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2011 Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix Event Report [Video]
We go to Laguna Seca so you don’t have to!
A world-championship roadrace on one of the world’s most famous racetracks is more than enough reason to attend the USGP. But when some of the best roads in the country separate the legendary track from our home base, we make it an annual event.
We’re apparently onto something, as the 2011 edition of the USGP at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca drew more than 136,000 attendees over the three-day event. Fellow motorcyclists were treated to perfect California weather, well-organized traffic flow and intense racing action. Oh, and let’s not forget the eye candy offered by booth babes and umbrella girls, a topic covered in Michael Nardi’s special Girls of the USGP video you can see below.
As usual, we took two days to make the trek to Monterey so we could traverse some of our favorite twisty roads while performing a pair of two-bike comparison tests, beginning our journey on Thursday. The irrepressible Fonzie shot some great pics of the 800cc adventure-tourers and big-displacement grand-tourers you’ll soon be reading about, while Mr. Nardi captured the action on video. We finally rolled into San Luis Obispo after nightfall, our riders exhausted but grinning.
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Our ride up Highway 1 on Friday was a portent of the USGP’s stronger attendance figures, as there were more riders blasting their way up the magnificent Pacific Coast Highway than we noticed over the previous several years. The 39,000 people who passed through Laguna’s gates on Friday marked a 27% increase over 2010 numbers.
It took us until Saturday morning to hit the track, with typical foggy morning skies burning off to reveal sunshine and moderate temps, a pattern that repeated itself on Sunday. The howling of MotoGP bikes filled the Laguna Seca (dry lake) area as they screamed up and down the undulating track.
“Having seen the bikes with my own eyes from different points on the track, to me it seemed like the Hondas had the best power delivery,” our racer boy, Troy Siahaan, commented. “The Repsol riders would just blast out of turns on corner exit with hardly a wiggle from the rear. The Ducatis looked like the hardest beasts to tame. It appeared to me that Rossi and Nicky wouldn't get on the gas as soon or as hard as, say, Stoner on corner exit, I'm guessing because of rear traction problems.”
Soon after the GP practice session, the vendor area became clogged with prospective buyers – a good sign in this depressed economy. In amongst a plethora of motorcycle-related products, gadgets and apparel were a couple other displays that caught our attention.
Motus Motorcycles MST
First up was the Motus display with two functional prototypes of the MST sport-touring bike. It’s a fascinating motorcycle, boasting the world’s only direct-injected motorcycle engine, which is basically half of a Corvette LS7 V8, displacing 1645cc. Amazingly, the complete sport-touring package weighs less than 500 pounds (dry), according to company founder Brian Case, who walked us around this ambitious project.
“Performance, comfort and range – that’s Motus,” Case, 34, told us. “Every decision we make has to go through that filter.” To that end, the MST boasts 160 hp, 120 ft-lb of torque and adjustable handlebars and windscreen. More on Motus can be found in our interview with company co-founder Lee Conn.
Case added that Motus hasn’t taken any venture-capital money and has accrued no debt until recently. “We’re trying to be smart about not biting off more than we can chew,” the former Confederate designer said, adding that Motus is on track to complete validation of the MST by 2012, with series production to begin later in the year.
We were a little skeptical that an American start-up company could produce a completely new motorcycle able to compete with well-developed offerings from major brands, but now having seen them in the flesh as functional motorcycles being ridden across the country, we’re stoked about its prospects. We can’t wait to ride it!
The other jaw-dropping sight among the displays was the Mission R electric racebike. Unlike most racing e-bikes except the MotoCzysz E1PC, the Mission R is a very attractive and cohesive design that wouldn’t look out of place in a high-end European showroom. Credit for its design goes largely to Tim Prentice, an American designer who has worked with several major OEMs, such as Triumph, BMW and Honda.
And the R isn’t just a pretty face. On Saturday afternoon it qualified on pole for the FIM e-Power & TTX Championship at a lap time more than 10 seconds quicker than the class-leading E1PC did last year. Then on Sunday, Rider Steve Rapp trounced the field by 40 seconds to win the eight-lap race over the E1PC.
“I want to thank the guys from Mission because this is my first experience with the electric bikes, and I came into it with an open mind,” said Rapp after the race. “It's blown my mind with what they can do with these bikes. And to think that we were within 10 seconds of a MotoGP bike. These things are the real deal, and I've been telling people all weekend that this is the future.”
