© by Johnny Killmore

It’s been called a paved motocross course. It’s been likened to street courses such as Monte Carlo due to the many walls near the track’s edges. What can be said for sure is that Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway is a one-of-a-kind stop on both the World Superbike (WSBK) and MotoAmerica (MA) calendars each season.

With an insane front straight that isn’t really straight,  combined with the narrow confines of the first six corners, there is still the Corkscrew to contend: one of the most famous turns in all of motorsport. I’ve been going to Laguna on and off since 2003, and I’ve repeatedly heard fans on Saturday night standing in the dark on the course saying, “dude! I can’t believe I’m here! I’m standing on the [expletive] Corkscrew!”

Legend status.

MotoGP got a bit too squirrely for this bullring and moved out to the Texas plains, but Superbikes aren’t afraid of 6th gear wheelies while cresting a blind curve at full lean. That would be Turn 1, to make sure you are paying attention.

But enough talk. This is the internet and your attention span is a precious commodity. Let’s look a bit at what makes this event so special, then look at some race bikes, shall we?

Cannery Row And The Infield Life

Monterey proper is a stone’s throw and while Cannery Row has none of the grit Steinbeck once wrote of, it’s still a great place to look at cool bikes and congregate with other gearheads:

  • IMG_1187
    Once a loud and wild place, Cannery Row is now a fairly mellow spot to check out bikes and chat with fellow petrolheads.
  • cannery002
    Big to small, new to old, it's better than a bike show walking the Row.
  • IMG_1188
    Rare Honda's tend to be in abundance every year.
  • cannery004
    VIP parking? Has gentrification come to Cannery Row?
  • cammery001
    "Hey blondie! Wonna go for a ride on mah chappa?"
  • cannery003
    Mostly you find sportbikes, but there are several cruisers. This vintage Indian comes with an authentic oil spot.

 

Trackside Times

At the track things seemed pretty sedate and easy to navigate, but the numbers looked good on paper. Over 20,000 came through the gate each day, with over 26,000 on Sunday. There were far less empty vendor spots than last year by my eye. I also noticed bottlenecks at the pedestrian bridges every time I used them, which has not been the case in several years. All the OEM’s were there with tents, displaying their full lines of sport bikes as well as their newest standards, and even a few dirt bikes and cruisers.

The powersports landscape is changing and flagship bikes like the Yamaha® YZF-R1 sit next to the FZ-07 or the rather confusing SCR900; a kind-of scramber based on the Bolt® V-twin cruiser engine. Mostly though I just walked tha paddock because race tracks are for race bikes:

  • IMG_1616
    You know you're at Laguna Seca when...
  • laguna002
    While the paddock didn't seem overly crowded, bottlenecks at the beer garden and pedestrian bridges alluded to the 26,000+ fans on Sunday.
  • IMG_1581
    Tributes to Nicky Hayden were EVERYWHERE. On bikes, on riders, on hillsides: even on a billboard by the San Jose airport on the Interstate. Killed when he was struck by a car as he bicycled in Italy, the entire racing community was shocked and is struggling to come to terms with the loss. He is sorely missed.
  • laguna004kt002
    I met with some enthusiastic fans in the paddock. Photo: Kate Kriebel.
  • laguna003
    Vendors of all kinds were keeping busy, as traffic seemed up from last year.
  • laguna005IMG_2034
    All of high society was spotted cruising the pits. I think this was Miley Cyrus.
  • laguna001
    Camping at the track is one of the highlights of Laguna Seca. Highly Recommended

Even though the OEM’s were sporting more realistic offerings these days like Ninja 300’s and Honda CB500’s and such, there was still proof that the rich don’t go broke in a bad economy: they change their spending habits. You stop looking at buying a 60-foot yacht to house your thoroughbreds and you start looking at $80,000 motorcycles.

Witness Arch Motorcylce® partnering up with Suter® here in the U.S. to offer a sport-cruiser and a 500GP bike because, well… why the hell not? Get one of each so you can ride the Arch to the track where your mechanics will have the MMX500 warming up on the stand for you:

  • ach001kt001
    Arch® actually produces something that looks production, and not like a bolt-together kit bike. Photo: Kate Kriebel.
  • arch008
    S&S® is giving you over two liters of engine to get to Starbucks® with.
  • arch007
    Billet is everywhere.
  • arch003
    The fit and finish on both bikes present was on a level with surgical equipment or a Mars rover.
  • arch002
    Subtle details are everywhere.
  • arch005
    Stitching was on par with Italian or German Supercars.
  • arch006
    The instruments are surprisingly subtle.
  • arch004
    Detail shot.
  • suter001
    The Suter is every gray-haired racerboy's fantasy... and mine too.
  • suter002
    The expansion chambers are absolute art.
  • suter003
    GP-spec parts are everywhere. Each bike is built t order.
  • suter006
    The machine was obviously designed with great care.
  • suter005
    Open clutch for the full aural effect.
  • suter004
    Massive radiators and full carbon bodywork
  • suter007
    The business end of any oil-burner.

