Duhamel still can't believe it
Just five days after racing at the Sachsenring in Germany, where Marco Melandri returned to the battle for podium positions, the MotoGP World Championship paddock is preparing itself for one final big effort before the three-week summer break.
The eleventh round of the season sees MotoGP return to the USA for the third successive year amidst increasing expectation and excitement from the American public.
The track has been completely relaid after the problems of last year and the riders can't wait to reacquaint themselves with the legendary "Corkscrew", a breathtaking downhill 'S' bend that is synonymous with the Californian circuit.
Having already stood on the podium here last year and following on from his outstanding performance at Sachsenring, Marco Melandri arrives at Laguna Seca with a special motivation. This weekend the Italian will be joined by a local expert in the shape of Miguel Duhamel, who steps in to replace the injured Toni Elias in what promises to be a special home debut.
It is a proud moment for Duhamel, who returns to the Grand Prix fold after an absence of more than a decade, although it is sure to be a massive physical challenge for the veteran as he will combine the one-off ride with his regular duties in the AMA Superbike category.
"Thanks to the help we had from Honda in Germany we were able to take a big step forward and we were competitive again straight away. For a lot of laps I was thinking I was going to finish up on the podium but in the end I did what I could. The main thing is that I had fun again and got the feeling back with my bike. Now I'm happy to be racing again so soon.
I like Laguna Seca a lot - I finished third there last year and the track is really nice, so technical. We'll have to see what the weather is like, above all the temperature, but I'm convinced the bike and the Bridgestone tyres can work well in America. I want to fight for the podium again, I'm optimistic and I can't wait to taste that champagne once more. It will be another tough race, though, and I'm going there to have fun. I really like the USA as a country and this year I'll be wearing a special 'stars and stripes' helmet for the occasion."
"I still can't believe it. I've been waiting for this moment for such a long time and it is nice to be a part of a team as important as Fausto Gresini's. I feel bad for Toni Elias and I wish him a speedy recovery, hopefully he will be back on track soon, but I am very excited. My physical training programme has had an extra motivation to it in the build up to this weekend."
Miguel Duhamel, 38, is one of the leading riders in the current series and has been for a number of years. The Duhamel name is hugely popular in the States thanks to the success of Miguel's father Yvonne, who was a huge part of American motorcycling in the '60s and '70s as a street racer. He would later contest the World Championship with the unmistakable green colours of Kawasaki - emblazoned with the number 17 that would later be adopted by Miguel.
The AMA Superbike Championship, where Duhamel competes against other big names such as Ben Spies, Mat Mladin and the brothers of Nicky Hayden - Tommy and Roger Lee - has a similar formula to WSBK: two races at each event (with the exception of Daytona), one taking place on Saturday and one on Sunday. The difference is that many riders compete in a variety of different categories on the same day - Superstock, Supersport or Formula Xtreme - in a similar way to Grand Prix riders back in the '70s.
Thanks to the popularity of motorcycle imports in the American market and particularly in California, the biggest market in the world in terms of sales, the AMA series continues to generate great interest and excitement, as well as attracting major investment from sponsors.