Preview: The Teams Look To U.S. GP

Cycle News Staff | July 25, 2012

The teams look toward Laguna Seca and the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix…

The following is from Honda…

Repsol Honda riders Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner return to the Monterey Peninsula for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, a race won by Stoner in dramatic fashion last year in what many believe was the turning point in the 2011 MotoGP World Championship.

The race, which features only the MotoGP class, takes on added significance with the introduction of the all-new Repsol Honda RC213V, which was tested following the last round in Mugello and may be raced in Monterey. Both Repsol Honda riders found positive in the new engine and chassis combination, which was built in response to chattering issues related to the introduction of a new, softer Bridgestone front tire.

Pedrosa arrives on the Monterey Peninsula second in the World Championship after finishing second in the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello. The Spaniard is enjoying one of his most consistent seasons, which can be attributed to an injury-free campaign. With the U.S.GP the last race before the summer break, Pedrosa would like to close in on the world championship leader on a track where he has had some success.

Last year Pedrosa finished third to teammate Stoner while continuing to recover from collarbone surgery. Thirty-two laps of the 3.61Km 11-turn circuit make it one of the most physically demanding tests on the calendar, which is why Pedrosa was not a contender for the victory last year. Fully fit and armed with Honda’s newest weapons, Pedrosa is hopeful of repeating his victory from 2009.

The stretch of three races in three weeks leading up to Laguna Seca proved challenging for theworld champion Stoner. Following a win over Pedrosa in the Dutch TT, Stoner crashed out of second in the German Grand Prix two corners from the end. And at the Italian Grand Prix, handling issues forced Stoner to run off track before finishing eighth. That left him third in the championship behind Pedrosa.

But if there is a track where Stoner can be expected to rebound it is Laguna Seca. His breathtaking pass of Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) on the outside of the turn 1 left kink was the

signature move of the 2011 race; no one could remember a pass for the lead being made on thefastest part of the course, where it is not uncommon for both wheels to leave the ground while banked over. Stoner then sped to his second victory at Laguna Seca. His first came in 2007.

Stoner has been on the podium every year, but one since his 2007 win. He was second in 2008, fourth in 2009, then second again in 2010 before winning in 2011.

LCR Honda MotoGP rider Stefan Bradl will race for the first time at the track within sight of the Pacific Ocean. Because it is the only race on the MotoGP World Championship calendar that does not include the smaller classes, it is always a learning experience for MotoGP rookies. In order to become familiar with the track, Bradl and his crew chief flew to Monterey following the earlyJune Catalunya Grand Prix to ride on an open track day. The 2011 Moto2 World Champion rode a Honda Fireblade on Bridgestone Battlax street tyres to learn the quirks of the track, which he only knew from video games, and which he quickly discovered did not properly prepare him. On his first lap, the young German ran off the track in the Corkscrew, the signature sequence that is approached blind before quickly plunging downhill.

Bradl’s confidence is sky high coming to the U.S. having finished a career best MotoGP fourth in the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello and a mere .046s from his first MotoGP podium.

Alvaro Bautista (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC213V) had a rare off weekend in Mugello where he was never comfortable with his setup. Now he is looking forward to the California sunshine to get back on form, though he has not had much luck at Laguna Seca. The Spaniard did not make it to the finish on his first visit in 2010 and last year was running eighth on the 14th lap when he crashed. But those races were run on a different brand, and the former 125cc World Champion is confident of a change in fortunes now that he is aboard the San Carlo Honda Gresini RC213V. Certainly that is the case if you look at his season. To this point last year he had 39 points, this year he already has 73.

Michele Pirro (San Carlo Honda Gresini FTR Honda) made his first trip to the U.S. last year for the Indianapolis Grand Prix Moto2 race, but this will be his first time seeing Laguna Seca. The steady progress the Italian MotoGP rookie has made on the San Carlo Honda Gresini FTR CRT machine, which is powered by a Honda CBR1000RR engine, was interrupted by a non-finish in his home race at Mugello. The problem was rectified in the Monday test following the race and now he is looking forward to his first laps at Laguna Seca. As has been the case at most tracks the season, the team will be starting from zero having not previously been to the circuit with the FTR Honda.

The track Pirro will learn when he arrives in Monterey is like nothing he’s ever experienced.

With seven lefts and four rights spread over its 3.61Km length, and an elevation change of 55m, the sinuous circuit offers no rest. Rather it rewards riders who can get into the flow of the track, which blends banked, flat and blind corners with hard braking and a very short straightaway that bends left at the fastest point on the course.

The signature corner is the Corkscrew at the top of the circuit. It begins with the turn eight left and by the time the riders drop down to the 8A right hand apex they have plunged 18 meters vertically, about five and a half stories, in less than 140 meters. The track continues to plunge through the fast left Rainey Curve, named for the three-time 500cc World Champion who lives within sight of the track and who won a Superbike race aboard a Honda at Laguna Seca before embarking on his grand prix career.

The track is located on the Monterey Peninsula not far from a number of picturesque seaside towns that dot the northern California coast. There are attractions for everyone, including sandy beaches, a world class aquarium, a world famous golf course (Pebble Beach), and seafood restaurants serving that day’s catch. It has small town America charm, which is why it draws visitors from around the world.

Given its location by the Pacific Ocean, Monterey can have vast climate changes, with the morning fog burning off and blending into hot afternoons, making it difficult for the riders and teams to determine setup and tire choices. As an example, year’s Saturday qualifying track temperature was 20C hotter than it had been for the morning’s free practice.

The USGP is the 10th of 18 MotoGP races and fourth in five weeks, after which the paddock occupants get a much needed summer break. The series has two free weekends before returning to the U.S. for the post-break Indianapolis Grand Prix at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

MotoGP Rider Quotes:

Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner says: “I always look forward to going to Laguna. It’s a circuit we’ve enjoyed quite good results at and the atmosphere there is fantastic. The circuit is a very tight and technical and it’s definitely a positive that it goes around to the left, as we have less chatter on the left hand side. However, some of the most critical corners are right-handers, so it depends how we can get the bike set up before I can say if we’ll be competitive. We’ve had a nice short break since Mugello and we’re looking to improve on our results from the last two races. HRC have worked hard in Japan to provide us with the new engine and some parts from the test. Hopefully we can have three dry sessions to get some work done and be competitive for Sunday, but we’ll have to wait until we get on track.”