The Red Bull USGP at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, round nine of the FIM MotoGP World Championship, brings to an end a run of five races in just six weekends and marks the midpoint in the 2010 season.
Current championship leader, Jorge Lorenzo, has finished either first or second in every race so far this season, making him the first rider since Valentino Rossi to start his championship campaign with eight successive podium finishes.
The Fiat Yamaha rider was second last time out in Germany and arrives in California with a 47-point advantage over Dani Pedrosa in the championship standings, a margin he is keen to maintain, or even extend, this weekend with yet another podium finish.
“I have some painful memories of this track,” said Lorenzo, during the pre-event press conference. “In 2008 I crashed on cold tyres in the first corner and injured my feet, which meant no dancing during the holiday! Last year I crashed twice on cold tyres, once on the front and once on the rear, but then went on to get pole and finish on the podium.
“Laguna is certainly a special place, very different to the rest of the circuits we race at, but I like riding here, especially the Corkscrew. I want to race here in perfect condition, without injury, and I hope I’ll have the opportunity this weekend.”
When asked whether he’s thinking about the championship and not just race wins, Lorenzo said, “You have to pay a lot of attention to your limits, know where they are, try and stay within them and finish on the podium whenever it’s possible. We hope to have a good race this weekend.”
Joining the championship leader at the press conference were the winner of the race in Sachsenring Dani Pedrosa, two times winner at Laguna Seca Nicky Hayden, reigning world champion Valentino Rossi and Silverstone podium finisher Ben Spies.
Pedrosa was the winner here at Laguna twelve months ago and arrives at the Californian circuit looking for his first back-to-back win of the season, having won a straight fight with Lorenzo to take victory last time out at Sachsenring.
“The last few races have been good for us and I have good memories from this race last year,” declared Pedrosa. “I hope that, this weekend, we will have more good memories to take away from Laguna Seca with us.”
“The championship still isn’t over as the gap to Lorenzo can be closed. We have a lot of races to go, but we can only take things race by race and do the best we can.”
Leading the home charge this weekend will be Ducati’s Nicky Hayden, who currently lies fifth in the championship standings. The American took two of his three Grand Prix wins here at Laguna, the first in 2005 and the second the following year on his way to the world championship title.
No American rider has finished on the podium at Laguna since Hayden’s win in 2006 – a situation the Kentucky Kid is keen to rectify this weekend, at a track he rates as being very special.
“Laguna has always been good to me and to my brothers also,” commented the Ducati rider. “I’m looking forward to the weekend ahead and I hope we can get a good result here, because we need one after struggling at the last few races. We’re just going to go for it and see what happens.”
Just six weeks after breaking his leg at Mugello Valentino Rossi made his racing return at Sachsenring, finishing fourth after an intense battle with Casey Stoner that saw the Australian only steal the final podium position from the Italian at the last turn.
Rossi was surprised with the result in Germany, but arrives at Laguna, where he won in 2008 and finished second last season, knowing that a podium finish could be within his grasp.
“After the race in Germany I didn’t have any extra problems, especially with my leg, so I’m in quite good shape,” declared Rossi. “It will be important tomorrow to see if Laguna Seca gives me more problems with the leg, but if I can ride like at Sachsenring it’s possible to have a good weekend here.
“Laguna is a great track and one that I like a lot. I had one of the best wins of my career here in 2008, after battling with Casey. There are a lot of left corners, which is not so bad for me, but the Corkscrew could be a bit of a problem. We will see.”
In what has become something of a tradition for Yamaha at Laguna Seca, the M1 machines of both Lorenzo and Rossi will be sporting a special livery this weekend at the Red Bull USGP.
Ben Spies is also aiming high this weekend, as he returns to one of only three tracks on the calendar at which he’s raced a MotoGP bike previously, the other two being Indianapolis and Valencia. The Texan finished eighth at Laguna back in 2008 as a wildcard rider for Suzuki, but has his sights set firmly on a much higher finish this time around.
“Laguna has always been a special track for me, even when I used to come here in the AMA series,” said Spies. “The track will be a bit different on a MotoGP bike, but it will be nice to actually work on the bike set-up on Friday for once, rather than having to learn which way the track goes.
“You always want your best result of the season at your home race; you try 110 percent every weekend, but the home race is where you really want to secure your best finish.”
Both Spies and Colin Edwards will receive long awaited upgrades to their Yamaha M1 machines this weekend at Laguna Seca, but Spies was unable to be specific about exactly what they’ll receive.
“I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I hope we do get something from Yamaha that makes my job a little bit easier this weekend,” he concluded.
Like their Fiat Yamaha counterparts, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 squad will run a one-off livery at Laguna, commemorating the Lone Star state of Texas.
“It’s good to have two Texans in the team, so we can do something special with the livery this weekend,” Spies explained. “We have commitments to our sponsors, which means we haven’t gone all the way with the livery, but it looks pretty good.”
On their way to Laguna Seca Lorenzo, Spies and Edwards stopped off briefly in Los Angeles, where the Yamaha trio were given a guided tour of talk show host Jay Leno’s extensive collection of cars and motorcycles.
Lorenzo was a also guest in the audience for the filming of Leno’s ‘The Tonight Show’, and then joined his fellow MotoGP riders as well as legends Eddie Lawson, Kenny Roberts and Wayne Rainey as guests of Leno, who presented his private collection of more than 200 cars and motorcycles to the stars.
Leno was presented with a Yamaha superbike and a Troy Lee designed helmet, which incorporated the designs of Lorenzo, Spies and Edwards, along with that of Lawson, Rainey and Roberts. Alpinestars leathers were also given to the presenter, who then hosted a dinner in the setting of his own garage.
On Wednesday Dani Pedrosa took a surfing lesson from Red Bull sponsored surfer Levi Siver at Sunset Beach, spending an hour picking up the finer points of the sport.
Following that Pedrosa then headed over to Universal Studios where he was joined by San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Tim Lincecum for a skydiving lesson in a wind tunnel with Red Bull Air Force member Sean MacCormac.
“It was great, something really different to what I’m used to! It was good fun to join Red Bull for this and I was very happy to. When you have new experiences and new friends it’s always nice and I really enjoy doing this kind of thing. It was also my first time ever surfing, so very cool,” said the 24-year-old MotoGP rider.