Red Bull USGP at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Straight from the mouths of some of MotoGP’s stars...

Photography by James Wirth

Red Bull USGP at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Transitioning from southbound Highway 1 to eastbound Highway 68 en route to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this past July, I turned the wheel on our sister publication Road & Track's long-term Nissan 370Z to steer around a mid-corner pothole. As I completed this simple maneuver, CW Technical Editor Kevin Cameron looked over at me and smiled broadly. "Isn't rubber great?" he beamed.

Thus began the first of many memorable conversations that I had with Kevin and many others during the Red Bull USGP race weekend. What follows are excerpts from our interviews with MotoGP riders Loris Capirossi, Colin Edwards, Nicky Hayden, Marco Melandri, Valentino Rossi and Gabor Talmácsi. Look for Kevin's analysis of the event, "Strength Renewed," in the October issue, due out on newsstands September 1st.

Loris Capirossi:

"I still enjoy riding the bike. I am 36 years old now, and when I start this season, I think, 'Maybe this is the last one.' But after a couple of races, I say, 'I am not ready to retire.' I still love to fight these young guys. My goal is to do 300 GPs.

"Our bike has improved, but we are always behind everybody. Before I retire, I need to fight again for the top position. But I need help from Suzuki. I don't make engines, you know?

"We still use Mitsubishi electronics. The Japanese don't want to move to Magneti Marelli. This is also one of our problems. For a MotoGP bike, for sure, the power is important. But electronics are the most important. When the electronics are not 100 percent, it is difficult to go quick for the full race. Last year, we were 50 percent. Now, we are 80 percent. We need to go to 100 percent.

"In the past with the 500s we had 10,000 to 12,000 rpm. Now, with these four-strokes, we have 8000 to 19,000 rpm. It looks easy, but it isn't. But it is safe. For sure, anyone can jump on the bike and ride it.

"Last year, we didn't use the Bridgestone RJ tire—the spec we have now. It was unridable on our bike. When we tried it, we went 3 seconds slower and crashed. I asked Suzuki to develop the chassis for that kind of tire. The tire is really strong, really hard. When the conditions are not really hot, we don't put enough weight on the tire and it doesn't get hot. This is our problem. That's why, when I see the sun in the morning, I am really happy.

"Working with Honda is a little bit different—more cold people, you know? Not really easy to have a relationship. Yamaha is not too bad. Ducati is easy; I am Italian. Suzuki, for me, is the best. We talk easily—like friends."

Colin Edwards:

"Bridgestone went to something this year that I think everybody can use. It's a really good base. The construction is much harder than anything I've ever used, and you can get away with murder. You can run it in deep, keep braking and turn it in.

"This bike was built for Bridgestones; I don't know how well it would work on Michelins. I'm a sensitive guy when it comes to setting up a bike. What would normally be, let's say, a 2 or 3 millimeter change, if you change half a millimeter, I'll come in and say, 'What did you change?' It's very sensitive.

"Guy Coulon, my crew chief, is awesome. Anybody who can build an engine from scratch is a genius. The key is to give him the correct information. As long as I give him the correct information, he can fix the bike.

"This front tire is the one Bridgestone used here last year, which they're calling 'soft.' The rear is the left-side compound from last year, which they are calling 'hard.' I always use a harder front, but the hard front feels too loose here. When you back out of the throttle a little bit, the soft rear doesn't come back immediately. It takes two or three laps for that compound to heat up again. It seems like the hard one would take longer to heat up, but it is good right from the start. I crashed yesterday on the soft rear—electronics, cold tire, whatever it was, it snapped. I said, 'Let's go with the hard rear.'

"We don't know what the factory has, but we have a good package. We can't complain. It's a pleasure to ride. When I go home, I can't wait to come back to the track. When that happens, you know the bike is working well."

Nicky Hayden:

"I was sick to my stomach on Friday night—this is my home race and I was running around in last place. We made some big changes on Saturday morning, mainly to the electronics, and the bike started coming off the corners a lot better. We've moved up every session. I feel like we're slowly making progress.

"The Ducati is not an easy bike to ride. Believe me, it's a lot harder than it looks. Doing 32 laps around here on this bike is different than it was on the Honda 990. That thing worked pretty good; just put fuel in it. I don't want to say that my first year here was easy, but to be fastest in every session, on pole and win the race? That only happens once in your career.

"There are some parts on this track that suit my style, but these guys aren't beginners. A lot of times this year, when the fuel load comes down and the tires start working better, my pace has been pretty close to Casey's. With this bike, I have to brake a lot. With the Honda, if I stayed on the brakes, I just scrubbed speed and that killed my lap time. This bike, I have to stay on the brakes to keep it turning.

"I was pretty confident in the soft front tire this weekend. I could brake harder leaned over in all of the places where we're on the edge of the tire. I wasn't sure if the soft tire would go the entire race distance, but I definitely knew I would be quicker with it.

