Archive - Jul 18, 2008
The second session of free practice at Laguna Seca took place under considerably better conditions than this morning's FP1. The sun shone, displacing the fog which had delayed practice in the morning, and warming things up nicely.
Conditions may have been different, but the outcome was exactly the same. Once again, Casey Stoner thoroughly dominated qualifying practice, leading by at least half a second for almost all of the session. He saved the last to best, taking another 0.1 of a second off his track record, set in the morning. Stoner is now 0.466 faster than his own pole record, set in 2007.
But he's not just quick for a single lap. Stoner was running constantly in the low 1'22s, about half a second quicker than the next fastest lapper, Valentino Rossi, who was running consistent high 1'22s. At this rate, there's going to be a fantastic battle for 2nd place.
Nicky Hayden improved vastly this afternoon, setting a string of 1'23 second laps, and snatching 2nd spot in the afternoon with a 1'22.634. The problem is, of course, that even Hayden's single fast lap is 8/10ths of a second slower than Stoner's, and 8/10ths is a lot at a short and tight track like Laguna.
Chris Vermeulen continues to impress, keeping stubbornly in the top 3 all session, only losing out once the fast times started to fly at the end of the session. Stoner, Rossi and Vermeulen look like settling the podium, and it's most likely to be settled in that order.
With Alex de Angelis getting up into 4th spot, his team mate Shinya Nakano forced to settle for 6th, the Gresini Hondas are flying at Laguna Seca. A podium is likely to be out of their reach, but they could definitely both get in the way.
Colin Edwards was slow in the early part of the session, only picking up speed in the latter part, and the same was true for fellow Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo. Even James Toseland picked up some speed later on, though it didn't get him any further than 16th position.
Ben Spies won the battle of the wildcards, with a creditable 11th spot, though he was slowest Suzuki. Spies was consistently in the top half of the table, though, and quickly settling in on the bike. Spies could improve some more on before the weekend is out.
Marco Melandri slipped down the order in this afternoon's session, but was still setting decent times. He is much more competitive here than he has been all year, though he's still a little off the pace.
The gap covering the top 15 is 1.8 seconds, quite a chunk considering this is one of the shortest tracks on the calendar. But ignore Casey Stoner's time, and there's only a second covering 2nd to 15th (Dani Pedrosa: suffering, but improving), which is a good deal closer. Stoner is likely to walk away with the race, but the competition behind the reigning World Champion could be close.
The session was red-flagged with 20 minutes to go, after Ant West lost the front just before Turn 3, and his bike thumped into the air fence, puncturing a section. The incident hightlighted the safety issues at Laguna. Most other tracks have enough room for clearing up wreckage without red-flagging practice - and don't need so much air fence, which can get punctured. But the layout of Laguna means that there are some places where an accident brings proceedings to a halt almost automatically. Turn 3 is such a spot, as well as the ridge that the section up towards the Corkscrew runs along. It just goes to show how physical geography can both bless a track with a fantastic layout, and create safety headaches at the same time.
Practice continues tomorrow morning.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|4||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'22.808||0.982||0.039|
|17||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'23.955||2.129||0.012|
I'm sitting next to Toby Moody in the Laguna Seca Media Center, and when he brought up the foggy, cool weather, I replied that it was nice compared to the scorching heat of two years ago. He disagreed. "Bring on the heat!" he said, smiling. Extremely nice guy, Mr. Moody. Some television network will do very well to secure his and Mr. Ryder's services next season.
Free Practice 1 was delayed fifteen minutes or so as the riders prepared to go out on track. Dani Pedrosa moved up about ten notches on the tough guy scale, appearing in his garage walking with a crutch on his right arm, his left heavily bandaged. He was clearly damaged, still in considerable pain from his crash in Germany. Somehow he climbed onto his bike and took to the track. He ended up last on the session timing sheet, but the fact the he went out in his condition is extremely impressive.
At Donington, Ben Spies sat beneath Loris Capirossi's image, but he has his own graphic panel here at Laguna. He managed 11th before crashing, making clear that while Donington was an introduction to the 800cc Suzuki, he means business here on home turf. MotoGP rookie Jamie Hacking was right behind Spies in 12th.
Both American riders had a short time to shift into AMA Superbike mode, don their local leathers, and return for the first Superbike practice session. In person, the differences between the two series' machines is dramatic, making the idea of riding one before hoping on the other pretty impressive. More photos tonight.
The first session of free practice was very much business as usual at Laguna Seca. Casey Stoner was quickest, though it took him 6 laps to be the fastest man on track this morning, rather than his usual 3. Stoner was running low to mid 1'22s with ease, until he started hitting 1'21s. As a reference: That's nearly 4/10ths of a second faster than the existing pole record, set by Casey Stoner last year at Laguna.
Valentino Rossi was the only man who managed to get close, though every time he got anywhere near, Stoner went back out and took another couple of tenths off his best time, opening the gap up to over a second, before Rossi closed it back down again. Chris Vermeulen's form shows that he is still very good here at Laguna Seca, and will be a factor in the race on Sunday.
