Some Like It Hot
Over on Crash.net, there's an article discussing the various changes made to the Laguna Seca track to make it safer for motorcycle racing. An interesting background read.
Sunday morning's warmup threw up a few surprises at Laguna Seca. Firstly, prior to the warmup, the FIM ordered the AMA classes, which run at Laguna Seca at the same time, not to run until after the MotoGP event had finished. The next surprise was the names running at the front.
Laguna Seca has thrown up a host of surprises during Saturday's Qualifiying Practice session. Many observers were expecting to see Nicky Hayden attempt to repeat last year's performance, taking pole position in an attempt to lead the race from the off, but that plan fell through.
Kenny Roberts Jr leads the timesheets at the end of the first day of practice at the US GP at Laguna Seca. The rider who did so poorly at last year's grand prix is really making an impression at his home GP this year. Behind him, last year's winner Nicky Hayden had a good run in the second session, after a disappointing display in the morning session.
A Festival Of Racing
Last year's US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca was a festival of racing. But more especially, it was a festival of American racing, for many reasons. First and foremost, it saw the return of premier class motorcycle racing to US soil after 11 years. Secondly, because it saw an American winner, and an American runner-up. Thirdly, because it saw visits from the cream of Hollywood, truly the American Dream. But what made it an especially American occasion was the fact that the Europeans hated it.
Looked at in isolation, Laguna Seca is a spectacular track. The blind drop over the crest and into the Corkscrew is one of the most breathtaking sections in racing. But sadly, the track doesn't exist in isolation: it exists surrounded by hard concrete walls just feet from the track. Marco Melandri compared turn 6 to "the entrance to the Autopista in Milan". His distaste for the track was only reinforced by the three hard falls he took during the weekend, the third after less than a lap of the race, finally burying any ambitions he may have had for the world title. The only exceptions were the former Superbike riders Xaus and Bayliss, who had raced here during World Superbike rounds, and long-time veterans such as Barros, Biaggi and Checa. Bayliss and Biaggi even went on to put in decent finishes, in the face of stiff home competition.
Some reputations are undeserved. The Sachsenring has a reputation for being a short, tight track with very few possibilities for passing, where a good position on the grid is vital. Sunday's MotoGP race was a demonstration both that passing is possible for any rider with the necessary skill and determination, and that if you can get a clean start, anything can happen.
I'm off for brief, if poorly timed, vacation to Northern Italy, to do what I write about: ride motorcycles. I'll be doing it more slowly than the heroes I write about, and I'll be enjoying the scenery. This means I will be absent for the Sachsenring GP, but will write a report once I return, which will be Monday or Tuesday after the race. My apologies for any convenience caused.
Whenever riders or followers of MotoGP refer to a "Mickey Mouse racetrack", the example which always gets cited is the Sachsenring. This is a rather cruel jibe for a track so steeped in history. Racing has taken place in the area since 1927 over public roads, like Assen, until a new circuit was built here in the 1990s, after German reunification. The track is short, and just under 2.3 miles, so speeds are not high, but the track is situated among the rolling German hills, surrounded by woods.
The Once And Future King
At the beginning of the season, motorcycle racing followers all over the world viewed the arrival of Dani Pedrosa with great anticipation, but also some regret. Finally, it was felt, here was a rider who could challenge the dominance of the MotoGP class by Valentino Rossi. Pedrosa's record in the 125 and 250 classes was superlative, better than Rossi's, winning the 250 championship at the first go, where Rossi took a year to learn. And yet it was feared that we would be robbed of the epic battles which must surely ensue between these two champions, as it would take Pedrosa at least a year to master riding a MotoGP bike, by which time, Rossi would be firmly ensconced in the seat of a Ferrari F1 car.