Bye-bye Yamaha: Ben drops a pre-race bombshell
Round 10 - United States 27-29 July 2012 (MotoGP class only)
Circuit Length:3.610 Km
Laps:MotoGP - 32 laps
Lap Records:MotoGP - Casey STONER, Ducati (2010) 1:21.376 = 159.703km/h
Previous Winners:2011 - Casey STONER, Honda
2010 - Jorge LORENZO, Yamaha
2009 - Dani PEDROSA, Honda
2008 - Valentino ROSSI, Yamaha
2007 - Casey STONER, Ducati
BYE-BYE YAMAHA: BEN DROPS A PRE-RACE BOMBSHELL
American riders always attract attention at Laguna Seca, but Ben Spies has lobbed a little hand-grenade into the 2013 riders’ market by announcing via ‘social media’ that he will quit the Yamaha factory team at the end of this season. The former Superbike ace cited “a litany of reasons” for his decision. Rookie of the Year in 2010, he joined the works Yamaha outfit in 2011 and chalked up his first and only victory at Assen last year.
‘Very small’ is not normally the American way, but Dani Pedrosa’s description of Laguna Seca Raceway – “very small, bumpy and technical” – fits the bill: the Californian track, near Salinas, measures just 3.61 kilometres in length, making it the shortest on the current calendar. It also has the shortest straight, at just 453 metres, and is one of the slowest tracks the riders face.
Built in 1957, Laguna Seca was first used for the World Championship in 1988. It ran through to 1994, missing only 1992; then it returned in 2005 and has been a fixture ever since, making this the 14th Grand Prix to be staged there.
The early years were dominated by Yamaha for the right reasons, rather than rider rebellions: Eddie Lawson won the inaugural race, then Wayne Rainey completed a memorable hat-trick for Yamaha in 1989-91. John Kocinski won on a Cagiva in `93 before Luca Cadalora restored the big Y to the winner’s circle in 1994.
Since MotoGP embraced the Californian track Honda has been the dominant force, with Nicky Hayden winning in 2005 and 2006, Valentino Rossi in 2008 and Dani Pedrosa in 2009. Casey Stoner also won there for Honda last year on top of his 2007 success on the Ducati. That leaves just one other winner – and that was the Yamaha of Jorge Lorenzo in 2010.
The Spaniard heads to the USA intent on extending his 19-point advantage over Pedrosa and the 37-point margin back to Stoner as the season heads into its second half. "I have always had great races here in Laguna in MotoGP and always finish on the podium. Hopefully we can continue to do this here to extend the lead a little more,” says Lorenzo. "I love the circuit, the Corkscrew corner is amazing and the American fans always make an incredible atmosphere for us."
Turn 8, the notorious Corkscrew, is typical of the quick elevation and direction changes that demand the utmost agility from bike and rider. With seven left turns and just four to the right, the layout will help Stoner’s Honda which seems less liable to chatter on the left side. He and Pedrosa both have significant changes at their disposal this weekend, the Spaniard going for the new chassis and engine tested at Mugello, the Aussie settling for a new power unit in the standard chassis.
Also profiting from updates to their machinery are Hayden and Rossi, though the Italian says what’s been done to his Ducati post-Mugello is “a small percentage of the package” they are working on. With Spies going, will Rossi come into the frame for a return to the Yamaha fold?
With the unfortunate Hector Barbera kept off his Pramac Ducati by the double fracture to his left leg in training, Toni Elias makes his return to the MotoGP field after parting company with his Aspar Moto2 outfit. Elias, now 29, is a 96-race veteran whose sole premier class victory came on a Honda at Estoril in 2006. He was a Pramac rider back in 2008, taking podiums for them in Brno and Misano. Barbera is expected to be out of action for up to six weeks.
Though Spies, Hayden and Colin Edwards – staying with the Suter-BMW despite trying an FTR-Honda and a BQR-FTR in the Mugello test – will capture most of the local fans’ attention, there is another transatlantic rider for them to cheer on. That’s Steve Rapp, who will mount a CTR Kawasaki this weekend. At 41 Rapp’s no rookie: he comes from a 14-year AMA racing background and had perhaps his career highlight in Formula Xtreme in 2007 when he won the Daytona 200.