Missing Numbers

I’d like to take a second and pick up my crusade against the shade motorcycle road racing has been throwing at us fans for many years now. Not only have number plates turned into little more than logos– mere graphics used as branding to sell hats and T-shirts– but organizers now don’t even care where teams place them.

Cameras use wide angles so they can get all the sponsor banners on fences into the shot, so TV viewers have no need for them. Fans trackside are staring through a catch-fence and over a sea of bright pea gravel as riders race by so good luck. Might as well throw up some more sponsor logos and plop the number plate any old place.

Personally I can’t stand this. As a person with 20/15 vision, I had no problem reading number plates, say, 10 years ago, when they were still using 7″ numbers. Witness the slideshow below and all the funky locations, fonts, and even sliced off numbers being used. To add insult to injury, front number plates have shrunk down to allow for fake headlight stickers, a la NASCAR.

  • 1johnnyrea
    #1 Johnny Rea
  • 6STEFANBRADL
    #6 Stefan Bradl
  • 22ALEXLOWES
    #22 Alex Lowes
  • 32LORENZOSAVADORI
    #32 Lorenzo Savadori
  • 36LEANDROMERCADO
    #36 Leanrdo Mercado
  • 50EUGENELAVERTY
    #50 Eugene Laverty
  • 60MICHAELVANDERMARK
    #60 Michael Van Der Mark

 

Hot, Nasty Speed

In the end though race fans seemed happy to be there. Sunday’s race saw Chaz Davies pushed out of hero status after his upset win on Saturday. He slowly fell back in third place but finished strong just the same. Johnny Rea and Tom Sykes on the Kawasaki’s® are a force to be reckoned with these days, and nothing is on the horizon to derail them at the moment. Both Aprilia® and BMW® have long ago pulled back from full-factory efforts (along with Ducati), leaving independent teams on their own to make their individual programs work. On Sunday, it was all Team Green:

  • 66sykes2
    The battle was between teammates Rea and Lowes, with Rea taking the win and this being about the biggest gap of the entire race.
  • 1rea2
    Rea holds the #1 plate for a reason.
  • World Superbike Laguna Seca Corkscrew Kawasaki
    66sykes4
  • 1rea1
    Rea was almost robotic, with very little visible body movement needed to hustle the bike through the 'screw.
  • 7davies1
    Chaz Davies looked to be working harder than anyone on the tack, the Panigale, squatting, squirming, and bucking under him every lap. Black lines and the sound of imminent catastrophe in his wake.
  • 7davies4
  • 22ALEXLOWES
    Alex Lowes was the first Yamaha in, finishing 9th.
  • 36LEANDROMERCADO
    The Italians are normally known for impeccable style, but note the industrial looking swingarm of Leandro Mercado's customer Aprilia®
  • 45gange1
    This being the first time WSBK has hit America since the lose of Nicky Hayden in a tragic bicycling accident, his team, Red Bull Honda, decided an American should fill his empty seat. They tapped MotoAmerica young gun Jake Gange, who stepped off his Broasters Chicken Honda and finished a respectable 14th and 15th, not far behind his teammate for the weekend Stefan Bradl.
  • 45gange4
    Jake visibly struggled with the new electronics package and different brand of tire used by WSBK, but used a calm head (rare in young racers) to stay on the bike and bring it home both days.
  • 50EUGENELAVERTY
    Eugene Laverty descends the Corkscrew.
  • 66sykes4
    Tom Skyes (pictured) was a whisker away from taking the lead at about 3/4 race distance, but Rea dug deep and held on for the win.
  • IMG_2414
    Stefan Bradl (#6) goes wide on the Corkscrew. He may have been forced wide by Alex Lowes (#22) before coming into frame: I didn't see any contact. Ask Michael Van Der Mark (#60).
  • laguna_landscape
    Laguna Seca is also a state recreation are with trails and camping. The views are great. They don't make race tracks like this anymore.

 

MotoAmerica

Not to be forgotten is our own national Superbike series. The race ended as a 2-way Suzuki battle similar to the 2-way Kawasaki battle of WSBK. However, most of the race it was a Yamaha sandwich, because number 1 plate holder Cameron Baubier placed himself defiantly in second, between leader Roger Hayden and 3rd place Toni Elias.

