The Superbike World Championship is preparing for Round 8 at America’s Laguna Seca, and with six race winners from seven rounds it’s anyone’s game, although Jonathan Rea remains a favourite with his strong championship lead.
Six riders share the honour of the highest number of wins (3) at Laguna Seca: John Kocinski, Anthony Gobert, Troy Corser, Ben Bostrom, Tom Sykes and Chaz Davies. Troy Corser is the rider with most podiums at this track, 11, followed by Tom Sykes at 9.
Set in the stunning Californian hills, a stones throw away from the coastal town of Monterey, Laguna Seca is a favourite of many, but not one for the faint hearted. As riders hurtle down into the high speed turn one it’s all to play for, and there’s no telling who will come out on top.
Undeniably the favourite heading into the GEICO US Round is championship leader Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who finds himself in the rare situation of looking to bounce back from a difficult race two last time out. With his first zero points score for the first time of the season, the Northern Irish rider heads to Laguna hoping to extend his championship lead as the summer break looms.
Only finishing off the podium on two occasions out of eight in California, Rea will look at taking his victory tally to four here, as his overall number of victories continues to grow past the record breaking 60.
“Laguna Seca is a great venue for Superbikes and I’m very excited to go there after Brno where we had been very strong. The American fans always bring the atmosphere, so if we can organise some good weather we are in for a great weekend. The circuit itself is very demanding and we have to concentrate on Friday to understand the bike and enable us to challenge for wins. Turn one is one of the most thrilling corners on any circuit so I’m already looking forward to my first lap!”
“I am ready for America. The whole journey to the USA is a pleasure and the fans are absolutely fantastic. Laguna Seca is an adrenaline-pumping circuit and it certainly gets the blood flowing. In places like turn one you have to be pinpoint accurate. At another few corners, including the top of The Corkscrew, there are some blind entries. It is such a short track and very demanding, so there is absolutely no place for rest. You have to be on top of your game there.”
Despite a determined Rea, Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) will be a man on a mission around a circuit he is notoriously strong at. Coming off the back of some difficult races with his Panigale R, where he and his team have struggled to find a solution to their set-up issues, Davies was able to show his grit and determination to take a podium finish in race two at Brno.
Laguna Seca has been a strong circuit for the Welsh rider in the past – he has the most victories over anyone else on the grid (three) and the most experience from his time in the domestic American championships. Ready for a fight, he’s not one to count out.
“Competing at Laguna Seca is always a fun challenge. It’s a tough track, with a lot of technical parts to it. Camber and elevation change quite a lot, there are fast corners and hairpins, and obviously the ‘Corkscrew’ itself. It’s hard to set the bike up right, because you want stability but also agility, so you need to find a good compromise. I think it suits my style, I really enjoy riding there and I’m looking forward to getting back on the Panigale R to build on what we found at Brno and aim for even better results.”
“I’m very happy to ride at Laguna Seca. The place itself is gorgeous and, despite the fact that a technical problem in Race 2 at Brno probably deprived us of a great result, I think that as a team we’re in great shape. We learned many things and I believe we can be really fast. It’s the right track for us to bounce back. The United States always gave me positive vibes, so I can’t wait to hop back on the Panigale R and fight at the top, as we’ve shown we’re capable of doing.”
For the American fans, all eyes will be on their home heroes as Jake Gagne (Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team) and PJ Jacobsen (TripleM Honda World Superbike Team) prepare for their homecoming around the stunning 3.6km ribbon of tarmac. For Gagne, he returns to the scene of his debut WorldSBK race, whilst Jacobsen prepares for his SBK debut around Laguna Seca.
Gagne has had a testing season so far getting acquainted with the CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2 machine, but finishing over half his races in the points will no doubt give him motivation ahead of a big weekend. For Jacobsen, he returns to racing around Laguna for the first time in seven seasons, so he won’t have that ‘home track’ advantage. Despite this, the atmosphere and support of the American crowds will no doubt give him a boost to continue to improve his Honda machine.
One team heading to California full of confidence will be the Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team, as the duo of Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes have taken three out of the last four victories in WorldSBK. Getting the monkey off their backs this season, the pair will be taking on the weekend with a fresh outlook.
For van der Mark, Laguna has been a tough challenge in the past with a best finish of fourth in 2016, but with the new found confidence on the YZF-R1, his pace will be interesting to follow.
Michael van der Mark
“I love coming to the Laguna Seca circuit. Last year my results were not great here but this year the bike has improved so much, as we could see at the last couple of rounds, so I am really confident we can fight for the podium again. I am enjoying riding my Pata Yamaha R1 at the moment, with all the team’s hard work really paying off, and I can’t wait for FP1 to start at this amazing circuit so we can continue our great form.”
