RESURGENT HAYDEN HITS THE FRONT ROW AT HOME

2008-07-19 23:21
With World Championship challenger Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) ruling himself out of this weekend's race due to injuries sustained in Germany last weekend, it was left to Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V) to take the fight to pole-man Casey Stoner (Ducati) and second fastest Valentino Rossi (Yamaha). And Hayden was not found wanting.

The Kentucky Kid powered his RCV to the front row as third quickest qualifier in a typically intense hour-long session and ended the day 0.730 seconds away from Stoner's 1m 20.700s lap. Stoner began the stint in dominant form and made sure his current run of form continued here in the USA.

But Hayden was never about to surrender his reputation as the main man at his 'home' track. Riding the latest pneumatic-valve-engined version of the RCV, he was fifth fastest man at the halfway stage. He then moved up to second quickest with ten minutes to go and stayed put on the front row despite the frenzied efforts of his rivals.

Stoner whittled down his times from an opening 1m 22.204s lap to the final record time that was his pole effort, but the manner in which his rivals improved suggests that he will have a tricky race on his hands tomorrow. Without Dani the Honda men will ride hard to deprive Stoner of the points he needs to press home his claim for a second World Championship.

One of his potential challengers, the Suzuki rider Chris Vermeulen looked strong at the mid-point of the session, but he faded to eighth in the second half and will have to make do with a third row getaway. So too will Andrea Dovizioso (JiR Scot Honda RC212V) who qualified ninth fastest.

Dovi has proved he has the ability to launch cleanly and quickly from down the grid in his rookie season and he will need to rely on this skill when the lights go out for the start of this encounter.

Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V) made a better qualifying effort this weekend with an encouraging second row performance to line up as sixth fastest man at this challenging 3.610km track. This is his sixth top six qualifying job so far this season.

There was no lack of application from Alex de Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) and his hard-charging team-mate Shinya Nakano (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V). The duo hit the deck in their endeavours to continue the team's recent strong showings. But both should be fit to ride tomorrow.

They will have to start from way down the order however; Nakano from 12th and De Angelis from 16th. Although far from ideal grid-slots, the rookie revelation De Angelis has proved this year that an unfortunate qualifying session is no barrier to a shining race performance.

The San Marinese man has netted two fourth places (at Mugello and at the Sachsenring) from tenth on the grid and he will be fired up to repeat this pattern, or perhaps better it tomorrow. If he does it will be another impressive effort from the 250cc class graduate.

Hayden, who rode 1.2 seconds faster than his 2007 qualifying time, said: "It was difficult, there were a lot of guys crashing. Qualifying is so important here because it's so hard to pass, so some guys are willing to pay a big price for a good grid position. Our race pace isn't exactly blazing but it's really nice to be on the front row in front of the home crowd, the support is awesome. I know tomorrow's going to be really tough, Casey's on fire right now and we're having a few little issues, but the team's done a good job and I feel like we deserve a good result. Hoping won't get it though, so we'll come in here tomorrow, ride hard and see if we can't pull something out."

De Puniet, sixth quickest, said: "I am very happy today and want to thank my crew for their good job. We had a tough start yesterday but we adjusted the bike set-up (gear ratio, engine-mapping, braking stability and suspension) and once the grip level improved I could lap consistently fast. We solved our rear grip problems, working a good pace on race tyres and we're very happy about our tyre choice for tomorrow's 32-lap race. Honestly I think this race could be very interesting for me..."

Dovi, who made ninth on the grid, said: "During qualifying, we planned to develop the technical package better for the race, but to be honest I expected a greater improvement. Starting from the third row, here at Laguna Seca, means that I can't commit the slightest error because in the first turn it's difficult to overtake, and it's important to gain positions immediately. I predict a tough race, there are many riders who have the same pace. We will focus on a consistent pace for the entire race tomorrow."

Nakano, 12th on the grid, said: "I'm disappointed with this session because we've managed to set a fast pace throughout free practice, lapping consistently in the top six, so to be starting from twelfth is not the best. This afternoon we went out on the tyres we'll use for the race and I set a good pace, with a good feeling. Unfortunately on my first lap with a qualifier I was going a little faster than usual through turn four and lost the front, although I was lucky not to be injured. I got straight back to the box and went back out on the second bike but couldn't improve my lap time as much as I would have hoped."