That changed when Cam tried a bit too hard and sent himself into the dirt in Rainey Curve. Elias then calmly closed the gap on his teammate Hayden, made a last lap pass, and held on for the win.  Yamaha still got on the podium though, thanks to Josh Herrin‘s brilliant ride. The former Yamaha factory rider has a privateer effort now under the Meen Motorsports banner, and just so happens to campaign a YZF-R1.

  • suz3
  • roger2
    Roger Hayden (95) led just about the whole race: but not the lap that counted. I was really cheering for him to win.
  • suz2
    Hayden had to deal with pressure from Cameron Baubier (not shown) and then his teammate Toni Elias (24) the entire race. He didn't show signs of the pressure until the last two or three laps, perhaps due to him finally pushing one of his tires too exhaustion?
  • elias1
    Toni Elias played his race like a fox chasing a hound.
  • cam1
    Cameron Baubier wanted to lead, fighting hard all race to hold onto second. He seemed to be doing well and then he didn't come around for a lap until...
  • cam3
    ... he reappeared wearing the outside of Rainey Curve. He finished 14th.
  • herrin2
    Josh Herrin (2) was a man possessed. He looked like he was playing on his Meen Motorsports Yamaha, working the field and sliding around with ease.
  • herrin1
  • herrin3
  • josh1
    Josh Hayes (4) looked stiff on the bike. He was a bit lonely in 4th and he doesn't look like the rider I saw two seasons ago.
  • IMG_3375
    Again, I can't tell you if Anthony West (13) outbraked himself or if he was pushed wide by Danny Eslick (69); that sort of thing happens before riders come into frame. It makes for great photos though.
  • IMG_1924
    It doesn't go right for everyone.
  • elias3
    Elias may be a WSBK refugee, but he is smart enough to carry the American flag on his victory lap after beating the late Nicky Hayden's brother at Laguna Seca. Got on ya Toni.

Victory Cometh Before Champagne

The cool down lap after the checkered flag is often called the victory lap. Technically, only one person is the victor. But to the keen observer, there are a lot of winners. This last slide show combines the cool down lap for the WSBK race on Sunday with a few shots from the MotoAmerica Superbike race that same day. You will see privateers who are just happy to have finished and local racers excited to compete in front of friends and family. On the other end of the spectrum you’ll see world-level pros counting points in their head for the season and imagining the taste of champagne on the podium when they get back to parc ferme:

  • IMG_3110
    All the marshalls run out to give some love to each and every racer who completed about 45min of fast-as-you-dare racing.It creates a genuine effect actually, and it always reminds me of the bus ride through town when I first came back from Iraq and people lined the streets with signs and flags.
  • IMG_3131
    Mobbing deep.
  • IMG_3136
    Perhaps not as intimidating as 100 bikers in black leather, but there is more horsepower in this photo and at least these guys wave.
  • IMG_3093
    In some countries, waving with the left hand is considered an insult, because it's unclean. Screw them: in all the world the left hand is the non-throttle hand, so it's the hand of motorcycle waving.
  • IMG_3145
    The double wave is also acceptable.
  • IMG_3167
    When I spectate I see it as my solemn duty to wave at every single rider that passes by, whether they are looking or not. They just laid it all on the line and I just sat there and drank a beer. They deserve a wave.
  • IMG_3178
    I don't think the crowd truly understood the accomplishment of Jake Gange's 15th place finish., or they would have screamed like lunatics. He took an unfamiliar bike with unfamiliar tires and finish just over 14 seconds behind Stefan Bradl; his teammate for the weekend who has been on the bike all year.
  • IMG_3807
    Kyle Wyman (33) is probably best known in these parts for his exploits in the now defunct XR1200 series, but he is back this year in the Superbike class and he is all smiles. 5th place as a privateer? Solid.

Special thanks to photographer Kate Kriebel for her support on this assignment.

Written by Johnny Killmore

Johnny Killmore is a Formula sidecar and motorcycle racer who lives in the Bay Area of California. Fascinated at a young age by machines, Johnny is most comfortable at race tracks, garages, or far away places astride a motorcycle. Having cultivated a life revolving around speed, racing is a natural extension of that.

Johnny is also a great story teller so it follows naturally that he would share his adventures and report on the adventures of others. Having formally studied journalism, art, and agriculture, Johnny uses the visual and literary arts to bring to life the challenges, risks, and rewards of living a life at speed.

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