The last time MotoGP rider Marc Marquez tried out an unfamiliar American track, he quickly put his stamp on it.
In March at Circuit of the Americas, the 20-year-old Spanish rookie outpaced the veterans in testing, and then in April, he took the pole and the top spot on the podium at Austin’s inaugural MotoGP race.
Things might be different, however, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend, when motorcycling’s version of Formula One returns to the U.S. at the halfway point of the season.
“It’s going to be a very interesting week for Mr. Marquez,” said Gill Campbell, Laguna Seca’s CEO and general manager. Campbell said the iconic corkscrew turn and the narrow, technical track can take years for even the best riders to master.
Laguna Seca is the ninth of 18 stops on the MotoGP calendar, and Indianapolis, Aug. 16-18, will be the 10th. Marquez, who won his first MotoGP Grand Prix in Austin, is atop the standings, which have been altered by injuries to top riders.
On Monday, as she was waiting for MotoGP equipment to arrive, Campbell said, “I’ll feel happier when I have all the bikes. Apparently, I’m not going to have all the riders.”
At that point, it looked as if two-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo would be a no-show in California. At least that was what he tweeted from his hospital bed. Lorenzo, who’s third in the 2013 standings, was forced to miss the German Grand Prix last week when he fell in practice and bent a titanium plate that had recently been inserted to fix a broken collarbone.
Lorenzo decided, however, that he couldn’t afford another weekend when he picks up zero points while sitting on the sidelines. So he’s racing this weekend, as is Marquez’s Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa, who’s second to Marquez in the standings, suffered a fractured collarbone in Germany after being launched from his bike, but he’s continuing to chase what could be his first world championship.
One rider who will stay on the sidelines is Texan Ben Spies. His problems started last season with a nasty spill at the Malaysian Grand Prix that required reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder.
Then in April, while at Circuit of the Americas, Spies was injured before the race even started. In a pre-race warm-up, Spies wrestled with his Ducati between turns Two and Turn Three and felt “something pop and tighten up, like I’d just been stabbed in my chest,” he related on his website.His return could come at Indianapolis.
Two American riders should be in the Laguna Seca field — Texan Colin Edwards and Kentuckian Nicky Hayden — although it was recently announced that Hayden, the 2006 world champion, will not be re-signed by Ducati next year.
At Laguna Seca, MotoGP fans annually take over Monterey’s shops and bars on Cannery Row. Campbell said after Austin was added as the third U.S stop this year, ticket sales initially lagged but have since picked up.
“Where we get hit the most is with corporate spending,” Campbell said. “They’re having to spread it three ways.”
That three-way split may not survive past this year. Carmelo Ezpeleta, the boss of Dorna, the MotoGP rights holder, recently said two stops in the U.S. would be preferable to three, and officials at Indianapolis Motor Speedway have said they will re-evaluate their event.
“All of us are trying to market MotoGP and create new fans.” Campbell said. “Given some time, maybe we can.”