Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

2006 road race calendar…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes, AMA Supermoto, MRA, MotoGP, Other Forms Of Racing, WSBK

The 2005 MotoGP field streams through

Last year I built a combined road race calendar for 2005 (with race dates for AMA Superbike, AMA Supermoto, World Superbike and MotoGP, as well as local races like the MRA, the local round of the AMA Supermoto series, the local round of the AHRMA series and the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb). I found it really useful so I decided to do it again for 2006. Here is the current road race calendar for this year:


25 - WSBK @ Losail International Circuit; Doha, Qatar


5 - WSBK @ Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit; Phillip Island, Australia

11 - AMA SBK @ Daytona International Speedway; Daytona Beach, FL

26 - MotoGP @ Circuit de Jerez de la Frontera; Jerez, Spain


8 - MotoGP @ Losail International Circuit; Doha, Qatar

23 - WSBK @ Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo; Valencia, Spain

23 - AMA SBK @ Barber Motorsports Park; Birmingham, AL

29 - AMA Supermoto @ California Speedway; Fontana, CA

30 - MotoGP @ Istanbul Park; Istanbul, Turkey

30 - AMA SBK @ California Speedway; Fontana, CA

30 - MRA @ Pueblo Motorsports Park; Pueblo, CO


7 - WSBK @ Autodromo Nazionale Monza; Monza, Italy

14 - MotoGP @ Shanghai Circuit; Shanghai, China

21 - MotoGP @ Bugatti Le Mans Circuit; Le Mans, France

21 - AMA SBK @ Infineon Raceway; Sonoma, CA

28 - WSBK @ Silverstone; Silverstone, UK


3 - AMA Supermoto @ Road America; Elkhart Lake, WI

4 - MotoGP @ Circuito del Mugello; Mugello, Italy

4 - AMA SBK @ Road America; Elkhart Lake, WI

4 - MRA @ La Junta Raceway; La Junta, CO

10 - AMA Supermoto @ USA International Raceway; Shawano, WI

17 - AMA Supermoto @ Miller Motorsports Park; Salt Lake City, UT

18 - MotoGP @ Circuit de Catalunya; Catalunya, Spain

18 - AMA SBK @ Miller Motorsports Park; Salt Lake City, UT

24 - MotoGP @ TT Circuit Assen; Assen, Netherlands

25 - WSBK @ Circuito Internazionale Santa Monica; Misano, San Marino

25 - PPIHC @ Pikes Peak Hill Climb; Colorado Springs, CO


2 - MotoGP @ Donnington Park; Donnington Park, Great Britain

8 - AMA Supermoto @ The Palace of Auburn Hills; Detroit, MI

9 - MRA @ Miller Motorsports Park; Salt Lake City, UT

16 - MotoGP @ Sachsenring Circuit; Sachsenring, Germany

23 - MotoGP @ Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca; Monterrey, CA

23 - WSBK @ Brno; Brno, Czech Republic

23 - AMA SBK @ Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca; Monterey, CA

30 - MRA @ Motorsport Park Hastings; Hastings, NE


6 - WSBK @ Brands Hatch; Brands Hatch, UK

6 - AMA SBK @ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course; Lexington, OH

13 - MRA @ Pueblo Motorsports Park; Pueblo, CO

20 - MotoGP @ Automotodrom Brno; Brno, Czech Republic

20 - AMA SBK @ Virginia International Raceway; Alton, VA

27 - MRA @ La Junta Raceway; La Junta, CO

27 - AMA Supermoto @ TBA; TBA, CO


3 - WSBK @ TT Circuit Assen; Assen, Netherlands

3 - AMA SBK @ Road Atlanta; Braselton, GA.

