is Ben’s home track so we have to be optimistic of a good performance by both riders.”

– HRC Preview

Repsol Honda riders Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner had little time to celebrate their first and third place finishes in the German Grand Prix before flying 9300Km for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the final race before the much-needed summer break.

Pedrosa’s victory was both inspiring and unexpected. The Spaniard, 25, had only returned from collarbone surgery in the previous race at Mugello and the physically demanding Sachsenring was always going to be a challenge. The single most important factor in allowing Pedrosa to race at the highest level was that the track has a preponderance of left-handed corners, which was less taxing on Pedrosa’s surgically repaired right collarbone. Laguna Seca also features
mostly left-handed corners, but the shortest circuit in grand prix racing has no real straightaway, hard braking zones, quick changes of direction, and nowhere to rest.

Laguna Seca has been good to Pedrosa. He won the race from the second row in 2009 and finished second in his first visit to the track in 2006.

Stoner came away from Germany leading the MotoGP World Championship by 15 points over Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha). Stoner led the German GP for nine laps until traction issues robbed him of the confidence to attack late in the race. Lorenzo took advantage and passed the championship leader in the final corner.

Still, Stoner has an enviable record, with podium appearances in every race he’s finished and a winning record at Laguna Seca. The Australian, 25, won the 2007 race en route to the first MotoGP World Championship of the 800cc era, and he hopes to end the MotoGP era with a second world championship. He followed his 2008 USGP victory with second place finishes in 2008 and 2010.

Andrea Dovizioso, the 25-year-old third member of the Repsol Honda team, sits third in the championship on the strength of a remarkably consistent season. The first half of the season ended with Dovi having finished no worse than fourth in every race, but one, with four podiums. Last weekend in Germany Dovi passed fellow Italian Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini) three laps from the end to secure fourth.

Dovizioso has finished just off the podium twice at Laguna Seca, coming fourth in his MotoGP debut at the track in 2008 and again in 2010.

“Super Sic” was set to finish fifth in Germany when he was passed in the final corner by fellow second year MotoGP rider Ben Spies (Yamaha). Simoncelli, 24, from Cattolica, Italy, continues to look for his first MotoGP podium in a year in which he’s clearly had the speed. His qualifying record includes six front row starts, including a pair of pole positions. But various mistakes and other issues have prevented him from fulfilling his promise in the races. A rear traction problem late in the German GP meant he couldn’t challenge for fourth. Still, he moved up two spots to eighth in the championship heading to California.

Team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama is looking forward to his first race at Laguna Seca, which uniquely hosts only the MotoGP class. As a MotoGP rookie, the 29-year-old Japanese star missed last year’s race after breaking his back at the British Grand Prix. Injuries are again slowing Aoyama, who continues to recover from a dramatic crash in the Dutch TT in Assen. His confidence has taken a hit and he’s just now coming around to being comfortable on the San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V.

The LCR Honda MotoGP team is two-strong for 2011, with former American Superbike champion and World Superbike winner Ben Bostrom, 37, making his MotoGP debut alongside Toni Elias. Bostrom, who races for basketball legend Michael Jordan in the AMA Superbike series, won last year’s Superbike support race on the USGP weekend. He also three World Superbike wins at Laguna Seca, including a sweep of both races in 2001. In addition, he won the AMA Superbike race in 2004 aboard a Honda and has wins in two other classes.

Bostrom will be doing double duty on the weekend, going back and forth between his AMA machine and the LCR Honda MotoGP RC212V, but it won’t be a problem. Bostrom is the most fit racer in the AMA paddock, competing in bicycle races on off weekends. In November, Bostrom beat 7-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong in a six-hour mountain bike race at Armstrong’s ranch west of Austin, Texas.

Elias, 28, has worked hard to get back in the flow of MotoGP racing with little to show for it. The MotoGP bikes require riding and set-up techniques meant to get heat into the rear tyre, which Elias has yet to fully master. In his last two appearances at Laguna Seca, Elias finished sixth and seventh.

Laguna Seca is a track like no other. The 3610m layout, with seven left hand corners and four rights, offers riders not a minute’s rest. Riders are rewarded for carrying momentum on the track which is carved into the hills of a county park just outside of the seaside town of Monterey. A flying lap begins from the near dead stop turn 11 left leading onto the 966m front “straight,” which features a pair of kinks, the second of which is a blind hill taken flat out in fifth gear. From there the track drops quickly into the Andretti Hairpin before heading to two of the four right-handers that precede the least complex part of the track. The turn five left feeds the short straight to turn six. Then it’s up the Rahal Straight, named for Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, up to the Corkscrew, the track’s signature corner at the track’s pinnacle. The Corkscrew is a plunging left-right with a blind approach that sends riders into Rainey Corner, a fast left named for the three-time 500cc World Champion and Monterey resident, after which they dip into the heavily banked turn turn 10 right. From there it’s a short run to the final turn 11, a hard braking left where more than one race has been decided.

