Laguna Seca MotoGP: The PUMA Perspective

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At one stage MotoGP enjoyed an on-off relationship with the USA, but motorcycling’s premier championship is now firmly entrenched in the Land of the Free, with the country now boasting two grands prix annually, the first of which is scheduled for this weekend in Laguna Seca outside Monterey, California.

This 3,610-metre circuit features 11 corners – seven left- and four right-hand – including the infamous downhill Turn 8/8A complex. Dubbed ‘The Corkscrew’, it is one of world motorsport’s more challenging turns due to a sharp drop in elevation compounded by a blind crest and apex on the uphill approach.

Its compact, anti-clockwise layout in combination with a main straight just 450 metres in length means bikes spend the majority of each lap on their left tyre walls, while its elevated position makes motorcycles in particular prone to gusts.

Sunday’s event marks the riders’ sixth race in eight weeks. After the event they take a short but well-deserved summer break ahead of the Czech Grand Prix in mid-August, before heading back to the US two weeks later for the Indianapolis Grand Prix at the famous ‘Brickyard’.

This weekend’s race is obviously a very special event for 2006 world champion Nicky Hayden. The American, riding for PUMA’s partner team Ducati, travels to the US as two-time winner of his home race, and is sure to put up a strong showing in front of his legions of fans.

“Obviously I’m looking forward to Laguna, because it’s a track I love that’s very challenging and fun, with a great atmosphere and my home crowd,” said Nicky, who turns 30 next weekend, ahead of the event. “Turn 1 and the Corkscrew are very technical, and pretty much the whole track links together.”

Nicky, currently seventh in the standings with 85 points, has yet to decide which bike to race: his regular Desmosedici GP11 or the updated GP11.1, the latter effectively the 2012 design fitted with this year’s regulation 800cc motor.

Ducati team-mate Valentino Rossi, who too needs to take a decision over which version of the Desmosedici to ride, also has a record of success at Laguna Seca, the 32-year-old having won here 2008 in what Italy’s nine-time world champion views as ‘one of the best races of my career’.

“For me Laguna represents a great corner, the Corkscrew,” says Valentino, presently fourth in the championship with 98 points. “In any case, it’s always a pleasure to race in the United States because the motorcycle world here is really nice.

“Of course I’m even happier that Jerry (Burgess) has returned, and I look forward to seeing him in the garage again with all the guys,” added Valentino in reference to his crew chief, who was absent in Italy and Germany due to medical treatment required by his wife in their Australian homeland.

Going to the race, the tenth of 18 in the 2011 championship, Casey Stoner (Honda) tops the points’ log with 168 points to the 153 of Yamaha’s reigning championship Jorge Lorenzo. Andrea Dovizioso is third with 132.

The 32-lap race starts at 14 00 local (23 00 CET), with qualifying at the equivalent time on Saturday.