Stoner screws cork best at Laguna Seca

Casey Stoner on the well-marked Laguna Seca tarmac

At this weekend’s Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix in Laguna Seca it was Repsol Honda Team’s Casey Stoner who recorded a hard-fought victory ahead of Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, after reaping the benefits of gambling with the softer rear tire.

It was Yamaha Factory Racing’s Lorenzo who took the holeshot into the tricky turn one, with Repsol Honda Team’s Pedrosa and Stoner in tow. Stoner was the only one of the front-runners to have started on the softer option rear tire, with the two Spaniards opting for the harder spec. San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Michele Pirro was an early crasher in the first turn, while Pramac Racing Team’s Toni Elías crashed out a lap later.

On lap two, Stoner was finding his pace and made his way past Pedrosa as he started to chase down Lorenzo at the front. As Lorenzo was keeping the Repsol pair honest, Yamaha’s Ben Spies was heading up a group in fourth including the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, as well as Stefan Bradl. With 22 laps reaming Crutchlow was all over the back of the rear wheel of Dovizioso, as the pair continued their season-long tussle. Back at the front, Lorenzo was having to continuously hold off Stoner, who was all over the back of the Spaniard looking for a way past, as Pedrosa seemed content to look on in third. A lap later, Ducati Team’s Nicky Hayden was finding his stride in eighth, as he made up headway to the front with teammate Valentino Rossi in tow.

As the leading trio were heading into lap 13, Pedrosa had a huge wobble before the final turn, which he was just about able to save. This did however drop him back around a second from Stoner. On the same lap, Speed Master’s Mattia Pasini was forced to retire with a mechanical issue. With 14 laps reaming Lorenzo had a slight moment going into the corkscrew, as Stoner looked to be chipping away at his lead once more. A lap later Came IodaRacing Project’s Danilo retired with a technical issue, while Paul Bird Motorsport’s James Ellison crashed out a short while later. 11 laps from the end Stoner had caught up to Lorenzo and put in a move going into turn one, just as he had done last year, to take charge at the front. It was not a good lap for Yamaha, as Spies crashed out of the race awkwardly whilst accelerating out of the corkscrew, due to a technical fault with his swingarm.

Stoner and Lorenzo were in a league at their own at the front, and with nine laps left were already starting to lap some of the back markers. On the same lap Dovizioso had fought his way back past Crutchlow, as the pair continued to race neck and neck. Shortly after Hayden had caught up to the rear wheel of Bradl, as he looked to pass the German in front of his home crowd. And with five laps remaining he had made his way through, and started to pursue Crutchlow.

With three laps left Stoner was not showing any signs of slowing down as he kept Lorenzo at bay with a gap of up to one second, while Pedrosa was a further three seconds behind in third. And there was drama in the penultimate lap as Rossi suffered a big crash heading into the corkscrew, for his first DNF of the season. Fortunately he was unhurt, yet heads into the summer break with further doubts about the Ducati’s competitiveness.

In the end it was Stoner’s soft tyre gamble that paid off as he took the chequered flag by a margin of over three seconds, ahead of Lorenzo and Pedrosa, who completed the rostrum. Lorenzo still leads the championship by 23 points over Pedrosa and 32 over Stoner. The Australian quoted after the race that tyre management early in the race was key to him being able to continue his high pace until the end, whilst Lorenzo expressed surprise at its longevity, sighting that the harder option may have been the wrong choice.

Dovizioso was the first non-podium finisher in fourth, followed by Crutchlow, Hayden and Bradl. Eighth spot went to San Carlo’s Álvaro Bautista, finishing ahead of top CRT performer Aleix Espargaró on board his Power Electronics Aspar machine. Cardion AB Racing’s Karel Abraham completed the top ten on his return from injury. Attack Performance wildcard Steve Rapp was unable to compete in the race today, as he failed to reach the 107 per cent lap time marker in all the preceding sessions.

Lorenzo on Pole at Laguna Seca

Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo (above) was on record-breaking form during qualifying for the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Laguna Seca this weekend as he stole pole position in the final seconds for tomorrow’s race ahead of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa.

Lorenzo left it until his last lap to take his fourth consecutive pole at the track from Repsol Honda Team’s Stoner, who had posted a new track record just a few laps before. Completing the front row in third is his teammate Dani Pedrosa, who had shone in yesterday’s practice sessions, but was unable to match the two at the front, who were on blistering form. Stoner, who bemoaned the heavy traffic out on track after the session, had spent the majority of qualifying dialling his bike into the harder rear tyre along with Pedrosa. Most other teams had tried the softer rear tyre for race-pace, with Lorenzo in particular highlighting the importance of tyre choice before tomorrow’s race depending on the weather conditions.

