The Red Bull US Grand Prix got off to a flier at the Laguna Seca circuit on Friday and there were some major goings-on off the track, too.
Before the bikes had even hit the asphalt for the morning practice session yesterday, Ducati confirmed that Nicky Hayden had put pen to paper on a contract extension with the Italian factory team. The deal will keep the Kentucky Kid vested in red for the 2013 season with an option for a further year.
“I'm very happy about that,” said the 2006 world champion. “It's an exciting time for Ducati and hopefully with a lot of new resources we can take a step and be a lot more competitive. It's good news for me and I hope for Ducati fans too!"
Back on the track, though, it was Spanish rider Dani Pedrosa who was grabbing all the attention. The boy from Catalonia took full advantage of his new specification RC213V engine and chassis and was quickest in both of Friday's practice sessions at Laguna Seca. He clocked a lightning quick 1m 21.424secs in the morning session before going even better in the afternoon by taking 0.336 seconds off his time and breaking the circuit record.
Pedrosa's compatriot and current championship leader Jorge Lorenzo was second by 0.334 seconds, while Pedrosa's team-mate and reigning world champion Casey Stoner – also running the new RC213V, but with his old chassis – was third fastest.
“We did a good job today," said Pedrosa. "We managed to get a good lap time in the morning and then improved it in the afternoon, although the grip level was very poor and we struggled a bit with the rear. The tyres were working a little better in the afternoon, but it was hard to work on the consistency due to the lack of grip. I hope to be able to work on the pace tomorrow to prepare for the race. The new bike is working well here.”
Lorenzo was left debating which of the two rear tyre compounds – soft or medium – to use for Sunday's race and will continue his set-up work in Saturday's final practice and qualifying sessions.
“We struggled a little this morning with stability on the soft tyre, we improved it slightly this afternoon on the hard (medium) tyre but found the bike to be quite aggressive and there wasn't much grip,” he commented.
“We have a few things to try tomorrow morning, if we can make some small improvements then we'll be very happy with the bike. As it is now, we need to improve before we can say if we're competitive or not.”
Third placed Casey Stoner, who is third in the standings behind Lorenzo and Pedrosa, will use the FP3 and QP to further assess his level.
"It hasn't been a particularly eventful day," said Stoner. "We didn't really get the package we were hoping for. We struggled a little this morning with stability on the soft tyre. We improved it slightly this afternoon on the hard tyre but found the bike to be quite aggressive and there wasn't much grip. We have a few things to try tomorrow morning. If we make some small improvements then we'll be very happy with the bike. As it is now, we need to improve before we can say if we're competitive or not."
American rider Ben Spies, who shocked the paddock in the run up to Friday's practice by announcing that he's leaving Yamaha at the end of the season, was happy with his fourth spot. Yamaha Tech 3 pairing Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow completed the top six. Britain's Crutchlow, who's currently fifth in the world championship, finished sixth fastest despite a heavy crash on turn 10.
Seventh spot went to Ducati Team’s Nicky Hayden and the American is hopeful of a good showing this weekend, while LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl enjoyed his first ride on a MotoGP bike at Laguna Seca. He was eighth quickest and got better as the day went on.
“Considering that it was my first outing here and we had no data to fine tune the bike, I'm pretty satisfied about day one at Laguna,” said the German. “Other riders have more experience and they know the track whilst for me it’s totally new. We are 1.4 seconds off the fastest rider and not far from P4 and this is quite positive.”
Ducati's Valentino Rossi and San Carlo Honda Gresini's Alvaro Bautista both crashed on the same corner, but on different laps, during the afternoon practice session. They escaped unhurt but Rossi's crash meant an early finish to the day's second session after his bike damaged the safety fence.
To cap a great day, Dani Pedrosa enjoyed being accosted by an enthusiastic young fan. Speaking to the media at his debrief following FP2, the Spaniard was distracted when a small head popped up over a security fence and began yelling his name. A Spanish journalist lifted the energetic lad over the barrier and brought him to meet his hero, much to the amusement of everyone present.
Comical moment when Dani Pedrosa met a very persistent young fan, who effectively shouted his way into meeting him! twitter.com/JosephCaronDaw…— Joseph Caron Dawe (@JosephCaronDawe) July 28, 2012
Here's how things stand after Friday's second practice…
1 Dani Pedrosa (Spa), Repsol Honda, 1m 21.088secs
2 Jorge Lorenzo (Spa), Yamaha, 1m 21.4223secs
3. Casey Stoner (Aus), Repsol Honda, 1m 32.4574secs
4. Ben Spies (USA), Yamaha, 1m 21.7085secs
5. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA), Tech 3 Yamaha, 1m 22.0216secs
6. Cal Crutchlow (GBR), Tech 3 Yamaha, 1m 22.2587secs
7. Nicky Hayden (USA), Ducati, 1m 22.4348secs
8. Stefan Bradl (GER), LCR Honda, 1m 22.5689secs
9. Valentino Rossi (ITA), Ducati, 1m 22.77210secs
10. Alvaro Bautista (SPA), Honda Gresini, 1m 22.853secs