On the other side of the garage, Lowes has had two top sixes out of eight appearances around the circuit, and given his improving pace he will no doubt hope to build on this. Lowes became the 74th race winner in WorldSBK history at Brno and also gave Great Britain its 230th win and its 630th podium placement. It was a long wait for Lowes, winning on his 118th start. Among the other WorldSBK winners, only Chris Walker had to wait more for his maiden win: 131 races.
“Coming off my first WorldSBK victory, I can’t wait to get to work and keep the momentum going at Laguna. It’s a fantastic circuit and place to come and race. The famous corkscrew section is lots of fun…the TV really doesn’t do the gradient justice! In general, it’s a tricky track and hard to get a good setting but lately, we have been working better and better as a team and it just makes me so excited to get there and keep on working!”
Steadily making progress and perhaps an underdog this weekend will be Eugene Laverty (Milwaukee Aprilia) as he continues to get to grips with his RSV4 RF, securing a top four in tricky track conditions last time out.
The Irishman has struggled with rear grip all season, but making some steps forward could mean a strong weekend here in California. Winning race two in 2013 for the Italian factory, Laverty has a strong history here and we could see our eighth different podium finisher of 2018.
Loris Baz (GULF ALTHEA BMW Racing Team) is preparing for his return to the Californian circuit, after four seasons away. Tackling the fast and technical circuit with a new bike for 2018 – compared to the Kawasaki he previously raced on – Baz will be looking to continue a strong run of form he is finding with his BMW S 10000 RR. Taking a ninth and sixth last time out around Laguna, his previous knowledge could prove invaluable.
Spaniard Jordi Torres (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) prepares for his fourth weekend around WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, but this time with a new team. Making steady progress with the Italian bike, the eighth round of the season will be a testing one for Torres. But with a solid history in California – taking a top eight in every race he’s finished – he will no doubt be a strong contender for a good result.
Jonathan Rea – 270
Chaz Davies – 205
Michael van der Mark – 196
Tom Sykes – 179
Marco Melandri – 157
Alex Lowes – 154
Xavi Fores – 134
Toprak Razgatlioglu – 91
Lorenzo Savadori – 73
Leon Camier – 72
Loris Baz – 72
Jordi Torres – 64
Eugene Laverty – 60
Michael Ruben Rinaldi – 54
Leandro Mercado – 42
Román Ramos – 41
Jake Gagne – 24
PJ Jacobsen – 21
Yonny Hernandez – 18
Leon Haslam – 14
Davide Giugliano – 11
Bradley Ray – 3
Luke Mossey – 2
Ondrej Jezek – 2
Laguna Seca Raceway
The WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca was built in 1957 but in 1988 it underwent a change creating the section between Turn 2 and 5, which was necessary in order to achieve the minimum length required by the FIM rules.
Between 2005 and 2006, some small sections have been modified including smoothing the bump before the Corkscrew, expanding the escape routes, replacing curbs, enlarging the main straight and moving some protection areas, all to make it safer.
The track is located 250 metres above sea level, not far from the town of Monterey which overlooks a beautiful bay in California. It is situated on a hillside, starting from the bottom of the valley it then rises towards the top corner from Turn 5 to the 8 and 8a curves, before falling back sharply towards the finish line.
The circuit is 3610 metres long (2,243 miles), with 7 left-hand turns and 4 right, and has a width of 15 metres with the longest straight which measures 453 metres (0.281 miles). The track runs counter-clockwise and the rider in pole position starts on the right hand side.
Laguna Seca is perhaps the most interesting circuit in the United States because of its configuration and undulation, alternating with slower corners but it is also a track where overtaking is difficult, with relatively few points to attack.
Pirelli tyre solutions for Laguna Seca
Pirelli will bring 1369 tyres to Laguna Seca for the Superbike class with five dry solutions; three for the front and two for the rear, in addition to the supersoft qualifier tyre that can only be used by the riders in the second Superpole session.
The three options for the front all use soft compounds. The standard SC1 is flanked by two development solutions: the well-known V0952, which was much appreciated by riders in all the rounds run last year and in 2017, and the W0657, a tyre introduced by Pirelli last year at Lausitzring and brought in 2017 also to Portimão and Magny-Cours.
Compared to the standard SC1, this latter solution offers an even softer compound to ensure an excellent level of grip at the front.
For the rear, riders will have two solutions, already used in previous rounds, both using the same soft compound: the W1050, compared to the standard SC0 which is still generally more suitable for cold temperatures, and the W1002, introduced at Imola and also brought to Donington.
This uses the same compound as the W1050 solution but in the innovative 200/65 size which offers a wider contact area resulting in better distribution of stresses and which should guarantee even higher grip, especially at high temperatures.
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