10 - MotoGP @ Sepang International Circuit; Sepang, Malaysia

10 - WSBK @ Eurospeedway Lausitz; Lausitzring, Germany

10 - MRA @ Motorsport Park Hastings; Hastings, NE

17 - MotoGP @ Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit; Phillip Island, Australia

17 - AHRMA @ Miller Motorsports Park; Salt Lake City, Utah

24 - MotoGP @ Twin Ring Motegi; Motegi, Japan

24 - MRA @ Pueblo Motorsports Park; Pueblo, CO


1 - WSBK @ Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari Imola; Imola, Italy

1 - AMA SBK @ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course; Lexington, OH

8 - WSBK @ Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours; Magny-Cours, France

14 - AMA Supermoto @ Music City Motorplex; Nashville, TN

15 - MotoGP @ Circuito do Estoril; Estoril, Portugal

22 - WSBK @ TBA; TBA, South Africa

29 - MotoGP @ Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo; Valencia, Spain


4 - AMA Supermoto @ Queen Mary; Long Beach, CA

Well, it looks like I’ll be making a few trips to Utah in ‘06 since both the AMA has moved from the now deceased Pikes Peak International Raceway to the new Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City. They have even thrown in a Supermoto event to make the event even more enticing despite the long drive. Then AHRMA moved their Fall event from the Pueblo Motorsports Park to Miller Motorsports Park as well. I already have my tickets for the combined MotoGP/AMA races at Laguna Seca in July so I will definitely be out there this summer. Finally, I’d like to catch some MRA races, since I try to support the local racers, but that will be pretty challenging this year since all of the races are so far away from the Denver metro area. Naturally, I will continue to watch everything on TV and do my best to provide some coverage here on the blog for all the races and in my WSBKPod podcast for the World Superbike races. Make sure to mark these dates on your calendar and watch some racing this year, preferably in person but if not then at least on the tube.

[image from the web site.]

Friday, February 17, 2006

  • “The jungle is dark but full of diamonds…” — Arthur Miller, _Death of a Salesman_ I am back from my dual sporting adventure in Costa Rica. (I first mentioned it back in January). I went down with four of my riding buddies and I believe I can speak for all of us in saying that we had a blast. We rented KTM 640 LC4s from Costa Rica Motorcycle Tours and Rentals and I highly recommend them to anyone interested in riding in Costa Rica. We had some bike problems during the trip (some caused by us, some caused by the KTM factory) and Wilhelm did an excellant job of dealing with these so they didn’t adversely affect our trip. I also think that the big KTM was the perfect bike for Costa Rica. Enough power to run 100 kmh on the main roads but still small enough to wrestle over single track goat trails. !@(afimages/Blog/2006/2/CostaRica-route.jpg:R200 popimg: “Our route in Costa Rica”) I will be doing a two stage write-up on this. First, I have already created a basic web page with some of my favorite photos. Then, over the next couple of weeks, I’ll write up a full trip report and link it into the bottom of the photos page. [image from the University of Texas Libraries web site.] (0)

Saturday, February 4, 2006

  • !@(afimages/Blog/2006/2/CostaRica-riding.jpg:L200 popimg: “Costa Rica riding”) I’ve listed all the details in previous blog postings but I wanted to post a quick reminder that I will be out of the country for the next week on my Costa Rican adventure. There won’t be any new blog (or podcast) postings until I return the week of February 13th. [image from the MotoAdventures Costa Rica web site.] (0)

Friday, February 3, 2006

2005 WSBK season review…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

With the first World Superbike race of the ‘06 season scheduled for February 25, which is just a few weeks away, I better get my review of the 2005 season published. Last December I did a blog posting about the ‘05 WSBK line-up where I said that the the new found diversity on the grid was sure to generate excitement in a series that had previously become dominated by Ducati. Well, that certainly turned out to be an understatement as the four cylinder bikes completely reshaped the World Superbike series last year.

The excitement for the season actually started early in the pre-season. The Alstare Suzuki team of Troy Corser and Yukio Yagayama showed up at the first test at Phillip Island and immediately started turning laps considerably faster than any of the other riders. At the end of the weekend, Corser topped the timing sheets with a considerable advantage over everyone else. What made this interesting was the fact that Alstare didn’t have their 2005 bikes in time for the initial test. Instead, they pulled an old 2003 GSXR 750, previously raced by Gregorio Lavilla, out of storage and then put the new 1000cc motor in it. The fact that Troy could still put in the fastest laps on a two year old bike was a pretty clear sign that the four cylinder bikes in general, and Corser in particular, where back in World Superbike.

