It might have been the sunshine, jet lag or simply the excitement of the weekend’s Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix, but the MotoGP riders in the pre-event press conference were in a jovial mood when facing the national and international media on Thursday afternoon.
Present in the giant media centre that houses those covering the action at Laguna Seca was reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi, flanked by Andrea Dovizioso, Chris Vermeulen and home riders Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden. All were happy to share their thoughts ahead of Friday’s opening practice session.
"I like American jet lag," said Fiat Yamaha man Rossi, renowned for his aversion to early starts. "In the mornings here I am in much better shape than in Italy, for example!"
Rossi was one of the principle protagonists of last year’s Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix in what was the turning point of his season. This time out he leads the series upon arrival in Laguna Seca, although he is taking nothing for granted.
"I have a good setting from the 2008 race, but now there is high pressure for me to get a result like last year’s. Colin and Nicky will also be a lot closer, because this time they are both on Bridgestone tyres."
Repsol Honda rider Dovizioso has ridden just once at the track, and is also making his Bridgestone Stateside debut this weekend. "It will be good to try the tyres out here, as we had a good race in 2008 and it is a very different track to what we are used to in Europe," stated the Italian.
Looking back to the 2008 race with even fonder memories was Rizla Suzuki’s Vermeulen, whose podium was overshadowed by Rossi’s battle with Casey Stoner. "I think everybody forgot that I was third here… I remember at least!" recalled the Australian. "We’ve always gone well here, and it is such a unique, technical track. Let’s hope that we can be up there again this weekend."
Twice a winner at Laguna Seca, Hayden remarked, "Just because it is my home country, it doesn’t mean that we are going to perform a miracle this weekend." The Kentucky native has been picking up form over recent weeks, trying to become more comfortable with the Ducati Desmosedici GP9.
On a day of jokes, Edwards was keen to up the ante. "This week I’ve handed out some guns, and I’ve got some marines ready to take out some tyres and engines. I’m not going to kill anyone…" he smirked, before handing out the highest praise to the man sat to his left.
"You ask what it was like for Valentino to race against the greats?" said the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider to an American journalist asking about the day’s SuperKart race. "You should be asking them what it was like to race against the Greatest Of All Time."
Thursday afternoon in the MotoGP paddock, and already Rossi had been proclaimed a race winner at Laguna Seca. The Italian will have to wait until Sunday for his real shot at glory, but a SuperKart ‘exhibition’ against three MotoGP Legends gave him an early taste of triumph.
Pitting reigning World Champion Rossi against past titlists Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson and Kenny Roberts Sr., the run-out began as an exhibition between the Yamaha riders past and present on the American track. However, things inevitably got competitive, with Rossi coming out on top in a one-lap sprint.
Find out who is the greatest of the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix weekend over the next three days, beginning with Friday’s free practice session and concluding with the Sunday race, broadcast live on FOX at 2pm Pacific time (5pm Eastern time).