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. After a previously dire qualifying session, Valentino Rossi lead the timesheets for a good deal of the session, with a very fast 1:23.494, nearly half a second quicker than the race record set last year. He was pipped shortly before the end of the session by Dani Pedrosa, who ran a 1:23.409, before fellow rookie Casey Stoner shattered the times in the dying seconds with an astonishing 1:23.029. If that was set on race tires, it's a staggering time.
The other surprise was the poor showing by front row man Kenny Roberts Jr, who languished in 18th spot for a long time, before finally climbing to 9th. The top ten at the end of the session was Stoner, Pedrosa, Rossi, Vermeulen, Hayden, Melandri, Hopkins, Edwards, Roberts Jr, and Capirossi. The first 7 are within a second, but over 3/10ths of that is Stoner's lead over the 2nd placed Pedrosa. Starting from Pedrosa, less than a second covers 2nd place down to 12th.
Things are likely to change during the race, as, although the air temperature climbed rapidly during the session, the track temperature stayed fairly steady at around 40 C, or 104 F. This afternoon, though, track temperatures are expected to rise to around the 60 C or 140 F mark, which is a whole different ball game as far as tires are concerned. It's likely to end up as a war of attrition, with the winner the rider who makes the best tire choice. It's going to be good ...
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. Early in qualifying, it was Casey Stoner who topped the timesheets, setting the fastest time 10 minutes into the session, then improving on the time 8 minutes later, cracking the 1:23 barrier and setting a time that was to stand for nearly two thirds of the session. Behind Stoner, Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen was quick, constantly threatening to take provisional pole from Stoner. With 24 minutes to go, Stoner lead Vermeulen, ahead of Vermeulen's team mate John Hopkins, Colin Edwards, Nicky Hayden and Kenny Roberts Jr.
With 21 minutes to go, Chris Vermeulen finally made good on his threats, taking pole from Stoner with a time 3/10ths quicker, at 1:23.650. Stoner immediately tried to counter, but came up just 1/1000th short, running a 1:23.651. It was obvious that the qualifiers had come out, and times were now being set in anger, as a bunch of riders started setting 1:23s, Nakano moving to 3rd place, before being bumped by last year's pole sitter and winner Nicky Hayden. Then, with 16 minutes left in the session, Vermeulen consolidated his grip on pole position, setting a lap of 1:23.168. A couple of minutes later, Stoner moved back into 2nd, only to be bumped from that spot by Nicky Hayden shortly afterwards.
The last 10 minutes saw a flurry of fast laps. With 6 minutes left, Carlos Checa performed the remarkable feat of being fastest Yamaha, moving into 6th place, ahead of Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi. Edwards had been doing well in the session, but Rossi was struggling, being very fast round the first two sections, but losing a lot of time down the Corkscrew, fighting against the incredibly bumpy nature of the track down that section. With less than 6 minutes to go, Rossi was down in 13th, and sliding down the grid as riders set faster times. He finally moved out of the tail of the field with 1 minute to go, setting a 6th time, but he was not to hold on to that for long. Hopkins, Edwards, Roberts and Pedrosa were just some of the riders to put in a final fast lap before the session was finalized. Though all were fast, none could improve on Vermeulen's time, leaving the young Australian on his second pole of the season, after taking pole during the downpour at Istanbul.
So, Chris Vermeulen heads up the first row on the Rizla Suzuki, contrary to all the expectations of an American rider taking pole at a track which favors home riders. But Vermeulen has plenty of experience here, taking a double win at the World Superbike round here 2 years ago. Behind Vermeulen sits Colin Edwards, with Kenny Roberts Jr in 3rd, taking the final spot on the front row. Dani Pedrosa starts the 2nd row, with beside him Vermeulen's team mate John Hopkins, and Nicky Hayden a disappointing 6th. Casey Stoner is first on the 3rd row, followed by Shinya Nakano and Marco Melandri. Valentino Rossi is down in 10th, and will be worried to be starting from the 4th row at a track which is notoriously difficult to pass at. Besides Rossi sits Carlos Checa, with Toni Elias finishing up the 4th row. Loris Capirossi is the first Ducati rider in 13th, with Makoto Tamada and Randy de Puniet beside him. Sete Gibernau sits behind his Ducati team mate down in 16th, followed by Hofmann, Ellison and Cardoso.
So, qualifying threw up a whole mess of surprises. No one would have guessed that an Australian would take pole, and Hayden's 6th spot must be a worry for the man who seemed so close to the title just a couple of weeks ago. Valentino Rossi will be disappointed, but not all that surprised to be down the grid, but so far this year he has always managed to run better in the race than during qualifying. What is perhaps even more surprising are the slow times: Vermeulen's pole is half a second down on Hayden's time last year, and slower than this morning's free practice session. Most of that is to do with the temperature, with track temperatures over 135 degrees Fahrenheit this afternoon. But the bumpiness of the track has to take some of the blame: it was obvious that a lot of riders were having real problems down the Corkscrew, Rossi being thrown almost out of the saddle at one point. It's going to make for an interesting race.
