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Camel Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi arrived in Monterey for the Red Bull U.S. GP in the unfamiliar position of trailing in the championship. Repsol Honda’s Nicky Hayden has a 26 point lead on Rossi, but the Italian has seven races to close the gap and clinch his sixth consecutive premier class title. To do it he’ll have to go through Hayden and possibly other Americans, which is added motivation heading into Sunday’s 11th round of the MotoGP World Championship.

“Yes, for sure is important,” to beat the American riders, a tanned and relaxed Rossi said under the Yamaha hospitality tent on Thursday afternoon, “especially because this year (Nicky) Hayden is at the top of the championship and try to beat him in his home grand prix is a great motivation. I think will be hard because Nicky was fast last year and this year is faster, so is even more difficult. I have more experience on this track, so maybe we’re able to do a better result.”

To be competitive he needs to be quick in qualifying, something he’s struggled with recently. It was only at the last minute, in the Sunday morning warm-up, that he was able to turn his M-1 into a race winner at last week’s German Grand Prix.

“For sure this year is a difficult year for us,” he said. “In every racetrack we need to fight and struggling a little bit with the bike and work for very much for be competitive on the Sunday. In Sachsenring, we arrive at the right setting just before the race, but the important thing is we arrive just before the race.

“For sure is difficult, you know. The balance of our bike is so delicate. When is OK, I’m happy, is fast. The important thing is try to start in the first two rows of the grid, because with the qualification we have some problem. In Sachsenring I did a fantastic race and I’m confident for the future, but I know is difficult.”

Adding to the difficulty is that everyone will be racing on a brand new, recently re-paved surface at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

“For sure we don’t have a lot of grip from tomorrow,” he began, “and especially the grip coming better and better until Sunday, I think. So is another big difficulty for the setting of the bike, because with more grip you need to modify the setting. For us is maybe one problem more. Last year we had too much bumps. We touch a lot of time the end of the fork and the spring on our bike. I think is a new asphalt, maybe not maximum, but for the future is better than to have big bumps for sure.”

Rossi was among the riders on the GP Rider Safety Commission who advocated a number of improvements for the 2.2-mile road course. All the changes were made, but Rossi hadn’t had time to see much of the work because the track wasn’t yet open.

“So, we fight a lot with the safety commission because last year was too dangerous,” he said. “This track is not at the same level with the other tracks. But the Americans work well. This grand prix is important for everybody. They did all the work and now I go to check. We have the new asphalt. I see already the turn one, have a lot more run-off area. I think is OK.”

Kenny Roberts Jr., another member of the commission, pressed to have the turn one rise lowered by three feet, but the crown was only dropped six to eight inches, he said.

“I agree with Kenny, but is the same,” Rossi said. “Is difficult, is difficult, because you need to cut the hill. We fight also for that and we fight also for the two big jumps of the Corkscrew. But on the Corkscrew they say is more easy and more flat and turn one is more or less the same. The important is we have the space, because last year we had two meters (of run-off in turn one).”

On another matter, Rossi denied reports that he didn’t want young Australian Casey Stoner on the team. Speculation was that Stoner would take some of the attention from Rossi’s Australian crew chief Jeremy Burgess.

“No, is not true,” he said. “I speak with Yamaha and Yamaha say to me they speak with (Casey) Stoner. For me is OK. I say to Yamaha I don’t have particular problem to have Stoner on the team.” But he isn’t ready to say goodbye to current teammate Colin Edwards just yet. “I’m very happy with Colin (Edwards) and Colin have seven races to be more competitive because is a difficult year for us, but I think Colin is a very good rider, so I think he have some chance to keep his place for next year. But if arrive other riders for me is OK.”

And arriving in American seems to suit Rossi. He, Edwards, and a few others spent a few eventful days in Las Vegas following last year’s USGP.

“Yes, I like it here and is important to make a grand prix here for all the riders, for all the American riders, for all the other riders, for Yamaha, for Honda is very important,” he said. “In fact, when we fight for the safety, the money arrive and the work arrive. This means this grand prix is important. I’m happy to come here.”

Just not one week after Germany.

“Yes, yes, for sure,” he said with a laugh. “I think this year the calendar is not one of the best. We work for next year for make a better calendar for sure.”
 
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