Welcome to Monterey
Clear blue skies, temperature in the low 70's with a gentle sea breeze that is carrying a hint of the fragrant aroma of unburned race fuel, one could not ask for a better start to the Red Bull USGP.
Not even 10 minutes into the first free practice Sylvain Guintoli of Tech3 Yamaha brutally slammed into the D'Antin Ducati of Alex Hoffman at the entrance to the corkscrew. The track side medical staff was taping his bloodied hand up at the corner when they eventually decided to medevac Hoffman out. Another who decided to lay down on the job in a gravel pit was Kawasaki rider Randy DePuniet. He took a rather spectacular flight off the front straight and into the gravel in turn 2.
The Mighty 800's
For 2007 the Moto GP regulations reduced the maximum engine capacity to 800 cc. The all-new RC212V actually sounds a bit like the 5-cylinder RC211V, except that the engine note is shriller and lacks the booming bass of the old 990 cc engine. Not at all unpleasant though.
What is readily apparent is that these guys are getting through the corners significantly quicker than before. Stoner's 1:22.997 second lap is already .3 seconds quicker than the fastest lap of the race last race (held by Dani Pedrosa) and is tantalizingly close to Nicky's 1:22.670 qualifying lap in 2005. These 800 cc machines are truly impressive in their own right.
In free practice today championship leader Casey Stoner drew first blood (and second blood) as he set the fastest time in both sessions. Marco Melandri (Gresini Honda) was second in both sessions and John Hopkins (Rizla Suzuki) was third making it a Bridgestone 1-2-3.
Looking at the lap charts it seems like Marco Melandri is in good shape to challenge Stoner in the race. While his fast lap was about 2 tenths of a second slower than Stoner's time, Melandri put in an impressive string of 1:23.xx second laps. With 16 laps in the one-twenty-threes to Stoner's 12, Melandri could put up a good fight. He finished third here last year after crashing several times over the weekend in practice.
The two Repsol Hondas seem to be hunting for the right setup. They are in a pack of 6 bikes from 3rd to 9th place whose free practice times are within .5 seconds. This could result in a spectacular fight for the podium. Free practice 3 will be critical to determining who will run up front, and who will fight for the table scraps.
Apparently the Repsol Hondas are having problems with the bumps and grip levels on the newly repaved track surface.
Laguna Seca Combined Free Practice 1 & 2
1. Casey Stoner Marlboro Ducati (B) - 1:22.997
2. Marco Melandri Gresini Honda (B) - 1:23.177
3. John Hopkins Rizla Suzuki (B) - 1:23.452
4. Colin Edwards Fiat Yamaha (M) - 1:23.535
5. Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda (M) - 1:23.548
6. Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha (M) - 1:23.550
7. Chris Vermeulen Rizla Suzuki (B) - 1:23.576
8. Nicky Hayden Repsol Honda (M) - 1:23.768
9. Loris Capirossi Marlboro Ducati (B) - 1:23.912
10. Makoto Tamada Tech3 Yamaha (D) - 1:23.965
11. Carlos Checa LCR Honda (M) - 1:23.998
12. Randy DePuniet Kawasaki (B) - 1:24.043
13. Anthony West Kawasaki (B) - 1:24.077
14. Sylvain Guintoli Tech3 Yamaha (D) - 1:24.173
15. Roger Hayden Kawasaki (B) - 1:24.325
16. Alex Barros D'Antin Ducati (B) - 1:24.457
17. Kurtis Roberts Team KR Honda (M) - 1:24.666
18. Shinya Nakano Konica Minolta Honda (M) - 1:24.850
19. Miguel Duhamel Gresini Honda (B) - 1:25.550
20. Chaz Davies D'Antin Ducati (B) - 1:26.459
The top speed charts look a bit strange with Randy DePuniet (Kawasaki) leading the way and Marco Melandri the first of the Hondas in 5th. It seems like the order of the day is to tune engines for better midrange to help pull the bike off the tight and slow corners.
Top Speed (Top 10)
Randy DePuniet Kawasaki - 256.3 km/h
Alex Barros D'Antin Ducati - 255.3 km/h
John Hopkins Rizla Suzuki - 254.3 kmh/h
Chris Vermeulen Rizla Suzuki -254.1 km/h
Marco Melandri Gresini Honda - 251.9 km/h
Loris Capirossi Ducati Marlboro - 251.6 km/h
Roger Hayden Kawasaki - 251.5 km/h
Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro - 251.3 km/h
Chaz Davies D'Antin Ducati - 250.8
Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha - 249.7 km/h
Come back tomorrow for our Saturday coverage. We are going to have a few words with Nicky Hayden's crew chief in the morning so look for a quote or two from that conversation. In the meantime feast thine eyes on some pics from Superbikeplanet.com