The U.S. Grand Prix, hosted by the historic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, welcomes ”those magnificent men in their flying machines” to kick off the second half of the 2012 season. Yamaha CEO for a Day and 2010 world champion Jorge Lorenzo has recently put a little room between himself and the Repsol Hondas of challengers Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner. Over the past three seasons, no less than four riders have failed to finish this race each year, a reminder of how perilous life can be in the hills of the Monterey Peninsula; a single “MotoGP moment” could easily shake up the 2012 standings.
The 2009 race here was fascinating, as Pedrosa disappeared from view at the start, while then-teammates Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi duked it out all day in a great battle for second place. Rossi, that year’s ultimate champion, dispatched Lorenzo late in the day and set his formidable sights on Pedrosa, whose enormous early lead shrank steadily over the final 10 laps. At the finish, Rossi trailed the Spaniard by only a third of a second, with Lorenzo another few seconds farther back. Stoner was wrestling the Ducati and lactose intolerance that year and still managed a respectable fourth. Andrea Dovizioso, Pedrosa’s Repsol Honda teammate, crashed out early, joining three other riders in the gravel that day.
2010 was Lorenzo’s year, as he cruised to victory after Pedrosa crashed out of the lead unassisted. Stoner drove his Desmosedici to a respectable second, while Rossi, still healing after his disastrous crash during practice in Italy, managed third, just in front of Dovizioso’s RC211V. 2010 marked the beginning of what has become a recent trend, namely the appearance of wild card and substitute riders. That year, Nicky Hayden’s little brother Roger Lee took over the LCR Honda for the injured Randy de Puniet and managed 5 championship points, finishing 11th. His somewhat misleading result was a side effect of having five other riders crash out, although Roger Lee did manage to edge Alex de Angelis fair and square.
Casey Stoner won here last year in convincing style, due in part to the fact that both Lorenzo and Pedrosa were hurting. Pedrosa was still recovering from injuries suffered at Le Mans, and Lorenzo was a basket case, having endured a vicious highside crash after taking the pole in the QP. While both Spaniards hobbled their way up to the podium after the race, the most exciting match of the day saw Ben Spies punk Dovizioso at the flag to steal fourth place. Ben Bostrom was the sacrificial wildcard that day, retiring after 10 terrifying laps to join the three riders that crashed out.
What to Expect on Sunday
Based upon recent results in Germany and Italy, it is tempting to predict a Lorenzo win, with Pedrosa placing and Stoner to show. Last time out at Mugello, Lorenzo put on a clinic reminiscent of his 2010 championship season. Pedrosa, consistent and uninjured all year, has appeared on the podium eight times, but has won only once, at the Sachsenring. Defending champion Stoner seems to have misplaced his mojo, having won but once, at Assen, since announcing his impending retirement at Le Mans back in May. As was true at Mugello, each has won at Laguna Seca in the last three years.
Unlike Mugello, however, Laguna Seca is short and relatively slow, a layout more favorable to the Hondas than the Yamahas. When he’s healthy, Pedrosa has the ability to get out in front of the field and take advantage of his superior speed exiting the turns. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the two Spaniards will fight for the win, with Stoner and Tech 3 Yamaha stud Dovizioso likely contesting the final podium spot. The Ducati team of Rossi and Nicky Hayden will fight over whatever’s left, joined by Ben Spies and Cal Crutchlow.
One thing is certain. This year’s wildcard, Steve Rapp on a CRT entry from Attack Racing powered by a Kawasaki ZX-10R-based engine, will be nowhere near the podium at the race’s end. Rapp is a veteran AMA rider with plenty of credentials, but this is MotoGP, for God’s sake, and he can only hope to beat a few of the Frankenbikes. His experience at Monterey may indeed help him embarrass one of the other Kawasaki-powered entries from Avintia Blusens, Ivan Silva and Yonny Hernandez. For Rapp, that would probably count as a win. Since the two CRT regulars have amassed a total of 11 points in nine rounds, that goal is definitely within reach.
Ben Spies “Gets Quit”
Word that Ben Spies would be leaving the factory Yamaha team at season’s end came as a surprise to many, although we have expected it here for some time. Though the decision initially is being positioned as Ben’s, it seems likely he was asked to resign, while allowing him to maintain his dignity during the second half of the season. The move, which must be a crushing disappointment for the American, may relieve some pressure on him, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him have a vastly improved second half of the season, as he did last year. Monterey seems like a good place to start.
Years ago I worked with a thoroughly lazy salesman who sat at home watching daytime TV instead of making sales calls. Sure enough, management came in one day and asked him to join them in a conference room for a quick meeting, after which they announced he had resigned. Later, when I asked him what happened, he replied, “I got quit.” Such seems to be the case with Ben. Hopefully, we will see him return to MotoGP in 2014 with a reinvigorated Suzuki team. Until then, it appears World SuperBike is his best option.
Spies is a highly likeable guy who, unlike certain Australian world champions, rarely points the finger of blame at others when he fails to perform. This feels more like a setback, albeit a big one, than a conclusion. As for the identity of Jorge Lorenzo’s Italian teammate in 2013, we shall save that speculation for a later date.
Toni Elias Sighting Likely on Sunday
With “Hectic” Hector Barbera out for the foreseeable future with a badly broken leg suffered in practice this past week, Pramac Racing has hired Toni Elias to wear the ghastly green for Round Ten. Elias, last seen floundering on the Aspar Moto2 Suter, had been given the boot there just in time to join Pramac for one (or two) of their final nine races in the premier class. Despite his travails since having won the Moto2 title in 2010, Elias’ recent history at Laguna is pretty good, with a 7th in 2008 for Alice Ducati and a 6th in 2009 for the LCR Honda team.
Toni’s return screws up my intended weekend wordplay, as I had intended to discuss Hectic Hector’s departure in conjunction with “Kareless” Karel Abraham’s return to the grid after missing four rounds to injuries suffered at Silverstone. As the lowest form of humor on earth, no one likes puns anyway, so we won’t bother.
Your Race Weekend Forecast
It promises to be perfect in the greater Salinas area, with temps in the low 70s and plenty of sunshine. The westerlies could be a bit of an issue, as they are most years. Pretty much perfect conditions, especially if you’re an insanely fast Spanish motorcycle racing hombré in search of a world championship.
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