2009 Red Bull USGP at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Bikes, babes, racing and riding - of course we're at the USGP!

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Any motorcycle enthusiast with a penchant for racing wants to be in the Monterey, California, area in July. And if they don't, they probably have never been to the historic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix.

The main attraction, of course, is the exotic machinery and top-tier riders competing on the world-famous undulating circuit. But a trip to Laguna encompasses much more than that. It's also the annual gathering point for the West Coast-based sportbike industry and a place to check out all kinds of new products and apparel. The track also happens to be nestled in a dry lakebed just a few miles from one of the world's most scenic coastlines, and many of the roads leading to it are among the best in America.

With that said, it's no wonder the Motorcycle.com crew makes the pilgrimage from our SoCal offices to the Monterey peninsula every year.

The Pacific Coast Highway. Just part of the commute to the Red Bull USGP!

A need for fast steeds with luggage brought together the four 1300-plus-cc sport-tourers. BMW's K1300GT takes headlining position thanks to its newest status. And this is our first chance to see how Kawasaki's mighty Concours 14 stacks up against its competition, the stout FJR1300 from Yamaha and the venerable Honda ST1300. They combine lockable stowage and 140--plus-mph capability, ideal for our 1,000-mile roundtrip over some of our favorite California roads. You'll want to check back in a few weeks to see how the comparo turned out.

Big-gun sport-tourers were put to the test.

We (Duke, Fonzie, Pete and guest rider Marc Manaigre) hit the road on Thursday morning and convened over breakfast in the sleepy tourist town of Ojai north of Los Angeles. Pine trees along the sinuous Highway 33 were silhouetted against a clear blue sky as we flew northward. Hwy 58 mixes in tight hairpins with wide-open straights, and our quartet of big S-T's were gracefully up to the task.

"Hwy 58 mixes in tight hairpins with wide-open straights, and our quartet of big S-T's were gracefully up to the task."

An overnight stop in San Luis Obispo gave us a chance to talk bikes and the state of GP racing. We marveled at Valentino Rossi's achievement of 100 GP victories at the previous round in Holland, and we wondered why nobody but Casey Stoner seems to be able to ride a Ducati competitively. Two-time Laguna winner Nicky Hayden has been showing better form of late thanks to a revised Duc Desmosedici developed with the help of reigning (and retired) World Superbike champ Troy Bayliss, but none of us were willing to put money down on the amiable American taking another win this year.

Friday morning we bee-lined it for Hwy 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. It was Marc's first trip along this stretch of PCH that runs magnificently through the wonderful Big Sur area, and he was entertained as much by the beautiful scenery as he was the spectacular coastline curves. Photography sessions and credential errands kept us from the track on Friday.

Happy Independence Day! 

The ROK hospitality area is an oasis.

Perfect weather (sunny, about 70 degrees with a slight breeze) greeted us Saturday as we rode into our parking space with the Riders Of Kawasaki. As we reported in our '08 tale of the USGP, a ROK membership gets special deals and the use of a swank hospitality area with TV screens, a grandstand on the hill between Turns 4 and 5, food and beverages, gear check and special parking. A modest $29.95 fees gets member’s benefits at many national events, and free roadside assistance is available for just $10 extra.

Energy drinks pounded, we set off to see what interesting things we could find in the display and vendor areas. An increase of elbow room was the first thing we sensed. Normally packed solid, the vendor areas and the bridge crossings had a steady but not crushing flow. Attendance on Saturday was definitely down, and some were quick to point the blame at the lagging economy and the 2008 addition of the Indianapolis USGP. Or maybe not as many people wanted to spend their Fourth of July at a place without non-racing fireworks?

Yet another Rossi fan.

We enjoyed seeing the event and on-track action through a set of fresh eyes, as Marc was in awe at the sights and sound of the GP bikes. Seeing and hearing Randy Mamola on the two-up Ducati Desmosedici for the first time was eye- and ear-opening. “You can't believe your eyes,” he said about the speed. “Seeing it on TV doesn't do it justice.”

The big show on Saturday was the qualifying session for the MotoGP race, and it proved to be a thriller. Rossi's Yamaha teammate, Jorge Lorenzo, went to the top of the charts and then dramatically highsided in the fast Turn 10. The 22-year-old showed a lot of spunk to quickly make his way back to the pits for a backup run on his spare bike. The diminutive Spaniard then blazed his way to an even quicker lap, securing pole position.

