Monday, July 23, 2007

MotoGP at Laguna Seca - third time's a charm?

Apologies for focusing on MotoGP in the last couple of weeks, but with the third edition of the Red Bull US Grand Prix happening yesterday, it's somewhat on my mind.

The Laguna Seca round of the World Superbike championship was a fan-favourite for many years, and although it had its problems (expensive hotel rooms, local cops more interested in writing tickets than assisting with traffic flow etc.) it was always a fun event.

The switch in 2005 from WSBK to MotoGP turned a weekend attendance of 90,000 into something more than 150,000. This caused some very significant problems, and although I enjoyed my first dose of the fabulous 990cc bikes, it was a shock to the system to see how much of a zoo the event had become.

Promises made for changes in 2006 convinced me to come back, but I was once again burned by a disastrous failure in the shuttle bus system for those who had arrived in cars. Added to this was an unprecedented heat wave that would have turned even the most perfectly run event into a trial by fire.

This year I once again chose to skip finding a hotel, and instead took in the more mellow Friday, stayed home on Saturday and returned on Sunday. I drove on Friday, not relishing the prospect of a total of 240 miles of freeway riding, when I knew that the shuttle bus for those in cars would work fine (it did). Riding on Sunday turned out to be a great way to go, with easy access, unhindered by cars, and relatively decent parking.

Once inside, with our leathers and helmets locked to the bike, we found the atmosphere to be more relaxed and more mellow than in the previous two years. Lines for food were pretty short, there were plenty of bathrooms, the track had provided misting stations should it get hot, water was a universal $2 as opposed to $4 last year, the vendor area was easy to walk around, and finding a spot above turn two for the race didn't require us to set up three hours early.

We watched morning warm-up from my new favorite spot at Laguna, the outside of turn 6 (see photos). Then we switched back to inside and made our way up to the Corkscrew for the AMA Superbike qualifying session. After that we wandered around the vendors, grabbed some cheese steaks for lunch (and found a seat in the lunch tent where we could enjoy them), then had a leisurely beer at the Sierra Nevada tent. With an hour to go before the race we scoped out some empty grass on the hill and drank water whilst we waited for the start.

Although the race was a bit processional, and lost some sting with a first turn collision between local boys John Hopkins and Nicky Hayden, we still enjoyed it, and chose to stick around for the AMA Superbike race. When that turned into a Suzuki whitewash, we headed for the bike, got out of the track with no problems, hit a bit of traffic on the freeway before hopping onto some backroads that avoided the worst of it. The sun was shining, we weren't stressed out by the day, and the ride home was not bad, despite the last 90 miles being on the freeway.

It felt like the glory days of Laguna Seca playing host to World Superbike. This is the first MotoGP event where I left looking forward to next year.


Clive said...

Laguna Seca is glorious - as your photos so well illustrate. If only F1 would go there...

(Okay, I'm F1-centric - but my son is trying to convert me to MotoGP)

Nicebloke said...

Well worth a visit for any kind of racing. I highly recommend the ALMS weekend in October. Good atmosphere, not too crowded, awesome cars and plenty for the fans to do. Any trip to California should be planned around a Laguna race weekend!

Mad said...

Laguna Seca sounds so good... One day.

Donington could learn a lot from them by the sounds of it.

As for Hopkins and Hayden's crash I could have cried for Hoppo.