Troy Corser

The second official test went much the same way. The Alstare guys showed up with their new 2005 bikes and then proceeded to dominate with both again topping the charts. In fact, the two Suzukis ended the test almost half a second faster than the other riders. Also impressive at the second test were the Yamahas with five of the top ten positions being posted by R1s. The big surprise was that the Ten Kate Honda team, who had fought for the title in ‘04, were turning in some of the slowest laps at the tests. Clearly there was a problem in the Honda camp.

Corser had looked threatening during testing but it was at the first race at Qatar where that message was really driven home. Race one was all about Corser with Kagayama running a strong second. Regis Laconi, who had shown solid speed at the second WSBK test, rounded out the podium. Race two started out the same but Corser’s pushed too hard, too early and wore out his front tire. From there it was all Kagayama as the Japanese rider stormed away to his maiden WSBK victory. Laconi, followed up his race one podium with another by getting second in race two.

When the teams returned to Phillip Island for the second race of the season, it was all Corser. The Aussie doubled by winning both races while his teammate continued his string of strong finishes by following his teammate across the line in both races. The excitement of the weekend became watching the battle for the final podium spot. In race one, it was Chris Vermeulen who showed a thankful return to his 2004 form while in race two it was World Superbike rookie Max Neukirchner who thrilled everyone on the way to his maiden podium.

The European leg of the series started at Valencia, Spain but still looked the same as Phillip Island with Corser again dominating and bringing home the double. Vermeulen made another step forward to bring home two second place finishes while the final step was again split. Kagayama continued his string of podium appearances in race one while a rapidly improving Walker took the spot in the final race of the weekend.

From Spain, the WSBK circuit moved to Monza Italy and the home of Ducati. As a result, the Xerox Ducati riders seemed to find a little extra. Still, it wasn’t enough to stop Corser who one race one, his fifth straight win, again followed home by his teammate. However, it was James Toseland on his Ducati who rounded out the rostrum in race one. Race two was a complete reshuffle with Vermeulen taking his first win of the season. Laconi represented the nearby Bologna based Ducati factory on the podium with a second and Corser was third.

Race five was held at the Silverstone circuit in the UK and for the first time all year a Suzuki didn’t win either race. It was Laconi, building on the momentum from his Monza podium, who won the first race ahead of Corser and Toseland. Race two switched up with Toseland winning over Corser. The final spot in the second race was taken by Noriyuki Haga. Despite the fast times turned in my Yamaha in the pre-season, the R1 riders struggled in the first races of the season but Silverstone seemed to mark the end of their troubles and the start of Haga’s return to competitiveness.

The series then returned to the boot with a mid-summer race at the Misano circuit in San Marino. I guess the Italian air really suits the Ducatis because Regis Laconi turned in a stunning double, winning both races. Vermeulen topped Corser in both races and gained enough points to jump into second in the championship chase.

Next up was the race at Brno in the Czech Republic. After not winning in the past five races, Corser turned in a crushing performance in the first race, running away to a commanding victory. The two Ducatis of Toseland and Laconi continued their strong runs by rounding out the podium. However, Haga made a strong statement in race two by starting slow but then charging forward to lead, and eventually win, the race over Corser. Vermeulen rounded out the rostrom.

A repeat visit to England was on tap for the eighth race of the season, this time to the Brands Hatch circuit. Corser was quick to retaliate, after losing a race at Brno, and did so by winning the first race after a fantastic battle with Haga. In fact, it should have been Haga’s race but his crazed riding shagged his tires and allowed Corser through in the last laps. Laconi finished a distant, and struggling, third. However, Haga learned from the first race and put that knowledge to good use with an authoritative win in the second race. Corser and Vermeulen both turned in strong rides but it was all Haga in race two.

Race nine was held at the Assen circuit in the Netherlands. This is the home circuit of the Ten Kate Honda team and the pressure was on Vermeulen to get focused after an impressive, though inconsistent, start to the season. As it turns out, the young Aussie did just that by doubling both races of the weekend. Toseland, who had struggled at Brands Hatch, came through for a pair of podium finishes with a second in race one and a third in race two. Haga swapped the two spots with Toseland between the two races. However, the real surprise of the weekend was Corser who, for the first time of the season, didn’t finish on the podium and thus broke his string of sixteen straight top three results.

