MotoGP: 2009 Laguna Seca Preview

Look out, world – Rossi has it going on


MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Laguna Seca round of the 2009 season. Check back on Sunday for the full report of the United State Grand Prix.

MotoGP goes back-to-back this week, directly from a nice, orderly parade in the Netherlands to what is likely to be a dogfight in the hills of coastal California. This week’s venue is the storied Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, home of the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix. (We’re wondering how come Laguna gets the U.S. Grand Prix, while the IMS hosts the un- macho Indianapolis Grand Prix, but we digress.) And while Mr. Rossi is the clear favorite, and deservedly so, there’s little margin for error in Monterey, and there have been surprises here before. At the midpoint of the MotoGP season, the championship is still up for grabs – for now.

Since Nicky Hayden won at Laguna Seca in 2006, American riders have been winless in 49 MotoGP races.

At last year’s race, Rossi and defending champion Casey Stoner fought it out for twenty-some laps until Stoner laid his bike down, pushing too hard trying to keep up with The Doctor. By way of surprises, Chris Vermeulen placed his Rizla Suzuki on the podium in that one, despite having to pedal his underpowered ride up the 300-foot change in elevation on the hillside circuit. (Suzuki managed only two podiums all of last season, and this was one, Germany being the other.) Fiat Yamaha’s Lorenzo, we recall, had a fabulous high side on Lap 1. And rookie Andrea Dovizioso edged out Repsol Honda’s Nicky Hayden on the last lap in a furious battle for fourth place.

Last year's Laguna Seca duel between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner may have been the turning point of the 2008 season.

Team Ducati in a World of Hurt

Laguna is the shortest circuit on the MotoGP tour, with the shortest main straight, a combination that bodes poorly for the Ducati guys. Despite these obstacles, Stoner was competitive last year, and figures to be in the running again this year if they can figure out what’s wrong with his health. Nicky Hayden has a chance to turn his season around in front of his American fans.He was visibly wasted after his third place finish in Catalunya, and looked like he wanted to hurl after his third in Assen. News reports after both races suggest an as-yet-undiagnosed illness, something more than simple dehydration or frustration from staring at Rossi’s backside for 25 laps during each of the last two rounds.

Folks in Bologna are praying Stoner returns to form, as Mika Kallio is being held out this week with a mangled finger on his clutch hand. Niccolo Canepa is thus the lone hope for Pramac Racing in Monterey; perhaps they should all just go fishing. Nicky Hayden has his stiff upper lip firmly in place, wishing and hoping, and is allowing the media to refer to Monterey as his “home race”, just as he will in Indianapolis, which is truly his home race. And no one even bothers to interview Sete Gibernau anymore, as his descent into obscurity continues unabated. Quick – where did Gibernau finish at Assen? Did he finish at all? I don’t remember seeing him crash.

Takahashi is Toast

Yuki “Crash” Takahashi, who was joined recently on the Scot (Honda) Racing Team by Hungarian Gabor Talmacsi, will reportedly miss this week’s U.S. Grand Prix, and probably the rest of the season, for what was being initially described as “back surgery” to correct an injury he suffered crashing out in Catalunya three weeks ago.

Sayonara Takahashi.Today, Honda announced that Takahashi has officially been dropped from the team due to the cost of fielding two riders in an uncertain economy. We all know times are tough, but it’s still a surprise that Honda is okay with Scot Racing dropping the only Japanese racer in the 2009 MotoGP season.

“For Honda as well as the Scot Racing Team, this is a sad announcement,” said Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Racing Corporation vice president. “But we understand that the extremely challenging financial circumstances facing the team left them with no choice. Takahashi was the only Japanese rider in the MotoGP championship and of course Honda wanted to see him continue. But in the end the team made it clear that this outcome was impossible and we respect their decision. Honda will continue to support the Scot Racing Team in MotoGP with Gabor Talmacsi riding.”

First it was a back injury, then it was the “unavoidable circumstances” of the economy. What Scot Racing and HRC failed to mention was that Takahashi just wasn’t very good. After seven rounds, Takahashi sits dead last with nine points. So long, Crash. Try not to run into anyone on your way out.

Assen: The 1977 Philadelphia Eagles

In the late ’70s, when the NFL Eagles played at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, the AstroTurf field was basically green concrete. The Eagles had a great defense, a terrible offense, and a losing record. A co-worker of mine kept track one year, and reckoned that the Eagles’ opponents that season went a combined 0-13 the week after they played Philly. Teams might defeat the Eagles, but they got beat up so badly in the process they always lost the following week.

Since Assen was “remodeled” in 2006, it has taken out a rider for the following round each year. In 2006 and 2007 it was Toni Elias. Last year it was John Hopkins, and this year Mika Kallio.

At Assen, you pays your money, you takes your chances.

Melandri Pushing a Bucket of Bolts

Marco Melandri, the surprise of 2009 during the first quarter of the season, is coming unglued, as Kawasaki’s refusal to support his team has become painfully obvious. He adjusted quickly to the Green Machine, recording a sixth at Motegi, a fifth at Jerez, and a podium – second place – at Le Mans. Since France, though, it’s been an 11th, a 14th, and another 11th at Assen. He seems to run well in the rain, but it appears that the honeymoon is over at Hayate Racing. Something about trying to make bricks without straw …

Dani Pedrosa – A Model of Inconsistency

Which Dani Pedrosa will we see this week?Some weeks chicken, some weeks feathers – Dani Pedrosa’s season has been a rollercoaster. Ignoring his 11th place finish at Qatar, when he should have been in the hospital recovering from a pre-season crash, his results thus far have been, in order: third, second, fourth, DNF, sixth, DNF.

Although there’s no questioning his courage, his desire or his competitive nature, dude needs to recognize when to settle down and take the points, rather than going down in flames trying to catch the guy in front of him. Jorge Lorenzo seems to have figured this out, especially compared to last year, when HE was the one crashing out in dogged pursuit of lost causes.

Finally, a Word Game

The challenge here is to match the rider on the left with the gerund on the right. A perfect score wins you absolutely nothing. If you miss more than, like, three or four, you haven’t been paying attention. Not that we blame you all that much.

Bruce Allen’s MotoGP Pop Quiz
  1. Valentino Rossi   A. Chafing
  2. Casey Stoner   B. Dreaming
  3. Jorge Lorenzo   C. Waiting
  4. Andrea Dovizioso   D. Rolling
  5. Dani Pedrosa   E. Improving
  6. COlin Edwards   F. No-telling
  7. Loris Capirossi   G. Pressing
  8. Nicky Hayden   H. Gagging

Answers:  1-D, 2-H, 3-C, 4-G, 5-F, 6-E, 7-A, 8-B.

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