ROAD RACING - Junior on Top at Red Bull U.S. GP
By Henny Ray Abrams
U.S. on Top in U.S. 7/21/2006
Wearing a helmet design straight out of “Easy Rider,” Kenny Roberts Jr. rode easily to the fastest time in the first MotoGP practice for Sunday’s Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Roberts Jr., with the Captain America stars and stripe motif on his Arai, topped all riders with a lap of 1:23.951 on a track that he described as one of the roughest he’d ever ridden on. The MotoGP riders took to the repaved 2.2 mile road course after the AMA Superbike riders had issued scathing critiques of the bumpy, slick surface, as well as the reconfigured run to the Corkscrew.
Those elements conspired to keep lap times up. Kenny Junior’s time was well off the 1:22.670 set by Nicky Hayden in winning last year’s pole position.
Roberts Jr. stole the pole from Yamaha’s Colin Edwards. The Texan’s best time was .359 seconds short of the Roberts Jr. benchmark on a track where the two had battled as AMA 250cc GP riders 13 years ago.
Honda LCR’s Casey Stoner was third in his first visit to Laguna Seca and his first visit to America. The young Australian was fearless in attacking the undulating road course and was near the top the very end. His best was only .050 behind Edwards.
Rizla Suzuki’s John Hopkins came fourth with a fast lap at the end that was good enough to keep him in front of Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi.
Rossi was narrowly faster than Fortuna Honda’s Marco Melandri, with Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen seventh on the second Rizla Suzuki.
Further down, in eighth, came Repsol Honda’s Nicky Hayden. Hayden’s best of 1:24.943 was nearly a second off Kenny Junior.
Friday MotoGP Qualifying:
1. Kenny Roberts Jr. (KR211V) 1:23.951
2. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:24.310
3. Casey Stoner (Honda) 1:24.360
4. John Hopkins (Suzuki) 1:24.608
5. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1:24.674
6. Marco Melandri (Honda) 1:24.698
7. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) 1:24.739
8. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 1:24.943
9. Carlos Checa (Yamaha) 1:25.100
10. Sete Gibernau (Ducati) 1:25.150
11. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:25.311
12. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) 1:25.614
13. Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki) 1:25.659
14. Alex Hofmann (Ducati) 1:25.977
15. Toni Elias (Honda) 1:26.599