Corser bounced back at the next race at the Lausitzring in German with a third place finish in the first race, being beaten by a dual Vermeulen and Haga. Race two was another barn burner but this time it was Lorenzo Lanzi, standing in for the injured Laconi, who stormed away to victory in race two. Vermeulen and Haga continued their battle but had to settle for second and third, respectively, after Lanzi dominated the race.

Coming into the penultimate race of the season at Imola, Vermeulen needed a double win to mathematically keep the championship alive. The stuck to his plan with another impressive ride and a win in race one but Corser did what he needed to do by finishing second. Haga finished out the top three finishers. Then came the rain and the officials had to cancel the race. This took away the points that Vermeulen desperately needed and thus handed the 2006 World Superbike Championship title to Troy Corser.

The final race of the year, at Magny Cours, was a fascinating race. Vermeulen, determined to show he could have won the title had all the races been run, won the first race. Meanwhile, Kagayama returned to his early season form with a strong second place finish. It was Toseland, also trying to make a point after a dismal season on the Ducati, who rounded out the podium. Race two was another exciting race with Lanzi taking his temporary factory Ducati to his second win. Kagayama again took home second after a great duel with his fellow countryman Haga.

When the points for the season were added up, it was Corser with 433 and the title. Vermeulen was 54 points back with 379. Haga was in third, over one hundred points down on Vermuelen, at 271. Toseland was fouth with 254 while Kagayama was just two points back in fifth sitting on 252 points. The second half of the top ten was headed by Laconi in sixth with 221 points, Walker with 160, Pitt just behind him with 156 and Lanzi just a few more back at 150. Finally, it was Chili who rounded out the top ten with just 131 points.

I think the major stories of the season were:

First up, the strength of the Suzukis. Of the 23 races run, GSXRs won 9 of them. Of the 69 possible podium positions, the Alstare Suzuki teammates carried 26 of them.

Second, from a slightly higher altitude, is that dominance of the four cylinder bikes. Of those same 23 podium positions, the inline fours took 17 of them. Of the 69 podium spots, a stunning 52 of them.

Third, the Pirelli tires continue to lack compared to the Michelin and Dunlops that pr0ceeded them. Lap times in 2005 were similiar to 2004 and still generally slower than 2003. Additionally, the tires were visibily sliding after the first third of each race. While the spec tire does level the playing field and put all the riders on an equal footing, I think the tires are actually holding the riders back and perhaps leveling things too much. Also, when these greasy tires do let go, it generally results in a nasty high side. Removing a competitive advantage is a good thing but decreasing the safety of the racing is another. Pirelli needs to step up to the plate in 2006 with a better tire.

Fourth, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Corser seemed washed up and ready for the retirement home after three years on the dodgy Foggy Petronas FP1 but he showed the world that he’s faster now than he’s ever been. His utter domination of the races in 2005 make him a worthy champion to carry the World Superbike #1 plate for a second time.

Finally, I do think that despite being dominated by one of the most experienced riders in the paddock, the series still showed a lot of hope for the future. Clearly Vermeulen backed up his incredible 2004 year with a second season of contending for the title. Likewise, it is hard to ignore the two wins by the young Lanzi as a sign that he will play a big role in the future of the series. Kagayama looked like a championship threat at the beginning of the season but faded in the middle before returning to form with strong finishes at the end. He is clearly someone who will help shape the future of the sport. Finally, Neukirchner’s initial podium pegged him as a future star but his five DNFs during the season show that he still has plenty to learn.

Alright, with the series review out of the way, let me take a second to rate my own predictions. As I mentioned at the top of this article, I did a posting before the 2005 season where I ranked each rider. I had some misses but I also had a few direct hits.

I forecast that Laconi would win the championship. Survey says “Baamp”. However, I also said that if he didn’t win he would be out at Ducati and perhaps the series. He did get shown the door out of Bologna and nearly missed riding in ‘06 altogether until PSG-1 Kawasaki came up with a third bike.

I also predicted that Vermeulen would be the biggest threat for the championship. I hit the bulls-eye there, though it was Corser he challenged rather than Laconi.

As for Corser, I said that I thought he and Alstare would struggle getting the GSXR into WSBK trim. Oh, could I be more wrong. He not only booted the Ducati guys off the podium, as I’d hope, he nearly locked them out of the top step.

