World Superbike Championship – Laying it down at Laguna
Despite the fact that Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is best known for the famous Monterey Historic Race – arguably the most pretentious motorsport event this side of the Monaco Grand Prix, the actual track itself is anything but pretentious as we found by visiting the recent World Superbike Championship tour stop. In fact, compared to the new Taj Mahal-like Circuit of the Americas in Austin, (the latest home of the lone U.S. MotoGP round,) Laguna is almost downright blue collar in feel and appearance. This is a good thing and is but one reason why you should go see the World Superbike Championship.
At the end of the day, the only really important thing about any race track is the actual black ribbon of tarmac and the racing it helps create. That Laguna Seca is an extremely fast and challenging is an understatement. One turn, in particular, the corkscrew, has a legendary following all its own, and there are only a handful of corners in the world which can claim THAT. Being located 10 miles from Cannery Row, the Monterey Peninsula and the white sandy beaches of Carmel, California make it all the more alluring.
During the recent World Superbike round, the event brought great international motorcycle road racing and an international culture of speed, technology, souped up bikes, motorcycle people, and beautiful women, all blended with golden hills and California cool. And it is the only racetrack in the country which can allow you to experience it all in a setting of natural beauty. You might find yourself wondering if this is actually heaven.
Admittedly, WSB is far from the prominent series it once was at the top of the road racing world in ’80’s and ’90’s. WSB now finds itself, much like NASCAR, struggling to find relevance in a changed environment. MotoGP now grabs the big factory budgets and riders who are international superstars, not to mention some of the world’s most wealthy sportsmen, attracting millions of spectators worldwide. But WSB is still great racing – and great drama. While the depth of talent may not rival MotoGP, the top riders are certainly MotoGP material in every sense of the word. Simply put – they are bad ass.
The Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca stop had stories and drama at every turn. First, the late Nicky Hayden had made Laguna Seca his home track with a most memorable 2006 MotoGP win here. His absence was sorely felt by everyone. Nicky had left MotoGP for the factory Honda WSB team at the end of 2015 and scored a memorable win last year on a bike that was a long way from the dominant Ducati’s and Kawasaki’s. Nicky would have been the fan favorite, by far, had he not been tragically killed by a motorist while cycling and training on a quiet road outside of Rimini, Italy just two months ago.
As it was, there were signs of Nicky everywhere – and you couldn’t help but wonder if he was somehow present anyway. There were fan memorials, trackside dedications, track walks, track rides, bicycle rides, flags, Nicky’s number 69 on every bike and most racer’s helmets, and victory dedications – all for Nicky. It was moving, to say the least, and reminded everyone that if you hadn’t known Nicky Hayden personally, you missed out on something truly special. His loss is our loss.
Second, stand out racer and championship contender Chaz Davies came to Laguna only three weeks after suffering a broken back in a gruesome and potentially fatal crash at the preceding tour stop in Misano, Italy. There, Davies had been leading and on the last lap, he lost the front end only to be hit by his arch rival, reigning two-time World Champion Jonathan Rea. Davies not only showed up at Laguna to race, he showed up to win, and with balls of steel, he did win, taking the Saturday race victory on his #7 factory Ducati at the World Superbike Championship. Rea won the Sunday race over his teammate Tom Sykes with Davies coming home third. Good close racing which had the crowd on its feet!
Supporting the WSB racing was the USA’s new pro series, Moto America. Founded by former World Champion Wayne Rainey, Moto America is ultimately designed to put American Pro Road Racing back into the national and international spotlight. While that has yet to happen, the series is gaining momentum and has factory involvement with the best American road racers competing.
Seeing a World Superbike Championship race at Laguna is special for so many reasons. If you have not been yet, put it on your calendar for next year. You will have one of the best racing weekends you can have and isn’t that what racing events are all about?