Lorenzo Otherworldly at Laguna Seca USGP

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Gold & Goose, Andrea Wilson

Is Jorge Lorenzo the next Valentino Rossi? It's certainly starting to look that way, and never more so than at the 2010 United States Grand Prix. Never mind the post-race theatrics-clearly Lorenzo has lifted a page from his Fiat Yamaha teammate's book there-and instead focus on his performance. The 23-year-old Spaniard dominated practice at Laguna Seca, topping the time sheets throughout to take his second consecutive pole at the track, his fifth consecutive this season and the 40th of his career. His win in the race was almost a foregone conclusion-it was his sixth of the season, 11th in the MotoGP class and 32nd of his career.

Lorenzo's closest competition came from fellow Spaniard Dani Pedrosa. The Repsol Honda rider won at Laguna last year, and led this year's running before losing the front end and crashing in Turn 5 on lap 12. That handed Lorenzo the lead, and he held off the Ducati of 2007 winner Casey Stoner, whom he'd passed on lap six when the Australian ran wide, to win by 3.5 seconds.

Of course there was the Rossi conundrum. The nine-time world champion broke his right leg in his home round at Mugello, astoundingly missing a race for the first time in his 15-year career. Miraculously, the 31-year-old Italian returned just six weeks later in Germany, riding with a sore leg and shoulder (from a pre-season motocross accident) to notch a fourth-place finish. The Sachsenring is a very physical racetrack, but not in the same league as Laguna. And here, just seven weeks after his injury, "The Doctor" struggled, qualifying a lowly (for him) sixth. He did better in the race, running sixth at the start and steadily working his way forward before passing fellow Italian Andrea Dovizioso in the dying momens to finish on the bottom step of the podium.

Naturally, the 50,000 fans on hand were hoping the American riders would do well at their home track, and this year was more disappointing than in the past. Two-time winner Nicky Hayden qualified seventh on his Ducati, and was mired in seventh at the start. But in his inimitable fashion the "Kentucky Kid" dug deep, chasing down Rossi to finish fifth, just a half-second behind Dovizioso's Honda. One more lap and he might have had him.

MotoGP rookie Ben Spies started strong on his Tech3 Yamaha, qualifying fifth and running as high as third in the opening laps before settling into a battle for fourth with Rossi and Hayden. Unfortunately, the "Texas Terror" ran wide in Turn 11 and lost precious time. Fans expecting one of Spies' trademark late-race charges were disappointed as he could only manage sixth at the finish.

Spies' teammate Colin Edwards posted his best finish of the season in seventh. That's a far cry from his performance in the inaugural MotoGP at Laguna Seca in 2005, when the "Texas Tornado" passed his then-teammate Rossi to finish second behind winner Hayden.

Hayden's younger brother Roger Lee fared worst of all in his one wild card appearance this year, finishing second-to-last aboard the injured Randy DePuniet's LCR Honda.

Can anyone beat Lorenzo for the 2010 title? It's highly unlikely. Rossi has overcome diversity before, but never like this. Pedrosa, Stoner and maybe Spies could win a race, but that's most likely to happen late in the season when Lorenzo starts playing it safe with the championship in mind. With exactly half the season gone, Lorenzo leads the championship with a 72-point lead over Pedrosa, while Rossi lies fifth, 120 points adrift.

There's no denying it: The kid is the real deal.

By Brian Catterson
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