I won’t bother going through them all but I think I did a pretty decent job with my predictions. I certainly think I had a greater than 50% success ratio. I’ll do a similar preview for WSBK in a couple of weeks and then rate myself again at the end of the season to see how I do.

Alright, well, the 2005 season was a fantastic one for World Superbike. In fact, the return of the Japanese factories, even if it is only with back door help to their support teams, so completely reversed the previous trend of the grid being dominated by Ducatis that ‘05 may have been the most important season ever in the series history. With experienced big name riders like Corser, Laconi, and Chili being joined by ex-MotoGP guys in 2006 the competition will only improve. Then add in the young bucks like Lanzi, Neukirchner, Pitt, Muggeridge and Kagayama who are trying to dethrone the elders of the sport and you have a whole other level of excitement. 2005 was great and I expect even more to come in 2006. Tune in and enjoy!

[image from the Suzuki web site.]

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Pod people…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

Somehow, I always seem to get myself in over my head. A little over a year ago, I had a little too much time on my hands and decided to start a blog. It then proceeded to swallow my life for much of 2005.

WSBKPod icon

Then, over the recent three day Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial holiday weekend, I again had a little extra time on my hands and thought “Hey, I should do a podcast”. Well, the last three weeks have been a virtual haze of audio recording software, computer speakers, jumbled note pads and late nights talking into a microphone. I’m now convinced that I’ve finally gone completely over the edge and that I should be shot for starting a podcast. Nonetheless, sometime after midnight Tuesday morning the WSBKPod podcast was born.

With this podcast, which I hope to put out weekly (if not weakly) I will be covering the World Superbike series. I’ll be covering the pre-season tests, doing race results, talking about the riders and passing along rumors that I read and hear throughout the year. Why did I pick the World Superbike series you might ask? Well, there is already a podcast dedicated to the MotoGP series so that was unavailable. Additionally, there is another podcast which touches on the AMA Superbike series and a third podcast which focuses on privateers racing in America. Thus my choice was primarily me attempting to fill a vacuum. Nonetheless, the 2006 World Superbike season looks to be the best it has ever been so I think it will be a great series to cover.

I’ll admit up front that there will be a bit of overlap between some of my blog postings and what I put into the podcast. However, I will do everything I can to keep the two unique. I will also admit that the first episode of the WSBKPod podcast is a bit dry. I had a lot to learn in a short amount of time (not to mention getting over the mental discomfort of knowing I was being recorded while I spoke) As a result, I wrote up a script and the process of reading it dulled down a lot of the passion I wanted to inject. I’ll try to improve on this in the future, especially as I become more proficient with the software and more comfortable talking into microphone.

If you like podcasts, please give it a listen. I’m open to hearing whatever comments, suggestions, and complaints you might have so that I can work on improving this as the project progresses.

[image from my photo collection.]

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

January \’06 Odds and Ends…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

I thought that things would be so slow during the winter that I wouldn’t have enough unmentioned news items each month to do my monthly “Odds and Ends” postings. However, I have slacked off so much in my posting schedule that I now find it is the last day of January and there is a long list of things that I’d intended to talk about this month. So here is is, a January edition of the “Odds and Ends” postings.

The theme of this entry is going to be “dirty movies”. Sorry, this isn’t a review of porn but instead the topics here are motorcycle movies and off-road racing. I’ll wait to talk about the MotoGP, World Superbike and AMA news in postings in mid-February (once I get back from Costa Rica). I haven’t been ignoring everything that is going on in the racing world, just haven’t had the time yet to talk about them in depth…its coming!

World's Fastest Indian promo shot

First up in the movie category has to be The World’s Fastest Indian. In the September ‘05 Odds and Ends posting I mentioned that this movie had been released in New Zealand but that it probably wouldn’t be coming to the US. Well, I’m happy to say that I was wrong and that the movie is now starting a national release this coming Friday, February 3rd. Given that the last motorcycle related movies to make it to the big screen were Torque and Biker Boyz, I think it is fantastic that a film is being shown that doesn’t make all motorcyclists look like the Las Vegas Extremes crew. From the movie trailer and the clips I’ve seen it looks like Anthony Hopkins does a great job with his portrayal of New Zealand bike builder Bert Munro. The plot should ring true to many riders since it is the story of one rider’s obsession with his bike and his desire to push the boundaries of speed. The supporting actor in the movie is Munro’s 1920s Indian motorcycle which Munro modified over a 25 year period into a Bonneville Salt Flats land speed bike. A fascinating story, a great actor and lot of cool motorcycle images. Alright, bikers, get out there and support this movie!

