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