As much as the race track, the MotoGP paddock enjoys being on the Monterey Peninsula, a series of small towns linked by sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and an abundance of good restaurants and other diversions, including a world class aquarium. But the proximity to the ocean makes weather unpredictable, with fog sometimes rolling in on cool mornings that blend into hot afternoons.

The USGP is the 10th of 18 MotoGP races and sixth in eight weeks, the busiest stretch of the season, and precedes the summer break. The series has two free weekends before resuming for the Czech Grand Prix in Brno on August 12-14.

Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner says: “I’m looking forward to going to Laguna Seca. 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 next Sunday in Laguna. It’s been a pretty tiring few weeks and we have another back to back race now, but I love going to America and the area of Monterey is truly beautiful, the fans are always very welcoming and the atmosphere there is fantastic.”

Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso says: “I really look forward to racing in Laguna Seca. I have always had a good feeling with this track and I like the whole ambience there. We arrive very motivated and it’s good that we race straight after Sachsenring. I’m satisfied of the improvement we have done in the last GP in terms of consistency and race pace and I’m confident that in Laguna we can return competitive to fight for the podium and hopefully for the win. Our target is to gain important points for the championship, reducing the gap to (Jorge) Lorenzo and Casey (Stoner). I like Laguna Seca very much, it’s a very different to the European circuits and I find it special, as are the fans and it’s always a pleasure to race in California.”

Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa says: “It was nice to stop, even if only for a couple of days at home to enjoy the victory in Germany with my family and friends, who also deserved to celebrate. The United States Grand Prix will be another challenge for me. 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. The track is very different to the European circuits and the atmosphere there is special. With the exception of last year, when I crashed, and in 2008 when I couldn’t race due to injury, I’ve always had fun racing in Laguna and the victory in 2009 was very exciting. In the second half of the season I want to enjoy the bike and gain the best results possible and would like to close the first part of the season with a good feeling.”

San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Marco Simoncelli says: “Fourth place at Sachsenring would have been a different story, but I am still satisfied with my performance there and I take a lot of motivation with me to America. It was important for me to keep my form up even though it was disappointing I couldn’t stick the pace for the full thirty laps. Unfortunately I had problems with the degradation of the left side of the rear tyre and I couldn’t push as hard at the end of the race as I could for the first half. It’s a shame, but at least I get the chance to make up for it at Laguna, a unique circuit that I really like. The track itself fascinates me, the Corkscrew is thrilling and the enthusiasm of the fans gives you an extra boost. Together with the team we will be working to be more consistent over race distance, which will be an important part of closing the gap to the leaders.”

San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Hiroshi Aoyama says: “I was still struggling a lot at Sachsenring with my injuries from Assen and even though I tried my best to come away with a positive result it was very difficult for me to get a feeling for the bike. I am sorry to the team for that and I hope to be able to make it up to them in the next race at Laguna Seca. This will be my first time at this circuit so it won’t be an easy weekend for me but I will be pushing hard to get on the pace as soon as possible.”

LCR Honda MotoGP rider Toni Elias says: “I´m happy to have Ben Bostrom in the garage with me. Ben is one of Laguna Seca’s most experienced riders and I hope that he will be able to help me with getting to know this wonderful track even better. As far as I´m concerned, I want to continue in working on the set-up of my bike with my mechanics, who deserve a big ´thank you´ for their great work from the beginning up to now.”

LCR Honda MotoGP rider Ben Bostrom says: “Words can’t express how excited I am to get this amazing opportunity to race on my home track in front of the whole world. I have to thank Michael Jordan Motorsports and American Suzuki for allowing this to happen. The collaboration between Lucio (Cecchinello), LCR and the MJM team has been terrific. I’m going to get on the GP bike and put it as close to the front as possible. Then I’m going to hop on my Jordan Suzuki bike and try to create even more magic.”

– Suzuki Preview

Rizla Suzuki has made a transatlantic dash to ‘The Golden State’ of California in The United States of America for the 10th round of the 2011 MotoGP World Championship.

Álvaro Bautista is in a confident mood following his impressive seventh place last time out at the Sachsenring. He is planning to continue with the same vein of work that the team produced in Germany and move closer to the top-six. Bautista will certainly be looking for better luck on his second visit to the American circuit – his first race at Laguna ended unceremoniously last year when he was knocked off by another rider on only the third lap. The Spaniard will be determined this time to make up for that as he continues to build on his form from recent races.