If you read the above statement criticizing the last motorcycle movies to make the big screen and thought I’d forgotten Dust to Glory, I didn’t. I just didn’t include it because it is technically only half about motorcycles since it covers the entire Baja 1000, cages and all. However, I recently bought the DVD and loved it. It is obvious that Dana Brown, like his father, has a soft spot for motorcycles and that he has a real talent for documenting the excitement of motorcycle racing. If you haven’t seen Dust to Glory, make sure you buy, rent or borrow it. It will have you talking about Mouse McCoy with your co-workers and talking about getting some Mexican dirt on your dual sport bike with your riding buddies.

Lets step away from the big screen now and dive into the DVD offerings. I recently borrowed Bang Production’s Enduro at Erzberg DVD from by buddy MikeDz and thought it was amazing. The Rodeo-X Enduro at the Iron Giant in Erzberg, Austria is won of the mind-bogglingly difficult races that was won by Brit David Knight in ‘05. While the focus of the movie is primarily on Travis Pastrana, it is the racing that really amazes (though Pastrana’s attempted back flip in the middle of a hill climb is pretty impressive as well). I think the best part of the movie is actually one of the pieces of bonus footage: a five minute long aerial shot from a helicopter following Knight on his final decent of the mountain. I’ll be buying a copy of this for my DVD collection.

One thing I’ve already added to my DVD shelf is the Bruce Brown’s Moto Classics boxed set. Unlike his previous releases, which were collections of unused film from the ‘On Any Sunday” film reels, this new boxed set is actually a set of three DVDs covering four races that Bruce Brown taped for ABC’s Wild World of Sports in the 60s: The 1968 Baja 1000, a 1967 Hare & Hound race through the Mojave desert, the 1967 Hopetown Classic and the 1970 Ascot TT. If you’re a fan of motorcycle history this is a really enjoyable set of DVDs to watch. I was fortunate enough to get them the weekend I came down with the flu so I spent a weekend glued to the TV (and glued to a box of lotion Puffs tissue). This is real “when men were men” stuff…no suspension, no brakes, unreliable motorcycles and tough courses. Some of the giants of our sport were caught on these tapes like Joel Robert, Roger de Coster, Mert Lawwill, Skip vanLeeuwen and J.N. Roberts. It almost makes we want to own an old Triumph but the DVD doesn’t have dodgy electrics and doesn’t strain your back when you pick it up.

Finally, when I get around to buying the Enduro at Erzberg DVD, I’ll also be buying a copy of Troy Lee Design’s 2 Laps 2 Go. I haven’t seen this one yet but I’m a big fan of Supermoto racing and I enjoyed the races during the 2004 season that I saw and I think Jeff Ward is a demi-god for winning the championship that year. The DVD should offer plenty of entertainment even if it just follows Ward backing his Honda into every corner at every track.

Alright, leaving the boob tube behind, let me get on to talking about the off-road racing that I mentioned at the start…the dirt part of the dirty movie theme.

The winner of the Enduro at Erzberg was the 2005 off-road superstar David Knight. The guy won Erzberg, won at the 2005 ISDE, won the 2005 World Enduro 3 Championship, won the AMA EnduroCross and cleaned up at the Red Bull Last Man Standing event. So how does a guy with that kind of record follow up? Well, by winning everything he enters in 2006, of course. The enduro giant, both figuratively and literally, won the UK’s Tough One event, a two hour extreme hare scrambles race split between daylight and nighttime. As the reigning champ from ‘05, Knight was forced to penalize himself with a self-selected handicap at the start of the race. He chose to start by having to sprint 1/4 mile to his bike when the green flag flew, putting him at the back of the 30 rider deep field in the Premier class. Yet despite his deficit, he still managed to lap the entire field including not only the Premier class but while also having to work his way past 30 Expert and 30 Clubman riders. The man is an animal.

