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WSBK Preview – Rounds 17 & 18 : Laguna Seca
6 July 2000
Laguna Seca offers a unique challenge to any rider with its twists, turns and frightening changes of elevation, all the ingredients for some great racing.
The World Superbike Championship regulars cross the Atlantic for rounds 17 and 18 of this years championship chase to the hilly Californian track called Laguna Seca.
Next to Assen, Laguna Seca offers the biggest challenge to the WSB boys with its combination of fast turns steep climbs, frightening descents and of course the infamous corkscrew, scary on four wheels and terrifying on two. To master Laguna Seca takes a lot of time and a lot more guts as run off areas are not exactly plush in some places.
Last year Ben Bostrom and Anthony Gobert took both victories as wildcard riders for the Vance & Hines Ducati team. This year however, the leading lights from the American National series will not be competing (contrary to a recent article, sorry) thanks to a conflicting round of their series. To an extent, this move has seen the event lose a certain buzz, as the prospect of seeing the wily John Kocinski, Scott Russell and Doug Chandler taking on the visiting World Championship teams was a mouth-watering prospect.
Despite that disappointment, there are still plenty of issues to be resolved on the track, the first being the absence of Noriyuki Haga. Yamaha's appeal against Haga's one month ban was deemed 'not well founded' by the TIA although it was reduced from one month to three weeks, thus allowing Haga to compete in the Suzuka 8 hours at the end of July.
Watching the race from the sidelines, Haga will be hoping that his title rivals slip up and are out performed by some of the lesser championship contenders.
Bostrom could be the answer to Haga's prayers after another strong performance at Valencia recently. The American rider knows the track well, having grown up in California, and has been in contention for victory in the last two meetings. It appears as though his move into the satellite NCR Ducati team was the best thing that could have happened to Bostrom and the man who went in the other direction, Juan Borja. Borja has shown an increased turn of pace since his ascension into the Infostrada ranks, even though he overcooked things at Valencia when he tried too hard infront of his home fans.
The sinuous nature of the track is also seen to favour the Aprilia team and Troy Corser realises that he can really put some inroads into Colin Edwards championship lead with two strong finishes. The Australian is 26 points behind the Texan, who has traditionally struggled at this track, won here in 1998 and is searching for his third consecutive Superpole victory.
Honda will have their work cut out for them this weekend as the RC51 is not suited to the mountainous nature of the track. Last year neither he nor team-mate Aaron Slight scored a podium finish and the bike was clearly unhappy with the track layout. Slight has yet to regain race winning pace although he put some real pressure on Edwards at Valencia. The New Zealander is still rapidly moving up the points table and is currently in ninth place overall, despite having missed the first three rounds through injury. However the gritty Slight is still finding it difficult to withstand race distances in especially hot conditions and so he will not be relishing the prospect of a long afternoon in the baking Californian sun.
Without Haga, Yamaha are down to one bike for Vitto Guareschi although, with limited knowledge of the track, he is not expected to be in a battle for the lead.
Kawasaki on the other hand, are full of confidence despite underperforming at Valencia. Akira Yanagawa was third in race one last year and that man Gobert won for the team in 1996. The bike is suited to the track and is both nimble and agile, the right qualities for this race track. Yanagawa was strangely off the pace last weekend and has dropped to sixth place in the points table, behind the sensational Troy Bayliss.
If Bayliss had been in the seat of the second Infostrada Ducati from the start of the year then it is highly likely that he would be fighting for the championship lead at this point. However despite being fifth in the points, Troy is determined to fight his way to the top of the table, regardless of any disadvantage he may have. One distinct advantage he does have at his disposal is the superb Ducati 996 which appears to like every single type of circuit thrown at it.
Suzuki also have reason to fell confident going into this weekend. Pierfranceso Chili says his broken collarbone is not giving him any undue hassle and will be at 100% on Sunday afternoon. The Italian veteran finished third in race two last year and is desperate to step out of the current rut of bad luck that he has found himself in.
Sadly, one man who will not be able to show off his incredible skill at this track is Gobert. Anthony will be plying his trade at Donington Park for the British round of the 500cc Grand Prix Championship while his cash strapped WSB Bimota team look for the necessary funds to continue in the series. Gobert is simply mesmeric at Laguna Seca, always the bravest of the brave and putting his bike where others don't dare. His flare will be another sorely missed element of the weekend.