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One of the announced support events for this year's United States MotoGP round will be the Superstars of Super Karts race during the weekend of 8-10 July 2005 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix will be the ninth round of the MotoGP World Championship, the first US round since 1994.
Four of the Super Kart drivers tested Wednesday at Laguna Seca in beautiful sunny weather. EDDIE LAWSON, WAYNE RAINEY and KEVIN SCHWANTZ, all Grand Prix motorcycle world champions, along with Superbike champion, DOUG CHANDLER, spent the day turning laps on the 2.238-mile road course, which will be extensively renovated for the July event. All four of the drivers have raced with each other at one time or another. Chandler was Schwantz's Suzuki team-mate in 1992.
Lawson and Rainey, who has a Laguna corner named after him, have been racing the Super Karts occasionally for several years; while Chandler and Schwantz had their first taste of the 250 cc high-performance racing karts. They have semi-enclosed bodywork and rear wings. Top speeds are upwards of 140 mph.
Rainey, three-time GP champion-1990-1992, was persuaded to race Super Karts by his good buddy Lawson a few years back, and they in turn talked Chandler and Schwantz into joining them this summer at the 11-turn course for a one-off appearance.
Schwantz, 1993 GP world champion, took right to it, saying: "I was smiling the whole way around the track." Laguna wasn't his one of his favourite motorcycle circuits, but "these Super Karts are a kick to drive here. This is the fastest thing I've ever driven." Schwantz ran, by his own estimation, about 1:35 seconds around the track, which was wet from fog in the cool morning. He said he wouldn't be getting down to a 23 yet, like Lawson, but he - Schwantz - was getting there. Schwantz said he raced some Yamaha karts as a kid, and later played with shifter karts but nothing of this caliber. This Super Stars race is a one-off for Schwantz, and marks the first-ever time he has ever driven a four-wheel vehicle at Laguna. One thing he particularly noted was how close he was to the ground. He also said the gear selection on the kart and GP bikes was similar. He did notice the track surface more than usual. On the whole it is "mostly OK" but there were some bumpy areas going over the hill from Turn Five to Turn Six.
Lawson, four-time GP world champion-1984, '86, '88, and '89, is the current Super Kart lap record holder, with a time of 1:23.875/100.864 mph set in the 2003 Super Kart race. That compares to TROY BAYLISS' time of 1:23.875/100.864 mph on his Ducati motorcycle at the 2002 World Superbike race. Lawson said Laguna is a real technical track and that those who have raced on it before will have the home track advantage in July for the MotoGP. At least the first year. And yes, Lawson thinks an American can win that race.
Chandler, who raced in 54 GP championship races in 1991-199 before moving to the U.S. Superbike Championships, enjoyed his first experience with the Super Karts. "Driving a Super Kart around here is completely different from racing a motorcycle. These Karts have so much more grip than a bike through the corners. It is going to take some getting used to, physically. But this is just a good opportunity for us to get together on the race track again."
Rainey and Chandler are locals, with Rainey residing in Monterey and Chandler in Salinas. Lawson is from Southern California. Schwantz comes from Texas and lives in Georgia, where he runs his own motorcycle school with Suzuki at Road Atlanta, also conducts riding schools in France, Germany, Brazil and South America.
Besides the four motorcycle champions, the Super Karts race will draw champions from Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
The re-modelling work has begun at Mazda Raceway but most of it will be done once the track is shut down. Already the crossover bridge formerly at Turn Nine has been moved back up the Corkscrew which will provide a bigger runoff area.
The other support races for the MotoGP weekend have yet to be announced and won't be until after the SCRAMP (Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula) holds its Executive Meeting next week. It is known that the American Motorcyclist Association has asked for some or all of its classes to be considered. AMA could also be a candidate for the prime September date should Champ Car World Series finally make up its mind if it will or will not be holding the twenty-third annual Champ Car race on California's Admission Day weekend. JOE CHRNELICH, Champ Car Executive vice president, already told me a week ago that "it's possible the race won't happen this year, but be back in 2006."