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NICKY HAYDEN was the fastest MotoGP rider Friday afternoon with a 1m 24.228s/95.874 mph/154.295 kph lap, making him the fastest rider for the first day of practice at the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Hayden/Repsol Honda Team had the top radar-gun recorded sector speed of 157.83 mph/254 kph.

The weather was sunny and very breezy. The Laguna round is the shortest track and the longest race-32 laps. Many of the ten riders who have never raced before at Laguna used Playstation to learn the circuit, which is considered technically demanding and difficult.

Second through fifth were TROY BAYLISS/Honda Pons, MAX BIAGGI/Repsol Honda Team-despite a fall during the session, ALEX BARROS/Honda Pons, and JOHN HOPKINS of Ramona CA racing for the new Red Bull Suzuki team.

MARCO MELANDRI/Movistar Honda MotoGP fell Friday morning in the Corkscrew. This was his first time to Laguna and while encountering lapped traffic, he sped up too early at the exit and lost his rear wheel. He went to the Clinica Mobile for examination. Melandri didn't break anything but had heavy contusions on his right knee and wrist, body parts on which he had surgery over the winter.

He said: "The bike spat me and then dragged me down the hill through the Corkscrew. I got stuck between the rear wheel and the tail. I was lucky because I could have really hurt myself. I couldn't ride much today but I hope to get a decent night's rest and make up for it tomorrow" Melandri wasn't able to keep media commitments Friday.

LORIS CAPIROSSI/Ducati Team was sick with gastroenteritis in the afternoon and under doctor's care at Clinica Mobile for possible food poisoning or a cold. He missed most of his practice time, and finished sixteenth in the afternoon. Capirossi won the 1993 US 250 GP at Laguna from the pole. His team-mate, CARLOS CHECA, also raced in the 1993 and 1994 250 races, finishing seventh in 1994.

ROBERTO ROLFO/Team D'Antin Pramac also was "a bit sick and giddy, maybe from something I ate this morning." This was his first time at Laguna and he wasn't quite prepared for the roller coaster effect of the elevations.

Points leader VALENTINO ROSSI/Yamaha Factory Racing was not having a good day. He didn't improve on his time Friday afternoon and finished tenth for the session.

Rossi was most upset with what he considered unsafe track conditions, and no doubt he discussed it at the meeting all MotoGP riders hold with the race director the Friday of every race weekend.

Rossi told the Italian media Friday morning: "This track is pretty dangerous in many points, but there are some places where it's very, very dangerous - it's an 'old style' track. When you're walking around it or going around it on a scooter, it's actually even more dangerous than when you're on the motorbike, when it feels safer! The level of security [safety] is not very good, it's not as good as the other tracks we race at. If we don't make some changes to this track for the future we may not be able to race here again. However, today we will have a meeting with all the riders to speak about the problems. I never saw this track before but KENNY ROBERTS (2000 MotoGP champion) saw it and obviously thought it was safe enough.

"Anyway, we are making adjustments to the set-up, we still have some time and I think I need to do many more kilometres here to get more of an idea of what need's altering."

Another rider at Laguna for the first time agreed somewhat with Rossi's point of view. TONI ELIAS/Fortuna Yamaha Team said: "With regards to safety I have to say that in coming years, things need to be changed." Elias was sixteenth in morning practice and fourteenth in the afternoon. He is just back on his bike after two months off recuperating from a long injury, which is not totally healed.

An opposing view of Laguna came from a rider who finished second in the 1993 500cc World Championship at Laguna Seca - ALEX BARROS of Brazil. The Honda Pons rider had a lot to say on the subject in a Friday afternoon exclusive interview. He didn't attend the afternoon rider's meeting because he thought the track was safe enough for him. Barros raced top tier motorcycles at Laguna for four years. He is the only MotoGP rider to have ridden a 500cc motorcycle at Laguna.

Barros said Laguna was safer now than it was in the past, with more runoff area and wider pits. The track surface is the same, only bumpier in some places. He would make no changes other than smoothing out bumps in three corners - Turn One, in and out of the Corkscrew.

Barros was most enthusiastic in his fondness for Laguna, which he described as "fantastic and elevated." He said it was an 'old style' track like Imola, not like the new tracks which are all the same... maybe safer (because they are built to new rules), but with no character. "For me, the changes are a good start."

Barros said older tracks "have to evolve. One can't make changes all at once. It has to be gradual, over time." He also said that he - and other riders - shouldn't demand that changes be made. Riders should make suggestions, for next year. Not demand that changes be immediately made or the riders won't race. Riders must respect all the efforts which have been made to bring MotoGP to America, the world's richest country. It is very important, he said, to bring every thing together and make it work, for everyone.

Ducati Team Technical Director, CORRADO CECCHINELLI, said he was "delighted to be returning to Laguna. It's my favourite track of all. I like undulating circuits and Laguna is very up and down." Cecchinelli had been at Laguna with World Superbikes. Ducati rider, LORIS CAPIROSSI/Ducati Team has raced at Laguna with a 250 motorcycle. "I really liked the track on a 250 but I don't know how it will work for a MotoGP bike."

MotoGP has an hour of Saturday morning practice before the hour long qualifying session in the afternoon.

 

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