Row two is headed by Lorenzo’s teammate Ben Spies, who suffered a heavy crash 12 minutes before the end. Despite walking away gingerly with a injured heel and slight concussion, he re-joined for the final few minutes of the session. Next to him in fifth, Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow showed no signs of his crash yesterday, finishing just under two tenths off the American. Tech 3’s Andrea Dovizioso rounds out the second row in sixth, making it an all-Yamaha affair, though will be looking to once again get the better of his teammate in tomorrow’s race.

Seventh spot on the grid went to San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Álvaro Bautista, who will be pleased with his slight improvement, after a somewhat subdued weekend so far. Alongside him in eighth, Ducati Team’s home favourite Nicky Hayden wrung the neck of his machine to start tomorrow’s race as highest placed Desmosedici. Completing the third row is LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl, who recovered well from a first lap run off into the gravel at the infamous corkscrew.

Hayden’s teammate Valentino Rossi rounds out the top ten, after another disappointing qualifying session for the Italian saw him struggling with corner entry. He will once again be looking for his race consistency to make his way up the order tomorrow. Highest CRT finisher was Power Electronics Aspar’s Randy de Puniet, who ended the day in 11th. NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards put in one of his better qualifying performances in 13th, after the team carried out a big modification to his seat, allowing for better agility on the bike. Wildcard Steve Rapp, on board the Attack Performance CRT machine, did not qualify for the race, as he set a time outside of the 107% marker off the top time. This means that Rapp must post a time within this limit during tomorrow’s warm-up to be able to contest. Apart from Spies’ crash, Speed Master’s Mattia Pasini also suffered a fall, but fortunately walked away unhurt.


Hayden stays with Ducati

The MotoGP™ contingent was greeted by sunny Californian skies as it took to the Laguna Seca circuit for the first two practice sessions of the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix on Friday, where Repsol Honda Team’s Dani Pedrosa set the pace in the afternoon session ahead of Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner.

Pedrosa, using a new frame and engine, posted a time in the low 1m21s beating the previous circuit record. This displaced Yamaha Factory Racing’s championship leader Lorenzo into second spot, who was just over three-tenths off the pace. Pedrosa’s teammate Casey Stoner went third quickest by a narrow margin, yet was held up on his final hot-lap in the afternoon by traffic, forcing him to run off track briefly. Stoner has opted to use the new engine, yet prefers to stay with the frame he has used all season.

Fourth spot on the timesheet was occupied by Yamaha’s Ben Spies, who earlier this week announced he will leave the team at the end of the season, whilst not disclosing any future plans. In fifth, Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Andrea Dovizioso was in good shape looking to put in a solid performance, to aid in his challenge for the soon to be vacant factory seat. His teammate Cal Crutchlow posted the sixth quickest time of the day, despite suffering a heavy crash in the afternoon going into turn 10. He was fortunately unhurt in the incident.

Seventh spot went to two-times Laguna Seca winner, Ducati Team’s Nicky Hayden, who earlier in the day confirmed a one-year contract extension with the Italian team. In eighth, LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl had a good day on his first MotoGP outing at the Californian track, posting his fastest time in the afternoon session just under 1.5s off the top. Ducati’s Valentino Rossi set the ninth quickest time of the day, yet also suffered a crash going into turn three, which prompted the session to be red-flagged for the damaged air-fence to be repaired. San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Álvaro Bautista, who crashed at the same turn as Rossi shortly beforehand, came in tenth. Both riders walked away unscathed.

Power Electronics Aspar’s Aleix Espargaró was the fastest CRT in 11th, ahead of teammate Randy de Puniet. NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards was in resurgent form coming in 13th, ousting Pramac Racing Team’s Toni Elías into 14th, who is standing in for the injured Héctor Barberá this weekend. Attack Performance wildcard Steve Rapp, who is running an in-house built APR CRT machine, ended the day in 22nd, just under seven seconds off the front.

Spies vs. Rossi, Yamaha vs. Ducati…

On the eve of the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Laguna Seca at Thursday’s press conference, Yamaha Factory Racing’s Ben Spies, joined by championship leader Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards, confirmed that he will be leaving the team at the end of the year, yet remained tight-lipped on his plans for 2013. This has subsequently sent so-called “silly season” into overdrive with regards to riders’ contracts, especially with Ducati Team’s Rossi considering his future options for next year.