"I've won here twice before, so I won't say that I'm happy with fifth place, but I'm actually pretty happy with this weekend. I hope we're on our way, and we can get some hardware at Indy."

Marco Melandri:

"At the end of February, it looked like everything was finished for me. People say, 'Maybe Marco is done.' Carmelo Ezpeleta from Dorna has been a big help to me and for my relationship with Kawasaki. I try to show that I am still able to ride. I just want to do my best.

"I knew the challenge was going to be very hard with Kawasaki. We got a bike at Qatar and that's it—nothing more. It's been very, very tough. The first part of the season has been good for me. Now, it is going to be difficult. My intention is to win; I don't want to be a number.

"I think there is not a good bike or bad bike. A good bike is the one that gives you confidence. You must be comfortable. When you are confident, you have fun. I am talking to Gresini for next year. But also I want to know what Kawasaki is doing. If the program is good, I would like to stay with Kawasaki.

"Many times with Michelin, it was so difficult. We could change the tire to improve the feeling of the bike and make a big step. But it was difficult to change the bike to improve the feeling of the tire. Michelin says, 'This tire is the same but a little bit different.' That made it so difficult. With Bridgestone, it's much easier to understand; you know the difference.

"I love America. So, for me, Laguna is very special. I like the place, the track and the people. I like the American lifestyle; it is so much easier. Also, the people like all motorcycle racers. In Italy, everyone just likes Valentino."

Valentino Rossi:

"For sure, the Bridgestones are fantastic. The big difference is that you know what to expect from the tire. Michelin, sometimes the performance was very good, but we don't always understand what happens with the tires. The Bridgestone tire is a friend of rider; we know what to expect from the compound. For our sport, going fast is very much about the feeling in the front tire.

"We are using a standard carcass this year—not too soft or too stiff. Last year, I used a stronger carcass front and rear. Now, because some riders are not confident on the hard carcass, we go back one step and use the standard carcass that is more or less good for everybody.

"During the race, it is possible to modify my style to try to save the tire. The tire makes a step during the race, maybe two steps, but no more. Five or six years ago, the tire made big, big steps, and in the end it became very critical to control the bike. The rider who was able to modify more his style could make more of a difference. Now, the difference is a lot less.

"I think it is possible to learn from the other riders. Even 2/10ths of a second in one corner could make the difference. If you think you are number one, that you are on top, you are finished. But you have to be very clever to understand how to adapt or modify your style and line to a new bike or different tire. This is the key. I've had a long career and ridden completely different bikes. This is not easy, but it is not impossible. I have to work. I have to concentrate. I have to make some kilometers. But it is not impossible.

"I put one foot out when I brake very hard. I feel it is possible to brake deeper. But I don't know if this is true. The first time, I didn't decide, 'Now I take my boot off the footpeg to brake harder.' It came naturally to me. Now, I see also a lot of different riders doing the same thing.

"I like World Superbike, for sure. I enjoy a lot of the races. But it is clearly the 'B' series to MotoGP. Superbikes are road bikes. MotoGP is the Formula One of motorcycles. This is very clear."

Gabor Talmácsi:

"When I stopped racing earlier this year with Team Aspar in the 250cc class, it was not an easy moment for me. I said to my manager, 'If we change, we have to make a big change.' My personal sponsor, Mol—an oil company, like Shell—was very interested in the MotoGP project. Team Scot came to us with an opportunity. It was a brave decision, but I said, 'I try.'

"For me, the step from 125 to 250cc is great, but I think MotoGP is double. This world is completely different. For me, the most difficult thing was the speed for my eyes. Everything was very quick. Also, my life is now very busy. I have to do something from the morning to the evening. I have to understand this life. Also, I must make better calendar for myself.

"MotoGP bikes are very complicated, and the limits are very high. Grip, acceleration, power and also the brakes are a different world. We have a start program and an engine-brake program, and I have to understand all of it. If I need more engine brake in Turn 7, the engineers can do it, because the bike knows the track. Corner speed is not so important. I have to brake hard for the corner, pick up the bike and go.

"This track is very, very exciting. The Corkscrew is really difficult. To open the throttle in the right turn, I must have a good feeling and a good setup. But I think the most difficult part of the track is the straight before the Corkscrew—very high speed and very scary.

"There is not a lot of pressure on me; nobody expects anything special. Of course, I want to improve quickly. I think by Brno, which is one of my favorite tracks, I will be more competitive. I have to congratulate all of the MotoGP riders. When I used to watch MotoGP, I said, 'Okay, Rossi is fast.' But now that I am on the track with them, I say, 'Everybody is fast—even the last guy!'"

Gabor Talmacsi

Colin Edwards

Loris Capirossi

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Valentino Rossi

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Colin Edwards

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Nicky Hayden

Valentino Rossi

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Colin Edwards

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Loris Capirossi

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Marco Melandri

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Valentino Rossi

Colin Edwards

Marco Melandri

Valentino Rossi

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