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MotoGP heading back to Laguna Seca for enticing Red Bull US Grand Prix

MotoGP heading back to Laguna Seca for enticing Red Bull US Grand Prix

MotoGP heading back to Laguna Seca for enticing Red Bull US Grand Prix

The MotoGP World Championship will return to the USA this weekend after an absence of over a decade as the red carpet is rolled out at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the eagerly awaited Red Bull US Grand Prix. The Californian circuit has undergone a major winter facelift, including crucial safety updates, that has allowed the world's premier motorcycle road racing series to return to one of its most spectacular circuits for the first time since 1994.

On that occasion Yamaha rider Luca Cadalora become the first non-American to take Grand Prix victory at the legendary circuit and this weekend Valentino Rossi will aim to pick up where his fellow Italian left off by upstaging the likes of local favourites Colin Edwards, Nicky Hayden, John Hopkins and Kenny Roberts to provide the icing on Yamaha's 50th birthday cake. The Japanese factory are celebrating half a century, virtually to the day, since making their competitive race debut and arrive at the eighth round of the current season leading the way on all fronts.

As well as Rossi's 63-point advantage over Honda rival Marco Melandri in the riders' standings, Yamaha also lead the teams' and manufacturers' championships thanks largely to the reigning World Champion's stunning start to the season. Following his fifth successive victory in the last round at Assen, Rossi has now won six out of the seven races so far this season and boasts an uninterrupted run of podium finishes that stretches back to last October. However, Melandri once again proved that he is growing stronger with every passing round thanks to the best result of his MotoGP career in Holland. After taking a close second place to Rossi, the Italian youngster could be Honda's best bet for their first ever Grand Prix win at Laguna Seca.

One factor that could work against both Melandri and Rossi this weekend is their complete lack of experience at the 3,602m circuit. No fewer than ten of their rivals have ridden there before, despite eleven years of MotoGP exile, although Alex Barros is the only survivor from the last premier-class Grand Prix in 1994. Barros' Honda colleague Max Biaggi finished on the podium in the 250cc race that season, when current Ducati pair Carlos Checa and Loris Capirossi also competed in the quarter-litre category.

Colin Edwards took victory in the last of his fourteen World Superbike appearances at Laguna Seca in 2002, whilst both Troy Bayliss and Ruben Xaus have won races there in the same series. Meanwhile, Edwards' fellow Americans Nicky Hayden and John Hopkins gained extensive experience of the track during their formative years in the AMA national series, whilst Kenny Roberts Jr. made his Grand Prix debut there as a 250cc wildcard in 1993.

Makoto Tamada and Toni Elías are both hopeful of making their first race appearances in the USA after struggling with injury problems over the past few rounds. Tamada underwent surgery on an arm problem in Barcelona last Thursday after his recovery from a broken wrist was delayed by hardening of his forearm muscle, whilst Elías has confirmed that he will be returning to action after also breaking his wrist and missing the last three races at Mugello, Catalunya and Assen.

Whilst MotoGP is making its long awaited return to the USA, there will be no 125cc or 250cc races this weekend. The eighth round of the season for the two minor categories will continue at Donington Park in just over two weeks' time, with support action at Laguna Seca to be provided by a Superstars of Super Karts race, featuring Grand Prix legends such as Eddie Lawson, Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey, and a round of the AMA Superbike series on Saturday and the AMA Supersport and Superstock races on Sunday. Lawson, who won the first ever 500cc race at Laguna Seca in 1988, will be officially inducted into the MotoGP Legends Hall of Fame on Saturday lunchtime.

Interest in one of the year's most eagerly-anticipated MotoGP events is reaching fever pitch in the USA, where promotion is continuing this week with a tour of Hollywood Studios in Los Angeles for Edwards and Checa on Wednesday and a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco for Rossi, Hopkins, Tamada and Xaus on Thursday. Whilst a limited number of general admission tickets for both weekend days are still available at official outlets, the ticket office at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca has now sold their entire 53,900 allocation for both Saturday and Sunday – the first time they have ever announced a sell-out previous to an event in the 49-year history of the circuit.


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