Massive kudos to Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. and its Motorsports Communications GM, Bob Starr. While nearly all the other factories have taken their balls home and quit U.S. roadracing, Yamaha and Suzuki are at least making the attempt, with semi-factory efforts. And Yamaha’s really the only one to honor its past champs with great fanfare at Laguna Seca every year, most memorably at the Monterey Bay Aquarium: Being in a room with Rainey, Lawson, Rossi, Ago, Hurricane Hannah and Jamie James, and surrounded by huge tanks of glowing jellyfish, is a thing you won’t soon forget.
This year, Starr and company came up with another great idea. After a quick press conference with the moto media, Yamaha U.S.A. invited all its employees and their families for lunch and to watch the Assen TT—Rossi’s comeback victory June 29—on a Jumbotron on the company lawn in Cypress, California. And who better to provide the color commentary than Valentino himself? “And then here I go past Pedrosa to thee front, the rheethm is good… and then I theenk to myself ‘F*@K! Twenty laps to go!!’” Earlier, in the press conference, Rossi said when he learned from his pit board that Marquez wasn’t closing the gap, he was giggling a little inside his helmet.
British youngster and Tech 3 rider No. 38 Bradley Smith—fresh off two impressive 6th-place finishes in a row—joined Rossi on the dais, but it was the Doctor’s audience. The two were in SoCal before heading to Monterey for this weekend’s U.S. Grand Prix, of course. At the press conference, I finally got to ask Rossi if he had everything under control when he passed Casey Stoner “off-road” at the Corkscrew for his dramatic 2008 win?
“That weekend,” he answered, “I was 20 points ahead in the standings, but he was coming strong, had won the last few races. This race I knew was critical. I tried to brake late, he also brakes very late, we touch… and I think, ‘either I win, or he doesn’t win.’ But the thing was, it was okay, because I [had] run off in the same place before, in practice! No problem.”
Factory Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo didn’t make the press conference as a result of bending the titanium plate on his collarbone after falling on it again at last week’s German GP. But Lorenzo would definitely be flying in to try and race Laguna, according to team manager Lin Jarvis. Since Pedrosa also crashed out in Germany, the points race is too tight to give any up.
Cal Crutchlow, the other Tech Trois rider, was notably absent, but Jarvis says that’s due to Crutchlow’s grueling travel schedule—a test in Argentina, two brutal crashes in Germany last weekend that left him with “holes in his hands” from rocks that got through his gloves, and “missing skin” elsewhere.
Jarvis also mentioned Yamaha is working on a seamless-shift gearbox like the one the Hondas have been running since last season, which might be good for another tenth of a second per lap, in a season in which Honda and Yamaha each have four wins.
So, all we can say to anybody who thinks MotoGP is no fun anymore is it’s time to tune back in. Rossi likens Laguna Seca to a motocross track, with tight corners and fast ones, and lots of ups and downs. And one favorite passing zone, for sure. It could get interesting.