But the drama wasn't over. Lorenzo again highsided his YZF-M1, this time damaging his shoulder and a toe. Within a minute of Lorenzo's crash, Casey Stoner was flying through the air on a nasty highside of his own, thankfully without permanent damage. Traction control ain't foolproof. The front row would consist of Lorenzo, Rossi and Stoner, with the rest of the field seemingly unthreatening. American riders Colin Edwards and Hayden qualified in seventh and eighth places, respectively.

The only race all day was the AMA Supersport class, a series for riders under 21. The pressure to perform in front of a grand prix audience proved to be too much for some, as several riders ended up in the gravel traps and out of the race. Ricky Parker took the win.

Jorge Lorenzo scored pole position despite highsiding twice in qualifying.

Fan Favorite – The Doctor Is In!

Anyone who has followed Grand Prix racing in the past 10 years understands the impish and irrepressible charm of Valentino Rossi. He is not only, arguably, the greatest roadracer of all time, he's also one of the most appealing sports figures in history.

Valentino Rossi's immense talent and engaging personality are irresistible to race fans.

Skeptics to this theory needed only to be at the USGP. The distinctive yellow color associated with Rossi could be seen in every direction we looked. VR46 paraphernalia outnumbers all other riders by a ratio around 300-to-one, even the popular Hayden. Young men and old men, young women and middle-aged women, young boys and girls – Rossi has a supernatural fan base. “I can't imagine anyone not liking him,” Pete commented.

These legions of fans were joined on the weekend by the Mayor of Monterey County, Chuck Della Sala, who presented Rossi with a proclamation declaring July 5 as 'Valentino Rossi Day.'

"I want to thank the people of Monterey and the Laguna Seca track for these great honors,” said the eight-time world champ. “I love racing here and I have enjoyed it ever since we first came in 2005 so I am very proud to have this day named after me.”

The mayor has joined a very popular club.

Cannery Row

Cannery Row is the place to be on the Saturday night before the USGP.

A trip to the West Coast's USGP wouldn't be complete without a cruise to Monterey's historic Cannery Row which turns into a mobile bike show and street party. Cops close the street to automobile traffic, leaving bike-mad minglers to fill the street in the evening. A great view of the ocean battles unsuccessfully against the lure of hundreds of cool bikes lining the curbs on both sides of the street.

Modern sportbikes make up the bulk of machines on display, ranging from bone stock to extensively modified. But the sporting eye candy also contains an array of semi-vintage bikes like V-Four two-stroke RZ500s and trick Honda NC30s, both rare Japanese/Euro-market trinkets unlike anything currently on the market.

Radical, stretched custom sportbikes with giganto rear tires weren't nearly as prevalent as the past few years. Apparently the sluggish economy is hitting this subculture harder than some others. We saw more Harleys on Cannery than we did fat-tired sportbikes.

Revelers caroused Cannery Row well into the night, but a more prevalent police presence in the past few years stifled some of the free-for-all atmosphere of the days when World Superbikes were the star attraction.

This RC211V replica based on the 400cc V-Four NC-30 could be yours for just $12K.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

Clear skies again capped the glorious circuit, and the crowd was noticeably thicker on race day, although attendance didn't seem as strong as recent years. Dorna's official figures stated Sunday's crowd number at 46,679, about 100 more than last year. It was in the three-day weekend total that '09 fell short: the 105,817 through the gates is down about 25,000 from last year. Brad Pitt was supposed to show up again, but maybe his helicopter broke down because he never made it.

The Red Bull USGP again packed 'em in at Laguna on Sunday.

AMA Pro Racing provided the first news item from race day, announcing the intention to provide a new class of roadracing based on the chassis and powerplant from a 450cc four-stroke dirtbike. The idea is to provide identically prepared bikes from a sole manufacturer to riders in an “arrive-and-ride” format. This new class would supplant the SuperSport category, giving 16-21 year-ld kids a 450cc category to build racing careers. The SuperSport class will now allow older expert-level riders.

Maybe this kid is a likely candidate for the proposed Formula 450 class.

"Combining close competition with affordable equipment provides a win-win situation for fans and riders alike," said AMA Pro Racing President Roger Edmondson. "The parity in performance brought with a single manufacturer and tuner puts America's young talent at center stage and helps them to refine their riding skills for advancement through the ranks."

