The slog around the world following the MotoGP circus is long, arduous and expensive, and so after attending every MotoGP race so far this season, David Emmett is at home, taking a rest. But this does not mean that MotoMatters.com is not on the scene: We have enlisted the help of our friends over at Asphalt & Rubber, and Jensen Beeler is on the ground reporting from the Laguna Seca MotoGP round. He'll be reporting here, on A&R and tweeting live from the paddock at Laguna. Here's Jensen's report from Thursday:
Thursday saw MotoGP riders arriving at Laguna Seca for the Red Bull US GP. Also in arrival was the sun, which peeked it's head out of the coastal clouds of Monterey, and washed the fabled Californian track with a spotlight of perfectly warm sunshine that seemingly ended the second you stepped foot off the park grounds. With the paddock settling in for the race weekend, we were able to catch up with a few MotoGP superstars to get their impressions for the weekend, and pry more top-secret contract negotiation details out of them.
First on our list was the man who is sitting in first place in the Championship points: Jorge Lorenzo. The last time Lorenzo was in Laguna Seca, he and the track had a disagreement during qualifying...and the track won. Hoping to improve on his performance here in California, and expand his overall points gap to second place holder Dani Pedrosa, Lorenzo remains optimistic about his chances this weekend.
Likening Seca to the other "short" track in MotoGP: Sachsenring, Lorenzo expects the field to remain closely packed on Sunday, which should provide for some good racing action. However don't expect Lorenzo to risk it all during the race. The Spaniard is racing with his head, and has his eyes on a Championship. Like in Germany, prudence will be the course of action, and you can imagine Lorenzo's pit board will be keeping close tabs on where Dani Pedrosa is in the field.
If we had to use a Dickensian metaphor to describe Fiat-Yamaha right now, it would be "A Tale of Two Cities", as Valentino Rossi's strategy for the rest of the MotoGP season is quite different from his teammate's. Coming back to MotoGP on the mend, Rossi sees himself out of the Championship hunt, barring some sort of event by both Pedrosa and Lorenzo.
Being very forward-thinking, Rossi has declared his intentions to ride in World Superbike before finishing his riding career. After testing twice on WSBK machinery, Rossi proved that he was more than capable of besting some of the top riders in that series, and the Italian described the Superbikes as a very different breed of motorcycle, which posed a new challenge and required new skils.
Unlikely to be ten-time World Champion at the end of the this season, and having already all-but confirmed a spot in the Ducati garage next season, Rossi finds himself not racing for points, and not racing for contracts...and this makes him a very dangerous man. Able to take the risks that Lorenzo can't, Rossi will surely be taking chances on the track that he normally would not make, and forget about his leg holding him back from letting everything hang-out (figuratively, as well as litterally) to get a race victory.
With the multitude of left-hand turns at Laguna Seca, Rossi's broken right leg is less of a factor. However the concern seems for naught, as Rossi says he feels no pain in the leg, and it's not holding him back from riding. It's hard to label someone 100% when they have broken bones, but Rossi is as close to that statement as one can get. Being a strong rider at Laguna Seca, you can expect to see Rossi in the hunt for a podium.
Getting a first-hand account of Rossi's abilities injured, Casey Stoner traded laps with the Italian at Sachsenring, and could very well see himself doing the same this weekend at Laguna Seca. Stoner was a grab-bag of emotions leading into Laguna Seca, as the Australian has already been confirmed as factory rider for HRC next season. Eager to try something new, Casey looked forward to making a team switch next year, and seemed to find his remaining time a Ducati as being very surreal.
Playing to his critics, Stoner was however not very pleased with the support tire supplier Bridgestone has brought to the series this year. Unhappy with the performance of Bridgestone's asymmetrical tire, Stoner complained of how the tires heated up on the track. The Ducati rider also was not pleased with the compounds offered by Bridgestone, and was mystified as to why Bridgestone's "soft compound" could make race distances under hot conditions (typically a "soft" tire would go off with 10 or so laps remaining in extremely hot conditions).
Stoner's sentiment on Bridgestone is shared by some riders in the paddock, but at the end of the day Stoner says it's time for him to win a race. So far this season it's been Stoner's teammate Nicky Hayden who has been carry the load at Ducati.
Hayden is of course riding in front of a home crowd, and has won at Laguna Seca before. Strong in the beginning of the season, Hayden's performance leading up to Laguna Seca hasn't been up to his liking. With Hayden's brother Roger Lee in the MotoGP paddock for the weekend, taking the place for the injured Randy de Puniet, the brothers were sporting matching mohawk hair styles. While the mohawk wasn't a good luck charm for Valentino Rossi at his home track, Hayden is hoping the opposite will be true here in California.
Weighing heavily on the minds of all the riders is the issue of engine usage. Laguna Seca marks the halfway point in the season for MotoGP, and engine strategy is starting to play a larger role. With teams looking for an edge anywhere they can find it, a fresh engine in a field of used ones can make the difference and put a rider on the podium.
Ben Spies has taken full advantage of this strategy, taking a 3rd and 4th place results at Silverstone and Assen respectively. With Yamaha stepping up to help it's two American riders in Monster Tech3 Yamaha, it will be interesting to note what motors are used in their allocation this weekend in Laguna Seca. With Team Texas sporting a special livery for the race, Americans will be hoping that Edwards breaks his streak of crashing when having one-off paint schemes on his bike.
MotoGP riders will take to their bikes on Friday, and attempt to back up their pre-event goals, aspirations, and boasts with cold hard lap times. Stay tuned.
Jensen Beeler is the editor of Asphalt & Rubber. He owes David Emmett and MotoMatters more than a pint of brew for getting him close enough to Valentino Rossi to step on his injured foot. Mr. Beeler suspects this will be the last time he is invited to a MotoGP race.