MotoGP heads west to Laguna Seca (photos)

This weekend’s Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Laguna Seca is the first of two FIM World Championship visits to America this year and is the second of four GPs in a five week period, as the 2009 season really begins to gather pace.

With Indianapolis to come in August the MotoGP riders will this weekend enjoy their first Stateside trip of the campaign as they head to California, with visits to Sachsenring and Donington Park still to come on the busy schedule before the summer break.

After seven rounds so far this year things are tight at the top, with three main protagonists emerging as the title candidates. Heading to Assen in the Netherlands last weekend, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner were all square on points at the head of the standings and even though Rossi has pushed ahead with the superb 100th GP victory of his career at the Dutch track his young rivals are still snapping at his heels.

Last year at Laguna Rossi took a hugely important win over Stoner, passing him brilliantly on infamous Corkscrew corner and scoring a significant psychological blow against the Australian. This year, however, he has two key rivals to contend with.

World Champion Rossi goes into round eight in great from, with a five point lead over Lorenzo in the general classification, having relegated his Fiat Yamaha team-mate to second place in the last two races at Catalunya and Assen. The Italian looks as strong as ever, with his Yamaha M1 machine working brilliantly as he looks to turn up the heat on his rivals.

Lorenzo, meanwhile, has never completed a race at Laguna having crashed out on the first lap on his debut at the Californian track last year. He insists however that this year he is finding things more comfortable at tracks which did not favour him in the past and can be expected to be pushing Rossi hard at the front again this weekend.

Fitness doubts for Stoner could be the major factor hindering the Ducati star following another grueling race in The Netherlands, where for the second round in succession he finished third, but was totally exhausted on the podium. If he can recover full strength he will be confident of another good performance on Sunday, at a track where he won in 2007 and finished second in 2008.

Behind the leading three in the championship, the Repsol Honda duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa will be desperate to bounce straight back from their Assen disappointments having both crashed out of the Dutch contest, in separate incidents at the same corner, when well positioned to earn some decent points. Dovizioso is currently fourth in the standings, some distance behind the top three, but with just a two point advantage over Pedrosa and Colin Edwards.

Texan rider Edwards arrives for his home race in good form following his fourth place at Assen and is hoping for another strong result as he seeks to extend his MotoGP career. The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider was on the podium at Laguna Seca in 2005 but since then has struggled for good results there and will aim to correct that pattern on Sunday.

His compatriot Nicky Hayden, the only other American rider in the premier class at present, boasts two of his three MotoGP career wins at Laguna and would love nothing more than to get his first top five result of 2009 on his Stateside debut for Ducati this weekend.

Ahead of the weekend’s Californian spectacular Randy de Puniet, Toni Elías and the aforementioned Stoner have already been soaking up the American atmosphere with a visit to the famous Universal Studios Hollywood theme park in Los Angeles, on Tuesday afternoon.

Taking a chance to relax before they head up the coast along Route 101 to Laguna, the trio of premier class competitors were given a tour of the Universal Studios Hollywood attractions, including film and TV sets and rollercoasters, getting up close and personal with ‘Desperate Housewives’, ‘Jaws’, ‘The Mummy’ and ‘The Simpsons’.

The Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix promises to be a memorable event, coinciding with the American 4th July celebrations and commencing this Friday, 3rd July, with Free Practice 1 at 1.55pm local time, (9.55pm GMT, 10.55pm CET). The 250cc and 125cc classes do not compete at Laguna and will be back in action at Sachsenring on the 17th-19th July weekend.

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