"The parity in performance brought with a single manufacturer and tuner puts America's young talent at center stage..."

AMA race officials will be evaluating the concept over the coming months as they work out many details, not the least of which is attracting a manufacturer who is willing to sign on to provide dozens of motorcycles at a nice price.

More isn’t always better
By Pete Brissette

A slumping economy couldn't keep the race fans away from the USGP.
Pete doesn't like big crowds, but we'll assume these two are okay with him.

I remember with some clarity the nearly unnavigable sea of race fans, unbearable lines, impossible parking situation and hot weather of the 2005 U.S. MotoGP held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I hated the event for all those reasons. But I loved the event because it was the first time I, and presumably most of the masses assembled there with me, would see Vale in person and witness everyone’s boy-next-door-American-GP-hero, Nicky Hayden, take the first win of his then-young GP career on American soil. All the better this win came on Grand Prix racing’s return to America after a 10-year dry spell. I can feel the tears welling up even now...

This year’s U.S. GP was quite different than 2005, but because it was the antithesis of ‘05. Though Dorna reported race day’s attendance at 46,679 — almost as many as 2008 if we take the figures at face value — it certainly felt like less race fans were there. But that was quite alright with me. Also perfectly okay with me was how incredibly easy it was to (1) get on the raceway grounds, and (2) how even easier parking was. To top it off, the weather was balmy if not a bit on the cool side; I’d much rather have to wear a fleece or something to regulate my comfort level than to be at the mercy of sweltering heat.

I’m not sure what the seemingly smaller crowd and gaps in vendor row means to the overall health of the sport, and more importantly, the GP’s continued presence at Laguna. But I can tell you I enjoyed the 2009 USGP because of what, on the surface, would appear to be a negative: less people. No doubt the second USGP round held at Indy has siphoned a considerable number of fans out of Laguna’s coffer, but as long as the Laguna round stays on the schedule, I’m okay with that. The older and wiser I get the more I understand the expression, less is more.

As news filtered through the pits, the crowd was pumped to learn that Lorenzo and Stoner were healthy enough to race and would be lining up alongside Rossi on the front row. You can read Motorcycle.com's full race report here, but the short story is that Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa rode like a man possessed and controlled the race at the front of the pack to take his first win on Bridgestone tires.

Stoner chased Pedrosa to no avail and ended up fourth.

Lorenzo looked like he was going to get around Rossi for the runner-up spot, but a last-of-the-late-brakers move in Turn 11 nearly tossed the battered rider on the deck for the third time of the weekend, and he had to settle for third place ahead of Stoner. Hayden got his best result of the year in fifth, two spots ahead of Edwards.

Once you've seen the ferocious and otherworldly MotoGP bikes, AMA Pro's Daytona SportBike and American Superbike classes seem a bit pedestrian. Nonetheless, there was plenty of action, a few spills and a couple of red flags. Ben Bostrom took the win in SportBike, while Mat Mladin won his 10th Superbike race of the year. Props go to young Team Graves Yamaha rider Tommy Aquino, a former mini roadracer I've shared a track with, who tied his best career finish of fourth in SportBike. Good also to see the Aprilia bike of Chaz Davies finishing the race behind Bostrom in second.

"Once you've seen the ferocious and otherworldly MotoGP bikes, AMA Pro's Daytona SportBike and American Superbike classes seem a bit pedestrian."

At the end of the day, we were happy to again make the trip to see the best of American sportbike culture. The racing was entertaining, the weather was about ideal and the crowds were manageable. Despite a glum downturn in industry sales, many smiles and laughs were shared as the industry and race fans came together for a highlight of the summer. See you there next year!

Be sure to check out our extensive photo gallery for loads of pictures, from race shots to streetbikes to dozens of frames of some of the most beautiful women you'll see at a racetrack!

Related Reading
2008 Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Laguna Seca
2008 Middleweight Sport-Touring Shootout
2007 Air-Cooled Twins Naked Comparo
2008 Kawasaki Concours 14
2009 BMW K1300GT Review
Sport-Tour 2006
2006 Yamaha FJR1300 Model Intro
Ride Report: 2003 BMW K 1200GT
First Ride: 2003 Honda ST1300

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