De Angelis, down in 16th, said: "Unfortunately I crashed when we were trying out the race tyre. I tried to go back out but the pain in my left thumb was too much, so after just one lap I came back in with twenty minutes still remaining of the session. Obviously that meant I didn't get chance to put in a qualifier."

The 32-lap race is the last before the MotoGP season breaks for summer and resumes at Brno in the Czech Republic on August 17th


Honda rider quotes. GP USA qualifying. July 19, 2008.
MotoGP:

Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda: 3rd — 1m 21.430s.
"Qualifying was difficult, there were many guys crashing. Qualifying is so important here because it's so hard to pass, so some guys are willing to pay a big price for a good grid position. Our race pace isn't exactly blazing but it's really nice to be on the front row in front of the home crowd, the support is awesome. I know tomorrow's going to be really tough, Casey [Stoner] is on fire right now and we're having a few little issues, but the team's done a good job and I feel like we deserve a good result. Hoping won't get it though, so we'll come in here tomorrow, ride hard and see if we can't pull something out. I'm a little bit nervous. Truth is, the tyres we've got in our allocation are a little out of the range, so the warmer the better for us. We changed the bike a little bit to make the tyres work more and the qualifying tyres were awesome. Actually I felt like I maybe left a couple of tenths in them but I was running about as hard as I could. Hopefully we can put on a good show tomorrow and not less this guy disappear. A podium would be great, but to try to fight with Casey would be a long shot. We never give up, anything can happen when we line up, so we'll come in here, try to have fun, try my hardest and I know I'll have plenty of support. I'm looking forward to it."


Randy De Puniet, LCR Honda: 6th — 1m 21.921s.
"I am very happy today and want to thank my crew for their good job. We had a tough start yesterday but we adjusted the bike set-up (gear ratio, engine-mapping, braking stability and suspension) and once the grip level improved I could lap consistently fast. We solved our rear grip problems, working a good pace on race tyres and we're very happy about our tyre choice for tomorrow's 32-lap race. Honestly I think this race could be very interesting for me..."


Andrea Dovizioso, JiR Scot Honda: 9th — 1m 21.974s.
"During qualifying, we had planned to develop the technical package better for the race, but to be honest I expected a greater improvement. Starting from the third row, here at Laguna Seca, means that I cannot commit the slightest error because in the first turn it is difficult to overtake, and it is important to gain positions immediately. I predict a tough race, as there are many riders who have the same pace. We will focus on a consistent pace for the entire duration of the race tomorrow."


Shinya Nakano, San Carlo Gresini Honda: 12th — 1m 22.09s.
"I'm disappointed with this session because we've managed to set a fast pace throughout free practice, lapping consistently in the top six, so to be starting from twelfth is not satisfactory. This afternoon we went out on the tyres we'll use for the race and I set a good pace, with a good feeling. Unfortunately on my first lap with a qualifier I was going a little faster than usual through turn four and lost the front, although I was lucky not to be injured. I got straight back to the box and went back out on the second bike but couldn't improve my lap time as much as I would have hoped. Anyway, my pace is good and the objective is to get a good start and make up positions as early as possible."

Alex De Angelis, San Carlo Gresini Honda: 18th — 1m 23.035s.
"Unfortunately I crashed when we were trying out the race tyre. I tried to go back out but the pain in my left thumb was too much, so after just one lap I came back in with twenty minutes still remaining of the session. Obviously that meant I didn't get chance to put in a qualifier."



Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: Will not start due to injuries sustained at the German GP last weekend.
"This has been a very difficult decision to take, but there really is no alternative. Yesterday I struggled a lot. I rode in the morning using only painkilling pills and the pain was incredible, so I had an anti-pain infiltration before the afternoon session. Despite that, I still had a lot of pain. I did a nine lap run and it felt like 40 laps. When I woke this morning I had a lot of pain and the fingers were very swollen. I knew that I couldn't finish the race in these conditions. To face 32 laps would have been impossible, especially since this track is very physically demanding, with many uphill and downhill sections and many left-handers which demand a lot of effort from the left hand and arm. At least I tried — if I had stayed at home I would never have known if I could have ridden. Now I have three weeks to recover and do all the necessary rehabilitation to be ready to race in Brno in the best-possible condition.

Source: Honda Pro Image

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