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. Hayden's team mate Dani Pedrosa is the big surprise of the day, taking third spot on his first visit to the track, an extraordinary achievement at a track which is difficult to learn, thanks to so many blind turns. Marco Melandri is fourth, followed by double Superbike winner at Laguna Seca Chris Vermeulen. Colin Edwards heads up the Yamaha challenge in 6th place.
Other standings of note: Makoto Tamada put in a good result to take 7th spot, John Hopkins will be very frustrated to be in 10th at is home GP, and Valentino Rossi is a struggling with Laguna Seca's bumps down in 11th. Carlos Checa is showing continual improvement in 12th, but both the Ducatis and the Kawasakis are a long way down the grid. Alex Hoffman is the only exception for the Ducatis, his 15th time a good deal better than his usual standing.
The top 11 are covered by less than a second, but with Laguna Seca being a short track, and the fastest lap a 1:23.859, this is less significant than at other, longer tracks.
|2||69||N.HAYDEN||USA||Repsol Honda Team||1'24.943||1'24.125||0.266 0.266|
|3||26||D.PEDROSA||SPA||Repsol Honda Team||1'25.311||1'24.194||0.335 0.069|
|4||33||M.MELANDRI||ITA||Fortuna Honda||1'24.698||1'24.223||0.364 0.029|
|5||71||C.VERMEULEN||AUS||Rizla Suzuki MotoGP||1'24.739||1'24.253||0.394 0.030|
|6||5||C.EDWARDS||USA||Camel Yamaha Team||1'24.310||1'24.320||0.451 0.057|
|7||6||M.TAMADA||JPN||Konica Minolta Honda||1'26.658||1'24.339||0.480 0.029|
|8||27||C.STONER||AUS||Honda LCR||1'24.360||1'24.523||0.501 0.021|
|9||24||T.ELIAS||SPA||Fortuna Honda||1'26.599||1'24.494||0.635 0.134|
|10||21||J.HOPKINS||USA||Rizla Suzuki MotoGP||1'24.608||1'24.663||0.749 0.114|
|11||46||V.ROSSI||ITA||Camel Yamaha Team||1'24.674||1'24.822||0.815 0.066|
|12||7||C.CHECA||SPA||Tech 3 Yamaha||1'25.100||1'24.883||1.024 0.209|
|13||65||L.CAPIROSSI||ITA||Ducati Marlboro Team||1'25.614||1'25.094||1.235 0.211|
|14||15||S.GIBERNAU||SPA||Ducati Marlboro Team||1'25.150||1'25.252||1.291 0.056|
|15||66||A.HOFMANN||GER||Pramac d'AntÃn MotoGP||1'25.977||1'25.294||1.435 0.144|
|16||56||S.NAKANO||JPN||Kawasaki Racing Team||1'25.659||1'25.598||1.739 0.304|
|17||17||R.DE PUNIET||FRA||Kawasaki Racing Team||1'26.913||1'25.651||1.792 0.053|
|18||77||J.ELLISON||GBR||Tech 3 Yamaha||1'26.984||1'25.768||1.909 0.117|
|19||30||J.CARDOSO||SPA||Pramac d'AntÃn MotoGP||1'27.531||1'27.020||3.161 1.252|
Dani Pedrosa confirmed his dominance at Donington after qualifying on pole for Sunday's race. Pedrosa's name was near the top of the standings for over half of the qualifying session, first behind fellow 250 rookie Casey Stoner, before taking over the lead with 15 minutes to go. With just over a minute to go of qualifying, the diminutive Spaniard then smashed Valentino Rossi's lap record by over 2/10ths of a second.
The session initially looked like being dominated by Casey Stoner, the young Australian putting in a string of fast laps in the first half of the session, with Kenny Roberts Jr being the rider closest to Stoner's times. The timesheets stayed relatively unchanged for a long time, before the first run of faster times with 30 minutes to go. Pedrosa was the only rider to get close, with John Hopkins and Randy de Puniet also putting in fast times.
With 20 minutes of the session to go, the qualifiers started coming out. Chris Vermeulen, Colin Edwards and Randy de Puniet all put in fast times, but none of them could beat Stoner's 1:28.447. This is all the more remarkable as Stoner's fast time was set with race tires, yet the riders with qualifiers couldn't seem to match him. Not until Dani Pedrosa put in a 1:28.152, that is, taking pole from Stoner.
