On a sunny and warm Saturday afternoon, the MotoGP men and their wonderful flying (practically) machines took to the circuit of Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. This was dateline 24 July 2010. And, it was what could be described as a perfect atmosphere for racing a motorcycle in the California summertime. The MotoGP teams were more than ready to turn out their best performance to secure a solid position for tomorrow’s race.
The engineers started to warm up the bikes about half an hour before they went out. Shortly after that, the riders wandered over to the pits – all the while signing autographs and posing for photos for the fans, albeit at a bit of quickstep – in good time to get ready for this day’s challenge - Qualifying.
Laguna Seca is a tough track to master. It has taken many of the MotoGP regulars quite a few laps around to get at least a baseline setup and a solid mental map of where to go and how to handle it. This is significant since there are a few racers on their first trip to the USGP – of note are Pramac Ducati riders Mika Kallio and Aleix Espargaro, Aspar Ducati rider Hector Barbera, Gresini rider Marco Simoncelli, and Rizla Suzuki rider Alvaro Bautista. They all had some lessons to learn, but most of them managed to turn in some rather respectable times on a circuit as different as this California State Park.
Practice was a bit less dramatic than other times when there have been new riders on GP machinery at Laguna. Only one man went down – still unfortunate - and that was newcomer Kallio. His off-track excursion was minor and he was able to ride his Desmosedici back into pit lane. Roger Lee Hayden, who is substituting at LCR Honda for injured rider Randy De Puniet, ran off track twice, though he recovered quickly both times. It is his first stint on the Honda RC212V, though he has previously had a wildcard ride at the Red Bull USGP for Kawasaki. About the most notable moment occurred when Tech 3 Yamaha mainstay Colin Edwards was blocked between turns 10 and 11 by Loris Capirossi on the Rizla Suzuki. Edwards was quite upset as he was on a hot lap at the time and lost valuable seconds getting around the GSV-R. This half of Team Texas was not happy…though it likely did not upset his day overall.
Starting off at the front was fast regular and (currently) Ducati-mounted Casey Stoner. His reign did not last long as Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo quickly took the over the position at about 10 minutes into the session. Lorezo and Stoner held on to the top two positions for much of the qualifying, actually, as they exchanged fastest lap of the day honors between them throughout. As is common during this time of the weekend, each of the remaining riders moved up and down the order as each one would bring in an even quicker lap. Lorenzo’s teammate, the very well known and (currently injured) Valentino Rossi, was mixed in with the other top ten though he never fell down very far.
In the session’s final ten minutes, every team pulled their riders into the pit for a fresh tire(s) and some last-minute setup alterations. The idea behind this was to get the motorcycle prepared to run at least one flying lap with the stickiest tire they can shoehorn onto the wheel all in the drive to grab that fast time. This is where qualifying gets the most interesting – the final minutes ticking down. Strategy and tactics are very important at this point and every team member and racer puts forth their best efforts. Of course, the qualifying order often frequently changes about now; not so much this time, though.
With Lorenzo and Stoner holding firm in the top two positions, Repsol Honda riders Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa settled nicely into third and fourth positions with less than .040 seconds separating them. Right behind them – less than .025 seconds back – was newly promoted MotoGP rider Ben Spies; a very impressive result to be sure, but he does know this track well and has had nearly half the season to become accustomed to the YZR-M1 (not to mention that he is a quick study). Until the last two minutes it looked like Ducati’s Nicky Hayden would hold onto sixth, but then Rossi turned in a fast lap and knocked him down to seventh for tomorrow’s grid.
The FIM MotoGP Championship round at Laguna Seca will be held tomorrow, Sunday 25 July, at 2:00 PM. It will be worth watching no matter how you are able – don’t miss it! Check your local listings for more showings during the following week or find it online.
Final starting order for tomorrow’s MotoGP race:
1. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1’20.978
2. Casey Stoner (Ducati) 1’21.169
3. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 1’21.617
4. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1’21.655
5. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 1’21.679
6. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1’21.688
7. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1’21.920
8. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1’22.217
9. Marco Simoncelli (Honda) 1’22.300
10. Hector Barbera (Ducati) 1’22.366
11. Marco Melandri (Honda) 1’22.407
12. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki) 1’22.647
13. Aleix Espargaro (Ducati) 1’22.712
14. Alvaro Bautista (Suzuki) 1’22.770
15. Mika Kallio (Ducati) 1’23.127
16. Alex de Angelis (Honda) 1’23.226
17. Roger Lee Hayden (Honda) 1’23.764