During the Red Bull Grand Prix, Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca becomes a different planet.
Like Daytona Beach during its annual Bike Week and Sturgis during its big rally, the legendary track becomes a world of motorcycles – a mecca for bikers of all breeds and lovers of the free-wheeling motorcycle culture.
As CraveOnline toured the track, the pits and the expansive fairgrounds surrounding Mazda Raceway, it became clear that – whether the attendees were racers or mechanics, fans or bikers, metric sport bike lover or street cruiser enthusiasts – everyone on hand shared a passionate love of motorcycles.
Mazda Raceway sits in the heart of the Laguna Seca Recreational Area in between Salinas, Calif. and Monterey along the Central Coast. For the run of the Red Bull Grand Prix in late July, the gentile, tourist-friendly Monterey transforms into a communal party zone for bikers, regardless of the class of motorcycles they love.
The weekend included races in the MotoGP, superbike, sportbike, and E-Power classes, in addition to several rounds of practice and time trials runs around one of the most iconic and demanding race courses in the world. Since the days before it was the Mazda Raceway, Laguna Seca has been challenging the world’s best drivers with its daunting, curving and dipping Corkscrew at turn 8 and the impossibly tight Andretti Hairpin at turn 2.
In one of the more unique spectator setups in all of racing, a sprawling hillside rises high above turn 2, allowing fans to camp out for the entire weekend to watch any race or trial lap without purchasing a ticket for Mazda Raceway’s bleacher sections. Once they get access to Laguna Seca, fans park campers and pitch tents high above the track and enjoy the best, non-televised view of the overall track.
Aside from the racing action on the track and the countless pit set-ups where Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda and other racing teams monitor and tweak the elite racing machines, fans meandered through a huge fairground full food, drink and outdoor vendor space. Ducati, Star Motorcycles joined all of the other big name bike makers to show off the latest models, custom cycles, clothing, gear and gadgets aimed at riders.
Sunday brought the main events of the weekend, with three individual tour racers up for grabs. Rockstar Makita Suzuki's Tommy Hayden beat out defending tour champion Monster Energy Graves Yamaha's Josh Hayes in the AMA Superbike final.
The AMA Daytona Pro SportBike was shortened by two red-flag accidents and only ran 10 of 23 laps from 23 to 10 laps before tour points leader Danny Eslick took the flag for his second straight victory and third of the year aboard a GEICO Suzuki.
"To get a win at Mazda Raceway here at Laguna Seca, a sacred place for racers, is pretty incredible," Eslick said. "And to realize we are closing in towards the championship? It's huge for us and for GEICO.”
“But, the best part is now the race is over and it’s early yet,” Eslick laughed. “Now I get to kick back and enjoy the rest of racing.
The weekend’s main event was the Red Bull MotoGP U.S. Grand Prix, where Australian Casey Stoner beat out defending world tour champion and current points leader Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo led most of the race and seemed unbeatable until Stoner managed to slip by him late in the race.
“It definitely wasn't an easy pace,” Stoner said in post-race commentary. “Once he took the lead and had a rhythm, I just followed him and looked to be a little more aggressive. The last lap was intense because knew I couldn't have taken over by more than an inch or something when I passed him – so it would’ve been just as easy for him to take it back from me.
Photo credit – AP & John Scott Lewinski