With 10 minutes left in the session, the scramble for a fast lap began in deadly earnest. The psychological warfare between Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards, who was still smarting from last Saturday's loss at Assen to his fellow American, was on full display, the Yamaha rider following Hayden around the track, and pointedly pulling across in front of him in the pits at one point. Not that it did either of the protagonists any good, both the Yamaha rider and the Honda rider finishing way down in the standings, to start from the fourth row of the grid.
John Hopkins put in a quick time to move up to 4th, but a couple of minutes later, Nicky Hayden raced past to push him down a place. With 5 minutes to go, while Rossi seemed incapable of putting together a really fast lap, with only a 12th time, the other two hospital cases flashed through to put in some top times, Marco Melandri putting in a 2nd fastest time, Loris Capirossi's time taking him to 3rd. But there was still plenty more to come. A minute later, Hopkins flew past to take 3rd again, Shinya Nakano putting in a 5th place time just a minute later. Hopkins' Suzuki team mate Chris Vermeulen outshone the other two Bridgestone riders with a lap of 1:28.158, good enough for second, the spot he will line up at for the race tomorrow. Finally, with just over a minute to go, Dani Pedrosa reaffirmed his right to pole position, smashing the lap record with a time of 1:27.676, an astonishingly fast lap on the Repsol Honda.
So tomorrow, Pedrosa will get to start from pole position for the third time this year. Beside him sits Chris Vermeulen, on the front row of the grid for the 2nd time this year, after his pole in Turkey. Completing the front row is wonder boy Marco Melandri, surprisingly fast for a man who was so badly hurt just two weeks ago. The second row of the grid is headed up by Vermeulen's Suzuki team mate John Hopkins, with another courageous crash victim Loris Capirossi on the Ducati in 5th, and the Kawasaki of Randy de Puniet in 6th. Heading the third row is fellow Kawasaki rider Shinya Nakano, reinforcing the strength of the Bridgestone showing here at Donington: 5 of the top 7 riders are on Bridgestones, the only Bridgestone rider missing from the front being Alex Hofmann, who is substituting for Sete Gibernau. Casey Stoner, the rider who led the session on his LCR Honda for so long, drops to a rather disappointing 8th, with Kenny Roberts Jr also likely to be disappointed to only be down in ninth.
The fourth row of the grid sees last week's two protagonists way down the starting order. Colin Edwards won the war of nerves from Nicky Hayden, in what is surely a pyrrhic victory. If Colin wants to get the win he denied himself last week in Holland, 10th spot is not a good place to start from. Valentino Rossi, the man who has won 5 of the last 6 races here, will not be happy in 12th position, but will at least be comforted that the man he has to beat for the title is on the same row of the grid. Rossi is the first rider to be outside of a second of Pedrosa's pole time.
Carlos Checa heads up the fifth row, with a strong 13th place for the Dunlop-shod Yamaha man. Only 1.6 seconds behind the pole sitter, the Dunlops are getting more competitive at every outing. Besides Checa sits Makoto Tamada, in yet another poor showing, the end of his ride on the Konica Minolta rapidly approaching. And Alex Hofmann will have to ride the tires off his temporary Marlboro Ducati from 15th place, if he is to keep the bike for his home Grand Prix at the Sachsenring in two weeks time. British rider James Ellison will not be happy with his 16th place, though he continues to improve, while Hofmann's substitute Ivan Silva heads up the Pramac d'Antin Ducati tail enders, ahead of team mate Jose Luis Cardoso.
The qualifying session threw up a surprise line up at the front of the grid. Dani Pedrosa definitely deserves his fantastic pole, and has been consistently fast during qualifying, stringing together long runs of fast laps. The only question mark is whether he can cope with 30 long laps of manhandling the bike down through Craner. Both Pedrosa and Stoner, the two lightest riders on the grid, have been fastest through the rear three sections of the track all weekend, but they are both slow through the first part, which needs physical strength to flick the bike from side to side. If Pedrosa can get a good start, he must be capable of getting away and running ahead of the pack. The only rider with the consistently fast lap times to match Pedrosa is Casey Stoner. Stoner will find it harder to fight his way to the front from 8th.
The riders with momentum from Assen, Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards, seem to have spent it all in badmouthing each other in the press this week. They will have a tough fight to get to the front to be able to mix it for the win, and are likely to be trying to get in each other's way. This will be very much to the advantage of Valentino Rossi. 12th is a long way down the grid, but at least now, all he has to do is concentrate on staying ahead of Nicky. That's going to be tough, for the last section of track, through the Esses, up the Melbourne Loop and back down round Goddards, is all hard braking, which is tough on a broken wrist. This is going to be equally hard on Loris Capirossi and Marco Melandri. Melandri has the advantage of starting from the front row, but is worried about his collarbone and hand holding up over the full length of the race.