Spies, speaking ahead of the first race in the stateside double header, had leaked snippets of information earlier in the week about his plans to leave the Japanese racing outfit. He said: “I’ve known for quite a bit what my personal decision was and I thought this was the right time to do it with all the contracts happening with other riders. There’s a litany of reasons behind it – just getting back to stress-free and doing what I want to do and finish out the season strong. That’s all that’s going to be said about it at this point until I’m ready to talk about the future. It’s not going to change anything. For sure, especially at Laguna we’re going to give 100 per cent and we want to do what we’re capable of doing and what the bike’s capable of doing for the team. Nothing changes from that standpoint. I just made a decision, and wanted to get it off my chest and out of the way. Now that we’ve done that now I feel like the weight of the world is off my shoulders and I can do what I set out to do.”

Since the American’s earlier announcements, Rossi, a previous Yamaha rider, has had the rumour mill turning at ever-greater speed, as speculation over his future in 2013 mounts. He commented: “The situation is quite clear. I still haven’t decided, as it is a bit to early. I have spoken a lot with Ducati about next year, but still waiting for some important ties and some important things on the contract. And I also have some other options for next year. But I think the situation will be clearer in the next weeks, and I think in the summer break I will decide about next year.”

Following a test after the last race that was stopped short with technical issues, he is not racing with as many upgrades this weekend as previously hoped: “More or less we have the same bike from Mugello, and we have to wait a bit more for something different. This track is very tough; it’s something different compared to most of the other tracks. It’s more old style up-and-down, very tricky, but I like it. For this year we need to improve at the beginning [of the race] where I’m not able to go fast enough with the top guys. So we have some ideas for the settings this weekend to try and improve that.”

Spies’ teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who comes to the U.S. in strong form after a dominant win in Mugello two weeks ago, is confident ahead of the race: “Fortunately for us in the last race in Mugello we got the victory and now we have quite a big advantage. It’s only 19 points, but it’s better to have it than not to have it. And now we come to a track that I have been quite fast at in the past, and it’s always special to race here in America. It’s a track where I have crashed many times in qualifying, and also in the race in 2008. But I feel really good at this flowing track. It’s also really short, so the race will be really tough physically, probably as tough as Sachsenring. But we are ready, we’re in good shape and the bike is working really well this year.”

Repsol Honda Team’s Casey Stoner, who won at the track last year with a spectacular ride, struggled with his bike in the last race, yet will be using a new engine to help improve this weekend: “The last two races haven’t been good for us with a couple of big mistakes from me. Things haven’t gone so well. We tested a new engine [after Mugello], which was very positive. It gave us a lot more smooth power and some small advantages in some areas so we’re quite happy with that. Chassis wise I didn’t feel anything better than what we’ve got now, so we’re not going to be using that here. It’s [Laguna] a very particular track and I think if there were a couple of spots with a bit more speed then there wouldn’t be many tracks better than this. It’s so technical and there are some areas that really catch you out – blind corners, blind braking points – it’s a really enjoyable track.”

NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards, who has been struggling this season on his team’s Suter-BMW CRT project, and recently tested and FTR-Honda and a BQR-FTR machine, stated there might be some changes happening after this race. He said: “It’s [the season] been tough you know. I’ve heard rumours we’re going to get on Aprilia [ART] at Indianapolis. It’s not going to compete with these guys [factory riders], but it’s at least the best CRT bike out there at the moment. But if that happens it’s a step forward.”

What’s up Doc? Stefan Bradl cuts a line on Lombard Street

Many riders had kept themselves busy in the U.S. earlier in the week, with some taking part in some rather unusual activities. LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl wheelied his RC213V across San Francisco’s Treasure Island, before winding his way down the iconic Lombard Street and taking part in a lecture at Stanford University labelled “Embracing Risk in the Pursuit of Victory”. Ducati Team’s Nicky Hayden took the opportunity to step into Sony Pictures film studio in Los Angles and check out how non-racing entertainment is produced, and get a first hand glance at some rather special props.

Last but not least the Yamaha Factory Racing duo of Lorenzo and Spies were joined by Monster Yamaha Tech 3 riders Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso as Yamaha USA filmed their yearly spoof promo video at the company’s headquarters in LA. Lorenzo, who two years ago was a janitor, was promoted to “Honorary CEO”.

MotoGP is cuttin’ loose in the USA.

courtesy of MotoGP

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