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The latest round of the MotoGP World Championship takes place stateside this weekend.
In the final MotoGP race before the traditional summer break, the World Championship heads across the Atlantic for the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix on July 20th. For the fourth season since the series returned to American soil, the premier class competitors will be taking to the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to do battle for victory under the Californian sun.
Valentino Rossi is the current MotoGP World Championship leader, and has a point to prove at round eleven. Laguna Seca is one of only three circuits on the calendar at which the five-time titlist has never taken victory, and for the past two years he has been away from the podium in the United States. Pride is at stake for the Italian, keen to head into the summer break with the advantage in the overall classification and hungry to show the American fans why he is regarded as a future MotoGP Legend.
Sixteen points separate Rossi and nearest rival Dani Pedrosa in the standings, with the Fiat Yamaha rider retaking the lead from the Repsol Honda man at the last round in Germany courtesy of a second place finish. Pedrosa´s condition for the race will be something of an unknown at the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix; he picked up finger and ankle injuries at the most recent race in a big crash, and arrives in Laguna Seca via a flying visit to surgeon Dr. Xavier Mir in Barcelona.
He may be only third in the classification, but Casey Stoner is very much the man of the moment in MotoGP. The reigning World Champion is on a run of four pole positions and three race victories in the space of little over a month, and has been dominating the class onboard his Ducati Desmosedici GP8. In an ominous sign for those looking to break Stoner´s run of form, the Australian did the same pole-race win combination at last year´s race in the United States – the start of a similar run of wins after the 2007 summer break.
Fourth in the championship is a MotoGP rookie who has never ridden at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Jorge Lorenzo. The reigning 250cc World Champion was on-hand at last year´s race to provide commentary for Spanish television, as the lower cylinder categories´ absence from proceedings at the American round meant that he was free to perform a spot of moonlighting. The Fiat Yamaha rider is regaining confidence after a series of injuries and looking to return to his early season form, albeit without the fractures, bruises and concussions that came with the initial success.
`Texas Tornado´ Colin Edwards is the highest placing American rider as he returns to home soil, this time riding for the Tech 3 Yamaha team. He took second place at the World Championship´s reappearance at Laguna Seca in 2005, and this season has put in some great performances with the satellite M1. Edwards is one of only two MotoGP riders to have experience of the track from AMA competition in addition to his three World Championship visits.
Andrea Dovizioso is another rookie making a first appearance at the track, although the JiR Scot rider seems unfazed by any challenge put in front of him in his rookie year. He is sixth in the standings, ahead of a rider who has always gone well at Laguna Seca in both superbike and MotoGP competition, Chris Vermeulen. The Rizla Suzuki man was runner-up in the 2007 race as he confirmed the potential shown at the track in his rookie year, and was the only rider to come close to Stoner as his fellow Australian broke free.
2005 and 2006 racewinner Nicky Hayden is lower down in the classification than he would like, currently in eighth place heading to his home race. `The Kentucky Kid´ brought MotoGP back into the spotlight in America with his 2006 World Championship win, but had a difficult time on his return to Laguna Seca last year when he and John Hopkins collided on the opening lap.
James Toseland –who has taken superbike podiums at Laguna Seca- is currently ninth in the World Championship, ahead of Shinya Nakano by just a single point.
There will be two additional riders to the regular MotoGP field competing at this year´s Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix. Ben Spies is being granted the first of two wildcard appearances in his homeland as he seeks to shake up the established order in the premier class. The reigning AMA Superbike Champion follows on from his Donington stand-in debut onboard the Rizla Suzuki GSV-R with the opportunity to race a third bike for the team on July 20th.
The second AMA competitor added to the entry list is naturalised Anglo-American Jamie Hacking, who has been confirmed as a replacement for injured Kawasaki rider John Hopkins. The 37 year-old has been rewarded for his efforts in Kawasaki´s stateside competition program with a substitute opportunity for `Team Green´.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca played host to Grand Prix events from 1988 to 1994, but advancements in MotoGP racing machines required the event to be moved elsewhere while the track was modified and adapted to meet present day safety requirements.
Since December 2004 the circuit has undergone major changes, primarily to increase track safety. The first phase of modernisation included an expanded exit lane, replacement of the kerbs and widening of the main straight, whilst more recent changes involved moving back walls to create bigger run-off areas. The circuit's principal features, however, remain the same, with 3,58 km of track and 11 curves. Temperatures at the track reach scorching levels, and in 2007 the track had to be repaved in preparation for the MotoGP race on the Sunday morning.
The Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix takes place on Sunday July 20th, with practice sessions beginning on Friday.
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