Just five days after their stunning showing at the Sachsenring circuit in Germany the Camel Yamaha Team will be back on track on the other side of the Atlantic as the MotoGP World Championship takes another whirlwind trip across the globe from the east of Europe to the west coast of the USA. Following an absence of almost a decade, the Laguna Seca circuit near Monterey in California plays host to the world's premier motorcycle race series for the second consecutive season and represents a crucial date with destiny for both Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards.
Last season both riders finished on the podium, an ideal way to celebrate Yamaha's 50th Anniversary and a fitting reward for the factory's role in bringing the sport back to the continent. This time, however, nothing less than a victory will satisfy the Italian and the American, who both have their own agendas as they tackle one of the most important races of the season so far.
For Rossi the eleventh round of seventeen represents another key opportunity to close the gap to series leader Nicky Hayden (Honda) and provides a chance to strike a major psychological blow on the Kentucky rider, who used his explicit local knowledge of the circuit to take victory last season. However, crucial data gathered by Rossi and his team in that race, as well as track modifications that have taken place since then in the interest of safety, have levelled the playing field and the reigning World Champion is confident the advantage can swing in his favour.
The goal for Edwards is to take his first ever victory in MotoGP racing after coming desperately close in the Dutch TT earlier this season. The American has shown flashes of winning potential this season and he would like nothing more than to finally savour the top step of the podium at his home Grand Prix before heading to Japan with an identical target at the prestigious Suzuka 8-hour race.
Valentino Rossi: Strong from the start;
Following on from his remarkable victory in Germany, Valentino Rossi is looking forward to his second visit to California thanks to an enjoyable and promising Laguna Seca debut one year ago. The reigning MotoGP World Champion was the first non-American rider across the line as he took third place in his first ever USGP but this year he doesn't plan to have anybody in front of him at all as he looks to sign off for the summer with another maximum points haul.
"Even though I didn't know the track last year I was able to follow Nicky for many laps and then Colin too, so I learnt a lot from both of them," explains Rossi. "By the end of the race I was getting stronger and I actually set my best time on the last lap so I hope that this year we can be strong from the start and this time beat the Americans! We had some difficulties with the bike in Germany and we don't have time to make many big changes before this weekend, but hopefully the good setting we found for the race on Sunday and the data we have from last year will be enough.
"The latest modifications to the track will make a difference and we will see how they are when we get there. After last year we discussed everything with the Safety Commission and we made some more suggestions to improve the track, because really it was not at the level of the rest of the championship. It's okay for Superbikes but we are coming into the corners 40km faster, so it was necessary to make some more changes, especially at turn one. Now we have to wait to see if it is better and safer this year."
Colin Edwards: Victory still the target;
Colin Edwards is approaching the second home Grand Prix of his career with his focus completely set on taking victory, despite his set-up troubles with the YZR-M1 in Germany. After finishing second to Nicky Hayden in Laguna last year and battling with the same rider for victory at Assen in Holland earlier this season - only to lose out in the final corner - conceding ground to his compatriot is a scenario the Texan does not plan on repeating as the pair tussle for home glory this time around.
"Before Sachsenring I said that I am not hoping to win at Laguna Seca, I am expecting to win, and that remains the case," affirms Edwards, who will be in Los Angeles on Tuesday to take part in a MotoGP bike parade along Hollywood Boulevard before attending the screening of the new MotoGP movie 'The Doctor, The Tornado and The Kentucky Kid', in which he stars.
"We had our problems in Germany but we also had problems at Catalunya earlier in the season and seven days later I was fighting to win at Assen. It seems the bike that we have works at some circuits and not so well at others so, like Assen, Laguna will be a bit of a shot in the dark. One thing for sure is that I'm going to fight and barge and do whatever it takes to win. If it comes down to a scrap between the Americans, Hayden and I, then I know I can come out on top this time. Hopefully the bike will work as well as it did at Assen and if it does than I definitely won't make the same mistakes."
Davide Brivio: Double top the target;
Camel Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio is confident that both riders can take the role of protagonists in what promises to be another groundbreaking step for the sport's popularity in America. Brivio watched Edwards and Rossi finish on the podium in last year's inaugural event and he is hopeful of a repeat performance on Sunday - this time with one of the pair on the top step.
"Last year both our riders were on the podium and the target is the same this time, but in better positions," says Brivio. "The competition in MotoGP is getting tougher and tougher as the season goes on but we need to keep working as we are now because there is a long way to go. With six rounds left after the summer it would be nice to go on holiday with the psychological boost of victory at Laguna Seca.
"We know that Nicky Hayden is fast at this circuit but this is the challenge. We are all in racing because we enjoy the battle and on the evidence of what we saw last year I think both our riders can be up there giving Nicky a hard time this Sunday. We're going there with great confidence after Valentino's win in Germany and I think Laguna comes at the perfect time for Colin, who needs to get back on the podium. It is only a few days but for him and for us the race can't come soon enough."
Technically speaking: Laguna according to Daniele Romagnoli;
Famed, feared and revered for the world-famous 'Corkscrew' corner, the Laguna Seca circuit near Monterey in California lived up to its billing as one of the most exciting circuits on the calendar when MotoGP visited for the first time ever last season. With only a few short straights, a series of fast and sweeping corners and elevation changes that leave front wheels frequently spinning through thin air, the 3.602km circuit provides the ideal viewing spectacle for fans but is surprisingly straightforward when it comes to machine set-up.
"Actually Laguna was not as technical as we thought it might be when we visited for the first time last year," explains Daniele Romagnoli, Chief Engineer for Colin Edwards. "It is a special circuit because there are almost no straights so there is no need to use the full gear range or the maximum power of the bike. Power delivery is much more important than top-end power and it must be smooth and easy for the rider to manage. At the same time the circuit is very 'up and down' so the chassis is important because the bike needs to keep turning in several different conditions. You need good traction when the bike is leaned over - especially at the end of the main straight when the bike is at an angle at high speed and in the Corkscrew. The Corkscrew also requires stable suspension and good performance under braking because, as we saw with Colin last year, it is a place he likes to overtake.
"Honestly it was quite easy to find a good set-up for Colin last year. His experience at the circuit meant that we already had some good information for the gear and suspension settings before we arrived. This time things are a little different because, even though we can dial in the same settings on the bike, the tyres have changed a lot from last year so we will need to work on something new to adapt the chassis and the suspension. We had a difficult weekend finding the right setting in Germany but Colin will not let this affect him and we will come out fighting like we did at Assen."