Biggest surprises are Shinya Nakano, Marco Melandri and Toni Elias. Melandri obviously gets on well at Laguna Seca, and may yet keep his seat for the rest of the season if he keeps this up. Nakano getting a top three time is outstanding, and very promising, and Elias, though only 8th, is much better than he has been. The top 5 riders are all on Bridgestones, but as it was cool and overcast, that probably favors the Japanese rubber.
Ben Spies suffered a crash at one of the right handers during the session, losing the front, while Dani Pedrosa is not looking well at all. He is managing to limp on and off the bike, but he is having a great deal of difficulty using his left hand. His place at the bottom of the timesheets tells you just how badly he is hurting.
Practice resumes this afternoon.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|10||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'23.896||1.981||0.136|
|14||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'24.356||2.441||0.039|
The life of a MotoGP rider can seem utterly sublime to outsiders. Flying around the globe to ride the most advanced motorcycles on the planet at some of the best tracks in the world sounds like a pretty idyllic existence. Combine this with a very generous salary, a three-day work week and continuous VIP treatment - including a fresh supply of attractive young companions - and for anyone who loves motorcycles, it is hard to imagine a better life.
Like all idealized depictions - whether it be of glitzy Hollywood fame or the serenity of an Italian hilltop village - it glosses over the less attractive parts of reality. No one ever mentions the long hours of training to achieve the necessary level of fitness to be competitive, the self-denial to ensure that your weight is kept to an absolute minimum, the endless hours of boredom either attending, or waiting to attend, the PR events which your sponsors demand.
Nor does anyone talk about the fact that you are in some degree of pain for much of the season, either recovering from a crash at previous races or from freshly received injuries at the current event. Nor do you hear about the chronic exhaustion as you chase around from one end of Europe to another, or even worse, from one continent to the next, to attend the next race, or to do some testing, or to launch a new motorcycle for your manufacturer. Look beyond the superficial glamor and the life of a MotoGP rider is a pretty tough existence.
Busy Busy Busy
The US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca is a case in point. The last of a series of back-to-back race weekends, in which the riders have competed in 6 races in 8 weekends, Laguna Seca marks the end of the grueling first half of the MotoGP season. The MotoGP paddock arrives at Laguna Seca after a 12 hour flight from Germany - if they've been lucky enough to get a direct flight, that is - to cross a 9 hour time difference, to get ready for a race which comes just 7 days after the German Grand Prix. Most of the paddock are carrying some kind of injury or illness or infection picked up during the hard slog of the season, and are longing for a break.
Instead, in one of the most important markets for the motorcycle manufacturers (despite a sliding dollar and slumping housing market), the first thing that exhausted MotoGP stars get to do once they land on US soil is roll up for a series of PR and publicity engagements, still carrying around that dazed, jet-lagged, grubby feeling that only international air travel can bestow. Their diaries are full from dawn till deep in the night from the moment they land to the minute they roll out on the track for the first practice.
Adding insult to injury, the track they roll out onto is another tight, twisty track with no straights to speak of, and a couple of the most difficult turns on the calendar. With even the front straight containing a high-speed kink, and the turns leading into each other to such an extent that a mistake in one corner can cost you time through the next four or five turns, there is nowhere that the riders can relax and catch their breath. It's a place that requires utter concentration every inch of the way, for all 32 laps of the race.
After Colin Edwards got bumped off the factory Yamaha team to make way for rising star Jorge Lorenzo, it looked like the Texas Tornado's career in MotoGP was starting to wind down. Edwards himself fueled the speculation, with talk of a possible return to the US to finish his career riding for Yamaha in the AMA Superbike series.
Since then, though, two things have happened that have made Edwards change his mind.
The first is that he has settled in superbly with the Tech 3 Yamaha satellite team, a difficult transition to make for a man who has been a factory rider for nearly all of his career. Even prior to the first race of the 2008 season, it was clear that Colin Edwards was happy with the team, as his results in testing showed that Edwards was back at the sharp end of the field. The Tech 3 role meant that Edwards was freed from functioning as test mule for Valentino Rossi, but still had a lot of input in the direction the bike is being developed. And his role at Michelin has if anything become even more important. The Texan has had a lot to do with Michelin's recovery from their disastrous 2007 season.
The second factor persuading Colin Edwards to try to stay in MotoGP for another year has been the absolute chaos unleashed by the sale of the AMA Superbike series to the Daytona Motorsports Group, the organization that runs NASCAR and several other premier auto racing series in the US. American fans of superbike racing have had a tough few years recently, as the utter domination of the Yoshimura Suzukis has meant that there could only ever be two possible winners at each race. But the turmoil caused since the DMG took over has made things much worse, something many people did not believe possible. Rule changes have suggested, then retracted, then adjusted. Manufacturers have threatened to withdraw, then participate, then set up a rival series. With American Superbike racing in such a horrific mess, a return to the US to race in the domestic series became a seriously unattractive proposition.