Australian TROY BAYLISS/Honda Pons was the overall fastest rider Friday morning in the first practice for the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with a 1.24.547/95.513mph/153.713kph lap on the 2.238-mile/3.602km elevated road circuit.

Technically, the lap was a record for MotoGP because this is the first time for this series at Laguna Seca.

American rider, NICKY HAYDEN/Repsol Honda Team was second fastest, followed by American JOHN HOPKINS/Red Bull Suzuki, Spaniard SETE GIBERNAU/Movistar Honda MotoGP, and American COLIN EDWARDS/Yamaha Factory team.

Current points leader and team-mate to Edwards, VALENTINO ROSSI of Italy, was sixth fastest overall.

Italian MARCO MELANDRI/Movistar Honda MotoGP fell down in the Corkscrew and suffered a contusion of his right leg. But he got back on his Honda for the second half of morning practice. Melandri was eighth fastest in the first half, before he fell, and fourteenth overall for the morning.

It was a beautiful Friday morning for the first day of Round Eight of the premiere international motorcycle series. The weather was sunny and briskly breezy. A huge crowd showed up early in the morning. Although Friday still had walkup tickets available, both Saturday and Sunday were sold out days ago, and this weekend's crowd will be the biggest ever for the world-famous road racing circuit built on the former Fort Ord United States Army base.

This is the first MotoGP in the United States, although there have been eight American Grand Prix - motorcycle events. Laguna Seca last hosted a GP eleven years ago.

This weekend's sold out crowd is expected to be the biggest ever event on the Monterey Peninsula, including the Pope's visit in the late eighties, which was a one-day event drawing an estimated 55,000-there were no tickets sold.

The biggest race crowd to date has been the sold out Saturday of the 1998 Monterey Historics with Porsche as the featured marque. That was before Wolf Hill was opened up for additional parking. Laguna sells tickets based on several concerns, including available parking, number of bathrooms, seating, pedestrian walkways and concession stands. Laguna decided to limit daily MotoGP sales to 55,000, and tickets for Saturday and Sunday were sold out two weeks ago.

This year's Friday crowd is the biggest ever Friday crowd, and some insiders say this weekend's total crowd count could equal or maybe even surpass last year's entire Laguna attendance.

Twenty-one riders are entered for the MotoGP, including four from the United States - COLIN EDWARDS/Yamaha Factory Racing, NICKY HAYDEN/Repsol Honda Team, JOHN HOPKINS/Red Bull Suzuki and KENNY ROBERTS/Red Bull Suzuki.

Points leader Rossi is on a five-race winning streak - a record in the 57-year history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing for a Yamaha rider in the premiere class. Rossi has had 29 pole positions and 24 wins from the pole, for a success rate of 82.8 percent - more than MICK DOOHAN of Australia, who had more wins from more poles but with a 63.8 percent rate.

Seven different motorcycle manufacturers are represented among the 21 riders - seven Honda, four Yamaha, three Suzuki, two each for Blata, Kawasaki and Suzuki and one for Proton KR. Tire manufacturers include Bridgestone and Michelin.

Laguna Seca made more than $2 million worth of track improvements, underwritten by Yamaha, to accommodate MotoGP. Most of the work entailed moving back walls and improving runoff areas. More than 15,000 tons of gravel were brought in to fill in the gravel traps

Because of all the changes the MotoGP riders were given a longer practice session Friday morning. Instead of the usual one hour session, the riders had two fifty-five minute sessions with a ten minute break in-between. This allowed extra time to acclimate to the track's grip level.

The MotoGP bikes have 240 hp and are capable of nearly 215 mph/340 kph.



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