The Laguna Seca circuit is situated about 160kms south of San Francisco near the towns of Monterey and Seaside. The area was originally a field artillery target range and manoeuvre site belonging to the US Army and the circuit is actually built on a dried-up lake. The 3,610m layout features 11 corners – four right and seven left – and includes probably one of the most incredible turns on any racetrack in the world: the famous ‘Corkscrew’ is a left and right hand combination with a huge drop in elevation that gives a feeling of falling off the edge of a cliff as the riders approach it at high-speeds.

Rizla Suzuki has three 45-minute practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning, followed by an hour of qualifying on Saturday afternoon. Sunday’s race is round 10 on the MotoGP calendar and the excitement will get underway for the 32-lap race at 14.00hrs local time (21.00hrs GMT) with Bautista hoping to follow in the footsteps of early pioneers and find gold in the Californian hills!

Álvaro Bautista: “I have a good memory of Laguna from last year – except for the race! It is a nice track and very difficult. I am really looking forward to it after Sachsenring because I am very confident we can continue what we are doing and make further steps. The whole team is in a good mood and we believe we can make a good result in America.

“Before we arrive at Laguna, I will travel with Paul to visit our friends at Troy Lee Designs – I think they have a big surprise waiting for me, I know they are working on a special paint design for my Shoei helmet! Then we go to Suzuki America to visit the staff and meet the riders from the American road-racing and motocross teams. It should be a fun week!”

– Bridgestone Preview

Bridgestone slick compounds available: Front: Medium, Hard. Rear (asymmetric): Soft, Medium

The United States Grand Prix is the first overseas race since the opening round in Qatar back in March, and for round ten MotoGP travels to the west coast of California and to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, one of the most famous and iconic circuits on the calendar.

Last year Bridgestone brought asymmetric rear slick tyres to Laguna Seca for the first time to improve grip through the right-handers, and this season the Japanese manufacturer has taken another step in a continual bid to offer the riders better warm-up performance. This year, softer compound rear slick tyre options have been selected for the US GP and the softer option features Bridgestone’s extra soft compound rubber designed for the cool morning sessions.

In the afternoon however the weather at the Monterey peninsula can be very different with ambient and track temperatures markedly higher. This large variation in temperature between the morning and afternoon sessions is tough from a tyre perspective because in the morning good warm-up performance is needed whereas in the afternoon it is durability and wear resistance that are crucial and striking this balance is challenging.

The softer compounds will help improve and accelerate warm-up performance in general, whilst the softer right shoulders are designed in particular to maximise grip and feel in the early laps through turns three, four and ten, the circuit’s main right-handed corners.

The circuit’s elevation changes, particularly through the Corkscrew complex, require a well-balanced machine setup and place a lot of importance on front tyre stability, so for this reason the front tyre compounds remain unchanged.

Laguna Seca is the shortest circuit on the calendar with a very short main straight. This meaning that the bikes and therefore the tyres spend little time upright and therefore have less time to cool down, resulting in higher residual tyre temperatures than the ambient and track conditions would suggest.

Hiroshi Yamada – Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport Department
“America is a very important market for us so I am looking forward to going to Laguna, especially as the circuit has created some very thrilling and memorable races over the years. The US GP is the last of the very busy summer run that has seen six races in the past eight weeks, so whilst of course it is important to maintain momentum, everyone will be looking forward to a little break after this weekend. We have changed our tyre selection for this race to offer the riders a softer rear tyre choice as we shift our focus very much to warm-up performance, and because being so close to the coast the conditions can be cool on a morning. After this race our wider tyre allocation change comes into effect from the Czech Republic GP, but already Laguna is the sixth race of the season that we have brought softer tyres to.”

Hirohide Hamashima – Assistant to Director, Motorsport Tyre Development Division
“Last year at Laguna we saw an improvement in tyre performance when we selected our asymmetric rear slicks for the first time in the single supply era there, and I hope by choosing softer rear compounds this season we will see another step forward in performance. The conditions, especially in the mornings, can be quite cool as Laguna so our softer rears will improve warm-up performance, especially through the right-handers. There are fewer rights than lefts at the circuit, and the first two, turns three and four, are 90 degree corners which are more challenging for warm-up.

“Long corners allow the tyres to be leant over and gradually build up heat throughout the corner, but 90 degree turns require a quick change of direction and the shoulder of the tyre, the right shoulder in the case of Laguna, to warm-up very quickly indeed. This is where the introduction of softer specs, and our extra soft compound in the right shoulders of the rear slick tyres, will be most beneficial. The Corkscrew is also really demanding corner with the fast change of direction and elevation, and a strong front tyre and good front-end feeling for the riders is essential with the general elevation changes in the lap.”