Jorge Lorenzo looks to continue his excellent previous form at this weekend's USGP and extend his lead at the head of the MotoGP riders' championship.
The Spaniard had a 25-point advantage wiped out when Alvaro Bautista took him out at the start of the Dutch TT, but a podium at the Sachsenring – when Honda's Casey Stoner fell – and a dominant victory at Mugello have almost restored his previous lead. Now heading to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where he has claimed pole position and at least a podium finish for the past three consecutive seasons, Lorenzo says his aim is to continue edging away from the chasing pack.
"With the exception of the disaster at Assen we are having a very strong season so far, always finishing in either first or second place," the Spaniard said. "I have always had great races here in Laguna in MotoGP and always finish on the podium. Hopefully we can continue to do this here to extend the lead a little more. I love the circuit, the Corkscrew corner is amazing and the American fans always make an incredible atmosphere for us."
Team manager Wilco Zeelenberg said he was anxious to avoid a repeat of Lorenzo's 2011 heavy practice high-side.
"We know Jorge really likes the Laguna circuit and is strong here so I'm confident we can do well," he said. "Last year he had a big crash the morning of qualifying which meant he had a lot less energy than usual on race day. He's fit and ready so we're hoping that won't happen this time."
Teammate Ben Spies said he hoped home soil would give him the opportunity to finally turn his season around. Despite only once qualifying lower than sixth, Spies has missed out on a top-five finish in six of the nine races so far in 2012.
"It's always special racing in front of your home crowd. It's been a pretty rough season so far but we'll see if we can turn it round here, put on a good show for all my fans and change it up for the second half of the year," he said.
Honda has elected to supply Dani Pedrosa with a new engine and chassis alongside his standard bike, as the Spaniard requested. Pedrosa, who currently heads teammate Casey Stoner by 18 points, said he counts the California track among his favorites.
"I'm really looking forward to racing in Laguna Seca. Honda has made a big effort to bring the new parts to Laguna, so we'll have our standard bike but we'll also get the new engine and chassis we tested in Mugello and I hope we can take advantage of these improvements and have another good race," he said.
"Laguna is very small, bumpy and technical – nothing like what we are used to in Europe. Last year it was a very hard race for me due to the lack of fitness, so I hope to enjoy riding there again as we did in the past."
Meanwhile, Ducati's Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden will have access to a selection of updates in this weekend's U.S. Grand Prix, the manufacturer has confirmed.
The Italian manufacturer had originally planned to introduce a new engine for the first of two U.S. races at Monterey and Indianapolis, but has now decided to instead phase in its upgrades over the coming races. Ducati had tested small chassis, electronic and engine developments in the recent test at Mugello, and will carry some of the changes into this weekend.
"At Laguna, we'll have some of the updates that we tried at the Mugello test, and those will be followed in the next races by subsequent evolutions," team boss Vittoriano Guareschi confirmed. "We'll continue working with the settings that we've been perfecting for a few races according to our riders' respective needs, and we'll seal the fourth engines for both. Like the third one, already in use, it was made in a way that makes it possible to install new parts that are intended to improve rideability.
"The next two GPs in the United States are obviously very important for Nicky, and he would like to take advantage of the progress shown in recent weeks in order to do well for his fans. Vale came very close to making the podium at Mugello, but we must manage to give him the opportunity to be more effective in qualifying as well."
Rossi, whose Mugello testing program was ended early by an ECU glitch, said he expected to be able to transfer some of the upgrades onto the bike this weekend. He admitted however that any changes would only be a 'small percentage' of the overall package Ducati is working on.
"Although my last test at Mugello was ended early, we were able to begin working with some details, and we'll probably be able to use some of them at Laguna," he said, "even if we're talking about a small percentage of the package that they're working on at Ducati. Last year we went OK at Laguna, so we'll see what happens this weekend."
Hayden, like Rossi a race winner in Monterey, urged Ducati to maintain its development rate.
"We've been getting a little closer to the front lately, but now is no time to rest. We have to keep working, because now the gains will be more difficult," he said.