American pie

MotoGP Laguna Seca, United States 24th July 2011

Words: Simon Bradley, Pics as credited

Jorge Lorenzo and the beautiful one-off Laguna Seca colour scheme. Note the grey, overcast day... (Pic: Yamaha)So after the excitement of Sachsenring last week, the MotoGP upped sticks and shuffled across the Atlantic to California. So rather a long way across the Atlantic. Who thinks of these schedules? Anyway. Laguna Seca is one of those circuits about which there is little to be said. Apart from the fact that you have almost certainly driven or ridden it on a Playstation game, it's one of those circuits that everyone knows about. It has the Corkscrew - a genuinely nuts steep downhill chicane following a completely blind entry which in turn follows a long full throttle climb. It's certainly somewhere to test the mettle, and brakes, of any rider. Add to that an enthusiastic and well behaved crowd and some very slick organisation and you have a race event worth attending.

What's even better is that Laguna Seca has been the scene of some truly epic racing in the past, and there's usually something exciting going on somewhere in the pack, even if the front runners have just cleared off.

Practice turned out to be a fairly even fight between Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, with Dovizioso amd Pedrosa getting into the mix as well. Surprisingly it wasn't the massive local boy success that w eexpected, with Ben Spies in fourth or fifth and Edwards and Hayden both bumping around the bottom of the top ten. Valentino Rossi, so spectacular around here a few years ago in that epic scrap with Stoner, also spent practice around the bottom of the top ten. Better than some recent outings, it's true, but not what we, or indeed anyone else, have come to expect. Practice was notable for some rather variable weather, California sunshine sometimes being replaced by cool, misty conditions, and also for crashes. The biggest crash of the combines practice sessions has to be that of Jorge Lorenzo. the Spaniard was launched into the air whe he hoghsided the Yamaha after a practice start, coming doen hard on his side and then being beaten up by the bike on the way into the gravel trap. Quite how he wasn't more seriously hurt I don't know, but somehow he got away with no more than some very heavy bruising. Karel Abraham and Toni Elias both crashed out of the third session as well, while Hector Barbera came through the corkscrew completely out of control but somehow managed to scoop it up and save it.

Alvaro Bautista continues to improve, as does the GSV-R (Pic: Suzuki)Qualifying saw a couple more notable crashes. Randy de Puniet crashed very hard indeed, the likeable Frenchman walking, or rather limping, away before being examined in the medical centre. Alvaro Bautista also crashed out, as did Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden, all without injury. But the leaderboard was pretty static. Despite his bruises, Jorge Lorenzo sat at the top of the table for lap after lap after lap. he wa sdeposed once, for probably two laps, by the other factory Yamaha of Ben Spies who then threw the bike into the gravel and actually got it stuck under the air fence. Lorenzo took the lead back and kept it to take pole. Pretty remarkable considering his battered state. Stoner was second by under a tenth, with Pedrosa a tenth behind in third. Spies headed the second row from Simoncelli and Dovizioso, while row three was all Ducatis - Rossi, barbera and Hayden. Cal Crutchlow did good in his first visit, taking tenth ahead of Colin Edwards and Bautista.

Warmup saw Randy de Puniet fail to start. Not unreasonable, really, as further examination after the qualifying crrash showed that he has fractured two vertebrae and his pelvis. Probably best not to race, then. Stoner was quickest despite saying yesterday that he didn't have a race setup. Lorenzo was second ahead of Dovi and Spies.

On to the race then. Unusually, despite his front row start it wasn't Pedrosa who led into the first corner but Lorenzo, with Stoner in third ahead of Dovi and behind Pedrosa. Rossi made a strong start before being mugged on turn two and dropping back to sixth behind Simoncelli, while Hayden got past Barbera to stick with his team-mate. A situation that would continue throughout the race.

Lap four saw the early departure of Cal Crutchlow, the Englishman losing the front in the downhill braking zone for turn two and sliding out unhurt but disappointed, while lap seven had Marco Simoncelli doing much the same thing. MotoGP new boy but superbike veteran Ben Bostrom exited on lap nine after a couple of excursions into the gravel (but not actual crashes) while Alvaro Bautista, challenging hard for a top six finish, left us on lap fourteen as the front slid away.

Rossi and Hayden stayed stuck together like this for the whole 32 laps... (Pic: Ducati)At the front things had settled down rather. Lorenzo was in the groove, banging out consistent laps, Pedosa was holding a watching brief behind and Stoner was waiting. The Australian had enjoyed a pretty lacklustre start, dropping nearly five seconds off the lead before regrouping and mounting a late surge. Lap eighteen saw him barge past Pedrosa on the entrance to the Corkscrew, a clean but rather robust overtake that left the Spaniard with nowhere to go but down to the bottom step of the podium. Stoner then set out to close the gap to Lorenzo. Unlikely, you may think, seeing as the World Champion was riding perfectly and was a comfortable second clear. The Stoner started taking chunks out of his lead. A third of a second in one lap. Because while Lorenzo was riding well there is no doubt that he was also riding hurt and that takes its toll. So it was only a matter of time before Stoner caught up with Lorenzo and battle was joined. The Spaniard fought valiantly, but there was only ever going to be one winner in this battle - Stoner was fully fit and the Honda is simply a faster, more complete package than the Yamaha, even though the short Laguna Seca circuit minimises that advantage. Lap twenty seven saw Stoner get past cleanly but decisively, and then the lead extended like magic. Five laps later as the chequered flag wa swaved Stoner had a lead of five and a half seconds.

Behind the leading trio, a race long scrap had gone on between Spies and Dovizioso which was decided in the Texan's favour with just three laps to go. Spies was the only rider to go out with a soft rear tyre, and though he was no faster than anyone else with it, he was no slower either. That's a surprise because I would have expected a softer tyre to go off early in the race, and it didn't.

Behind Spies and Dovizioso, and quite a lobg way behind at that, Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden had been at it pretty well all race long, the Italian just managing to stay in front of the American despite his home-team advantage. And behind them, Colin Edwards charged through the field to finish a respectable eighth after a very neat but utterly ruthless overtake through The Corkscrew saw him relegate Hector Barbera to ninth. And Hiroshi Aoyama surged past Karel Abraham on the last lap to take tenth.

So now we have a three week break before going to Brno. That's a power circuit, which will suit the Hondas rather than the Yamahas. Nothing currently seems to suit the Ducatis, of course. Valentino Rossi comes back to Europe in the lowest position he has ever been in a MotoGP championship, having been passed by Pedrosa. I sure hope that Ducati manage to make something work properly soon...


Casey Stoner and the Honda are really a force to be reckoned with this season... (Pic: MotoGP)

1 Casey Stoner (Honda)
2 Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
3 Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
4 Ben Spies (Yamaha)
5 Andrea Dovizioso (Honda)
6 Valentino Rossi (Ducati)
7 Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
8 Colin Edwards (Yamaha)
9 Hector Barbera (Ducati)
10 Hiroshi Aoyama (Honda)

Championship Standing after ten rounds:

1 Casey Stoner 193
2 Jorge Lorenzo 173
3 Andrea Dovizioso 143
4 Dani Pedrosa 110
5 Valentino Rossi 108
6 Ben Spies 98
7 Nicky Hayden 94
8 Colin Edwards 67
9 Hiroshi Aoyama 63
10 Marco Simoncelli 60



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