One of our favorite parts of the GP weekend is the gathering of cool and unusual motorcycles on Monterey’s famous Cannery Row at night. Thousands of people again swarmed the seaside street, but the party mood seemed a bit subdued this year. And we were more than a little surprised after leaving a lengthy dinner at 10:30 to find most of the crowd already dispersed.
“The traditional Cannery Row hangout has been hobbled by restrictions and reduced to nothing more than a glorified bake sale,” T-Rod scoffed. “I think an annual Stripper Pole Competition will go a long way in reviving Cannery Row activities!”
Race day arrived, and the sun burned through the fog even earlier to deliver idyllic conditions. “The weather was friggin’ perfect this year,” Pete raved. “The ideal blue skies and mild temps genuinely added to the enjoyment of the entire weekend.” As for our new blood, Tom “T-Rod” Roderick, he said, “2011 was the best weather for any motorcycle race I've ever attended!”
As in the past several years, motorcyclists were routed through on old military base on the east side of the track to ease traffic-flow problems. Thankfully, the cops holstered their radar guns on the route posted with a low, 30-mph speed limit, and two-wheel traffic freely flowed into the track.
On the flip side, we’re not fond of the unpaved motorcycle parking on the track’s hillsides, which surely caught out a few riders. “This idea of the raceway’s to charge a premium for motorcycles to park in the better, paved lots that offer secure footing for a parked bike rather than sandy hillsides is utterly asinine,” Pete railed. “For a motorcycle-specific event, one that numerous proprietors in Monterey proclaim is the largest event the town and Laguna see all year, I felt like a second-rate attendee when it came time to park my motorcycle.”
The crowd was thick on race day, with track officials boasting of a 52,670 figure that has been previously eclipsed only twice: 57,932 (2005) and 54,843 (2007).
After Rapp took the e-bike race win, Danny Eslick, aboard a Suzuki GSX-R600, emerged victorious in the AMA Daytona SportBike class after title-rival Josh Herrin had a rare mechanical problem on his Yamaha R6.
Crowds again gathered in the vendor and food areas during the lunch break, entertained by an amazing aerobatic stunt show overhead, demo laps by three-time world champ King Kenny Roberts, and two-up rides with former GP star Randy Mamola aboard a special Ducati MotoGP bike.
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The headlining MotoGP race turned out to be less thrilling than expected, but it was punctuated by one of the most scintillating passes for the lead we’ve ever seen. Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo led most of the race, but he was being stalked by Honda’s Casey Stoner in the closing laps. Stoner’s Honda, with its seamless-shifting transmission, got a better drive onto the front straight, and he bravely kept the throttle to its stop while cresting the blind Turn-1 kink, forcing his way past Lorenzo on the outside edge of the track. The Aussie went on to win the race and extend his championship points lead. Our full GP report can be found here. Ben Spies was the highest-finishing American rider, finishing fourth behind Dani Pedrosa. Nicky Hayden, a two-time winner of this event, carded a disappointing seventh behind his Ducati teammate, Valentino Rossi.
“Nothing beats being at the track in-person experiencing the sights and sounds, tastes and smells,” Tom noted. “Television is great for complete race action, but it sucks at conveying the international experience of a Grand Prix race. There's no replacement to rubbing elbows, sharing laughs and clinking pints with friends and fans who understand, respect and appreciate motorcycling's ultimate sport.”
The remaining event of the weekend was the AMA Superbike race, and it proved to be more exciting than the GP. Polesitter Josh Hayes took an early lead on his Yamaha that he held until the closing laps when the Suzuki of Tommy Hayden made his challenge, edging out Hayes to take his third win of the year.
“I was in the pits during the Superbike race,” Troy related, “and it was cool seeing Nicky run up to the pit wall on the last lap, hands flailing in the air as Tommy came around the last turn and won the Superbike race.”
There’s something special about going to a large motorcycle event, especially one with top-level racing. Practically everyone you come across is a motorcycle enthusiast, which is a nice change from the “normal” world where we often stand apart from the mainstream. At Laguna, we are the mainstream, no matter what we ride.
“I found the mix of motorcycles and types of motorcyclists attending an encouraging sign, if for nothing else than the sense of brotherhood in the two-wheeled world,” Pete mused. “A small group of Hell’s Angeles at this sportbike-biased, world-class MotoGP event was the epitome of ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’”
Many more thousand-word chunks can be found in our extensive photo gallery. Hope you enjoy coming along for a ride with us!