Thursday afternoon at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the MotoGP pre-race Media Conference was held. It was sometimes straight-forward, sometimes jocular, and often light-hearted.

The participants were VALENTINO ROSSI/Fiat Yamaha Team Yamaha, along with CHRIS VERMUELEN/Rizla Suzuki MotoGP Suzuki, ANDREA DOVIZIOSO/Repsol Honda Team Honda and the two American riders, COLIN EDWARDS/Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha, and NICKY HAYDEN/Ducati Team Ducati. It was full of sound bites. Edwards has a wicked sense of humor, and Hayden has a deceptively laid-back thing going for him.

Rossi, who won the 2008 Laguna MotoGP and then kissed the ground at the Corkscrew, said the track was difficult, especially the Corkscrew. He said it would be more difficult to win this year, especially with Edwards and Hayden “more close.” But Rossi admitted that this year the team had the benefit of having last year’s good settings.

Rossi, leading the standings with 131 points, was asked about his contract with Yamaha. The current contract ends in 2010, but after Assen, he is thinking he “might carry on after that.” He said he is in good shape mental and physical and feels it is possible to stay at the top for three or four years. Rossi said he “will decide next year. The situation at Yamaha is so positive. This year’s version is better than the 2008.

Only nine points separate Rossi from his Spanish teammate, JORGE LORENZO, and Hayden’s Ducati teammate, CASEY STONER.

Vermeulen characterized Laguna as the MotoGP track with the slowest average track speed. “It’s unique. The Corkscrew is like falling off the end of the earth. It’s fun and you don’t get any rest here.” He’s happy in motorcycle racing and this is where he wants to stay. The Australian rider is currently ninth in the standings, with 53 points.

Dovizioso was pleased to be running on Bridgestone tires this year after problems last year with Michelins. He said it was nice to come to Laguna for a change in pace. Dovizioso is fourth in the standings with 69 points.

Edwards was most forthcoming about his tire switch to Bridgestone from Michelins, which he characterized with adult language. This year he doesn’t have to think about the tires when preparing for Laguna. “It’s going to be fantastic showing up at my home race and only needing to focus on getting the bike right.”

Edwards has fond memories of Laguna where he started in 2005 in SuperBikes. That was his best year in GP, “then it got worse.” Edwards, aka The Texas Tornado, said he’s with the top satellite team and he has a lot going for him. He was wearing a U.S. Marines baseball cap and said he brought a lot of guns with him this weekend. Edwards joked that he “wouldn’t kill anyone, but might shoot a tire here or an engine there.”

Hayden’s word on his season – “I can’t say I’ve been having the time of my life. Somehow that’s how it goes.” He is thirteenth in the standings, with 27 points, after missing a race due to crash injuries. Hayden won the inaugural MotoGP at Laguna in 2005, and waved the American flag on his victory lap. He then went on to win it again in 2006 and then the MotoGP championship.

“It’s been a hard year, but it’s a great life. Coming home doesn’t mean we’re going to make a miracle, but slowly we’ve made a little bit of progress over the past two weeks. This year’s level in MotoGP is really high and if we’re going to be up in that top group we need to make some big steps if we want to do anything special.” He took a scooter ride around the eleven-turn circuit, and was reminded just how technical Laguna is.

Hayden was asked to compare how big MotoGP is in the US and overseas. “In Europe, especially Italy and Spain, it’s like US basketball March Madness. It’s at a high level this year, and how often does it happen that it’s a three-way tie at the top just six races into the season?”

Hayden admitted to taking advantage of his recognition in Italy, especially after his injury earlier in the season. While he didn’t stop traffic or need security to get to his car, Hayden said he took advantage of his recognition and “was guilty of milking it. With my wheel chair, I went to the front of every line, received VIP treatment, and got a free meal here and there.”