SUNNY STONER

The Monterey weather was sunny, bright and just warm enough to be comfortable at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the first day of the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix – 75 degrees F/24C. Seventeen MotoGP riders are entered, including two replacement riders for the weekend.

American ROGER LEE HAYDEN, younger brother of 2006 MotoGP champion, NICKY HAYDEN, is replacing RANDY PUNIET of France on the LCR Honda team. De Puniet broke both leg bones in Germany. The other subbing rider is ALEX de ANGELIS of San Marino, who is filling in for Rookie HIROSHI AOYAMA of Japan on the Interwetten Honda team.

Aussie CASEY STONER/Ducati was fastest the mostest with a top MotoGP time of 1:21.699. He kept pushing the envelope, getting faster. Of his 26 laps, the top time was set on Lap 24. Stoner holds the fastest lap record when he won in 2007, two tenths second+ faster than Friday’s time. Stoner said “I’m not looking to be first in practice; I would like to be first at the end of the race on Sunday.”

Other leaders included the recovering VALENTINO ROSSI/Fiat Yamaha, who is running his second race since his broken leg accident six weeks ago. He returned to racing last weekend in Germany, two races earlier than anticipated. Talk about motivation. Rossi was sixth overall in the session, and said he had more pain than he did in Germany. “This track is a bit harder for me than Sachsenring, and the pain is mostly in the ankle, but also in the shoulder at the breaking point before the Corkscrew. Aside from that I think we can be better tomorrow. We used the hard tyre at the end but the track was maybe a bit dirty for it. Tomorrow we will try the soft tyre also in the front.”

The top five were Stoner; Rossi’s teammate and current points leader, JORGE LORENZO; Repsol Honda Team teammates ANDREA DOVIZIOSO and DANI PEDROSA; and Rookie BEN SPIES/Monster Yamaha Tech 3, who was also the fastest American. Pedrosa is 47 points behind Lorenzo in the chase. He won last weekend’s German race and last year’s Laguna Seca race. He said “From the first day the lap times at the top are quick already, but I’m not worried about the gap because I know we can improve from here. Last year here we were also not so fast on the first day, so we’ll keep working and get ready to take a step forward tomorrow.”

The other Yanks, COLIN EDWARDS/Monster Yamaha Tech 3 and Nicky Hayden were seventh and eighth and Roger Hayden got as high as fifteenth before dropping back to last. Roger Hayden’s motorcycle is with the top rated privateer team and is seventh in points. Although the bike is new to Roger Lee, his AMA Laguna track knowledge should come in handy as he gets up to speed.

Nicky Hayden, who is fifth in the standings, said “We need to work a little on the gearbox tomorrow because the engine is quite different to what we had last year. It’s maybe something we need to look at tonight. This track is really tricky because there are so many second and third gear corners so we need to find something that works in every one of them.”

Rossi and Lorenzo, unveiled their new Fiat livery Thursday to launch the United States sale of the Fiat 500 car. The graphics on the bike fairings feature a black and white design portraying the faces of 500 fans. Rossi said “I like the special livery; it’s something different and fun. Tomorrow I will have a helmet to go with it.”

It’s mid-season Silly Season, and the riders are moving or rumored to be moving, like chess pieces on a motorsports chess board.

Inevitably Rossi was asked about his oft-rumored move to Ducati, and with a twinkle in his eye, he said “check (or was that Czech) with me in Brno.” While most consider this a done deal. there is more interest in what will or will not be going along for the ride, such as Rossi’s current Fiat sponsorship and crew members, who followed him to Yamaha. Of special note would be JERRY BURGESS who has been with Rossi since he started pro racing. The team said “We have nothing to say.”

Rossi’s vacancy at Fiat Yamaha could be taken by impressive Rookie Yamaha rider, Spies, as his contract is with Yamaha, not a specific team.

With Stoner moving to Fiat Yamaha, Ducati has a vacancy to partner with Nicky Hayden. The team says there will be no announcement this weekend – about Hayden’s contract or the new teammate; and won’t commit to when it will be revealed. One rumored name is LORIS CAPIROSSI/Rizla Suzuki, who has been struggling all year. Suzuki is nearly out of engines and has asked for a waiver to the IRTA rules of six sealed engines per year. The decision has yet to be made, and Enquiring Minds Want to Know. Maybe this weekend?

All teams can swap their engines around as long as they give prior notification to IRTA. Capirossi has already WFA two engines – Withdrawn From Allocation – and has used a total of four so far. Teammate ALVARO BAUTISTA also has two WFA engines, and he’s now running his fifth engine. The Rizla teammates languished on the bottom end of the charts, in fifteenth and sixteenth in a 17-rider field.

Saturday mid-morning MotoGP has another hour Practice session, and a mid-afternoon hour-long Qualifying session.

Last Modified on July 24, 2010
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