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Top 15 Stories of 2013, Number 5: America Loses MotoGP Event At Laguna
by staff
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
Laguna MotoGP. We'll miss it.
image by DFA

Editor's Note: This is a series counting down the top 15 stories in MotoGP in 2013, as determined by the Soup staff.

MotoGP puppet master Dorna made a point of invading America in 2012, with existing events at Laguna Seca and Indianapolis and a new event announced for 2013 at Austin.

Only motorcycle-mad Spain, with four races, had more events on the 2013 calendar than Uncle Sam. Heightened awareness and media coverage for MotoGP supposedly was on the horizon for the States.

But by late September 2013, Dorna's invasion of the United States ended up looking like the Bay of Pigs. The number of events in America in 2014 was sliced to just Austin and Indianapolis, with an uncertain, tenuous future looming at the Brickyard.

What the hell happened to weaken America's presence on the MotoGP calendar in just 12 months, including the loss of beloved Laguna Seca?

Laguna was a painful trim, on the surface. The track was admired by riders for its unique, challenging layout, including the iconic Corkscrew. But it also was lamented for limited run-off area in some corners and bumps in various parts of the circuit. Laguna's remote location and other factors make some think that it has a primitive paddock and other facilities compared to many global circuits.

That said, as has been stated here many times over the years: the entrance road to Laguna Seca is better than most racetracks in America.

Still, the overwhelming public vibe about Laguna was positive. Riders enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere, and American motorcycle companies and sponsors loved the natural beauty and fine restaurants in the area. Laguna had hosted 15 Grands Prix since 1988, more than any other circuit, and also was the site of the revival of the World Championship in America in 2005, which set the stage for Indianapolis to be added in 2008 and Austin in 2013.

But economic factors forced Dorna's hand on Laguna.

The desired increase of popularity of MotoGP in America wasn't happening, as mainstream media and even motorsports media coverage in the States centered only on NASCAR. The arrival of a global series three times per year featuring guys with funny names from foreign countries in races that lasted 45 minutes without pit stops wasn't going to topple or even put a dent into fans' loyalty to Dale Jr., Danica, Jimmie and roundy-round races that lasted three to four hours.

Laguna also reportedly was behind on its payments of the seven-figure annual sanctioning fee, something Dorna no longer could overlook with lucrative markets such as Brazil, Argentina and Southeast Asia lining up for MotoGP races.

There also was the issue of Laguna being the only race on the calendar without Moto2 and Moto3. Putting AMA-DMG on the same bill as the best riders in the world was a staple of Laguna since MotoGP returned there in 2005. But that schedule always rankled Dorna, which craves uniformity in all aspects of its business. Whether it's Indianapolis or Istanbul, Dorna wants all MotoGP races to look, sound and feel the same.

Rumors about Laguna's demise on the MotoGP schedule started to swirl in the early summer and intensified when Indianapolis signed a renewal in August with Dorna for its event. It was no secret that Dorna didn't want three events in America in 2014, and Laguna was the odd event out with Indy and Austin locked in.

The formal announcement to drop Laguna came in late September, leaving two American races. But that number isn't exactly sitting on Gibraltar.

Indianapolis was assumed to be a goner, either saving Laguna or getting chopped with Laguna, just a week or two before its mid-August race weekend in 2013. Riders and teams enjoyed the history, facilities and Hoosier hospitality offered at the Brickyard. But they despised the flat, lifeless layout that included the famous oval, and the four different types of asphalt - all flavors of which included bumps - created setup nightmares for teams and Bridgestone and was shredded by most riders.

But Indy was saved through 2014 after agreeing to make changes to the circuit to enhance passing and to repave the entire infield section of the course. Plus Dorna was savvy enough to realize the experienced, connected staff at Indy promoted and organized the MotoGP event with precision and skill.

Dorna didn't want to lose that horsepower, especially since Laguna lacked the infrastructure of Indy and the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin lacked the motorsports experience and cache of more than a century's worth of competition at the Brickyard.

Still, Indy's spot is far from secure. All of the course alterations in the world still won't add significant elevation changes, and even a throng of 92,000 fans at Indy - achieved only at the inaugural race in 2008 - makes the cavernous 250,000-seat grandstands at the facility look like a glorified test session. Bad optics.

Plus there's a gnawing suspicion that MotoGP doesn't need Indy since it already has another beachhead in Austin. And while Indy has worked hard to promote MotoGP in the Midwest, it's no surprise that MotoGP always will be the third fiddle in a three-instrument jug band at the track, behind the iconic Indianapolis 500 and always profitable - thanks to the gravy-sopped American TV contract - NASCAR weekend.

There's also the small issue of bike culture in Indy. Sport bikes are popular on the West Coast. The Midwest is Cruiser Country, big guys with leather vests and no helmets or half-helmets cruising the interstates and back roads on big, sweaty, straight-piped Harleys. There's a disconnect between the sport bike and cruiser crowd that Indy has tried to rewire for the last six summers, with little luck.

The Circuit of the Americas in Austin staged a successful inaugural MotoGP event in April 2013 and has nine years left on its 10-year contract with MotoGP. That's an extraordinarily long deal for Dorna, so there must certainly be escape clauses for both sides after three to five years, with option terms afterward.

There's no indication Austin's position is nearly as shaky as Indy on the calendar. Most riders and teams like the challenging, hilly layout and state-of-the-art facilities. But Formula One and MotoGP were the only success stories on Austin's ambitious schedule in 2013. So circuit officials have retooled the track's schedule for 2014, hoping to create more profit.

Bernie Ecclestone's annual sanctioning fees for Formula One - the cornerstone of COTA's schedule - aren't dropping anytime soon. So Austin needs to find the right combination of other events besides F1 to create profit while maintaining a healthy MotoGP crowd to guarantee its spot on the schedule.

Still, there's a very real chance that America could have no MotoGP riders and only one venue on the MotoGP World Championship calendar by 2016. Dark days, indeed, compared to three Yank riders and three American events in 2013.

ENDS

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