With all those Bridgestone riders out front, it could be another surprising podium. Hopkins knows and loves this track, living just a few minutes away from it, and is desperate to get on the box. Vermeulen put in an outstanding lap at the track he last rode at in 2001, on a 600 Supersport, which must feel like a sensible commuter compared to the fire-breathing MotoGP bikes. And the Kawasakis look good, despite the last part of the circuit suiting the bike less well. It's going to be a great race.
Michel Fabrizio, replacement rider for Toni Elias at Fortuna Honda, has broken his collarbone during the third Free Practice session at Donington, meaning he won't be able to take place in the race. Fabrizio was to partner the already injury-plagued Marco Melandri. The team may need another replacement rider for the German GP at the Sachsenring in 2 weeks time.
Dani Pedrosa dominated both of Friday's free practice sessions at Donington. His last run during FP2 was particulary impressive, going out for ten laps and setting consistent low 1:29s. The only person to be able to match that kind of consistency was his former 250 rival Casey Stoner.
In injury news, Marco Melandri seems to have staged a near full recovery, as his times were also consistently fast, while Valentino Rossi is obviously a lot more comfortable than last week, but is still suffering a little, and may find it hard to ride a full race. Loris Capirossi went out during the morning session, but did not appear during the afternoon's session, as he was experiencing too much pain from the internal injuries sustained at Catalunya.
As for times, Pedrosa dominated, John Hopkins put in a couple of good laps to come second, with Stoner third. Checa put in a surprising display, setting the 11th time on the Dunlops which have been so poor so far this season. The times are also pretty close, as the top 12 are covered by less than a second.
1. Dani Pedrosa SPA Repsol Honda Team 1min 28.970 secs
2. John Hopkins USA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 1min 29.025 secs
3. Casey Stoner AUS Honda LCR 1min 29.064 secs
4. Marco Melandri ITA Fortuna Honda 1min 29.196 secs
5. Shinya Nakano JPN Kawasaki Racing Team 1min 29.275 secs
6. Colin Edwards USA Camel Yamaha Team 1min 29.379 secs
7. Valentino Rossi ITA Camel Yamaha Team 1min 29.416 secs
8. Kenny Roberts Jr USA Team Roberts 1min 29.544 secs
9. Nicky Hayden USA Repsol Honda Team 1min 29.557 secs
10. Loris Capirossi ITA Ducati Marlboro Team 1min 29.798 secs*
11. Makoto Tamada JPN Konica Minolta Honda 1min 29.806 secs
12. Carlos Checa SPA Tech 3 Yamaha 1min 29.842 secs
13. Chris Vermulen AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 1min 29.941 secs
14. Randy de Puniet FRA Kawasaki Racing Team 1min 30.342 secs
15. Alex Hofmann GER Ducati Marlboro Team 1min 30.387 secs
16. Michel Fabrizio ITA Fortuna Honda 1min 30.762 secs
17. James Ellison GBR Tech 3 Yamaha 1min 31.306 secs
18. Ivan Silva SPA Pramac d'Antin MotoGP 1min 32.524 secs
19. Jose Luis Cardoso SPA Pramac d'Antin MotoGP 1min 32.576 secs
* Capirossi's time was set during the first session in the morning.
In another stroke of synchronicity, in the weekend that former WCM rider Michel Fabrizio is to return to MotoGP for a race, his former team, WCM, have announced that they will once again return to MotoGP in 2007, with a two bike team. For more details, see the BBC news item. No news on what bikes they will be riding, but with a possible shortage of bikes on the grid as a result of the move to 800 cc next year, this can only be good news for MotoGP.
Crash.net has more on this story. WCM are once again developing their own 800cc prototype to run in the 2007 MotoGP series. We can only hope that it will be more successful than the ill-starred 990 cc project.
DFX Honda World Superbike rider Michel Fabrizio is to replace Toni Elias, who was injured in a fall at Assen last week, on the Fortuna Honda for this weekend's Donington Grand Prix. Fabrizio is no stranger to MotoGP, having run last year on the WCM Harris bike as team mate to James Ellison. The Honda RC 211V is a different proposition to last year's WCM bike, which was loosely based on a Yamaha R1 engine, before being totally rebuilt under pressure from the MSMA. Fabrizio's ride will only be for one Grand Prix, as Elias is expected to return for the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring on July 16th.
Just watched the MotoGP warm-up, and from watching the responses after the session finished, it looked like Rossi will be riding, but Capirossi will miss out. Rossi was slow, but faster by nearly half a second faster than qualifying yesterday. His wrist was strapped.
Capirossi got off the bike looking about 90. He could be seen shaking his head when talking to his team, and it seems very unlikely he could last race distance with the chest injuries he is suffering. Capirossi is having problems breathing and tensing his stomach muscles, making it very difficult to brace himself while braking and accelerating.