Not content to rest on his laurels from the Tough One, Knight then headed over to Austria to compete in the Rodex-X indoor arena enduro that is part of the Die Bike Austrian Motorcycle show. As a quick aside, remember back in December when I was complaining about how lame the American motorcycle show is compared to the ones held in Europe? Consider this indoor enduro another data point to back that assertion up. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the enduro… Despite being held indoors the event is run in sub-zero temperatures and has a difficult man made terrain course like the one recently seen in the AMA EuduroCross. Naturally, Knight won both races but added another twist to impress the fans by finishing over two laps ahead of his nearest competitor. If anyone is placing best on the ‘06 World Enduro series, I think you better be putting that money on Knight. Oh, and if SpeedTV is considering whether they should continue showing the World Enduro races like they did in 2005, consider this a big vote “yes”.

Thats it for this month.

[image from the Indian Motorbikes web site.]

Monday, January 30, 2006

January dates for \’06…

Author: site admin
Category: Days Of The Month

For this year I’ve decided to add a monthly blog entry mentioning some interesting motorcycle related dates that will be happening each month. Unfortunately, I was such a slacker during January that I’m just now getting around to posting it. I’ll try to be more prompt with the February posting.

Phil Read back when men were men

Phil Read - born 1/1/38 - This Brit grew up to become one of the greatest roadracers in history. He rode for Yamaha in the late 60s winning six championships in the 125 and 250GP classes. In 1973 he moved to the primer 500cc class with the factory MV Agusta team. He then promptly won two championships there in 1973 and 1974. Perhaps one sign of how great he was as a GP racer is that he is one of only three riders to have won world championships in three different Grand Prix classes. The other two are Mike Hailwood and Valentino Rossi. In addition to his GP victories Read also won eight Isle of Man TTs. Despite his 67 years of age, he continues to race vintages races in England.

Kel Carruthers - born 1/3/37 - Although Carruthers has a distinguished career as a racef, among other things he was the 1969 250GP World Champion, he is probably best remembered for his role as the team manager and mentor for Kenny Roberts. The Australian rider raced, and achieved victory, throughout the 1960s in the World 250GP class, at the Isle of Man TT and in AMA road racing here in America. However, in 1973 he was hired by Yamaha to run their US road racing team and he immediately began to coach a young Kenny Roberts. This continued into the 80s where Carruthers guided Roberts to three 500cc World Championships. Kel Carruthers was at the USGP at Laguna Seca this past summer showing that he still maintains a connection to the motorcycle racing community.

Craig Jones - born 1/16/85 - This young British rider will be making his World Superbike debut this year on the Foggy Petronas FP1. However, he is not an unknown on the other side of the pond, as he has steadily risen through the ranks of the British championship and finished up the 2005 season in second place in the dog eat dog world of Supersport racing. Sadly, I doubt the Foggy bike will allow him to showcase his potential but it will give him an opportunity to learn the tracks and continue to develop as a racer.

Ivan Clementi - born 1/18/75 - Clementi is one of the multitude of Italian privateers who have been racing the World Superbike series for the past few years. His first year in WSBK was in 2002 aboard a privateer Kawasaki. He has continued to race in the series since then usually on Kawasakis but he did spent part of the 2005 season aboard a privateer Ducati. As with most non-factory riders, the hallmark of his career thus far has been struggling to earn a top ten finish. His best finish to date has been a 7th at Assen in 2003. For 2006 he will continue in World Superbike riding a privateer Ducati for Team Pedercini.

Aaron Slight - born 1/19/66 - This New Zealand rider was a mainstay of the World Superbike championship for most of the 90s and was a perennial front runner throughout his career. In fact, my favorite stat from Slight’s career is that he finished in the top three of the championship every year between 1993 and 1999 and was runner up two of those times in ‘96 and ‘98. He is perhaps best defined by his rivals which include World Superbike greats like Troy Corser, Carl Fogarty, Scott Russell and Colin Edwards. Slighty retired from racing in 2000 after having a brain aneurism and is now racing cars in New Zealand.

Gary Nixon - born 1/25/38 - Nixon is one of the legends of AMA racing. He was a front runner in both dirt track and road racing throughout the ’60s. He won the AMA Grand National championship in 1967 for Triumph, back when earning that meant winning on dirt and pavement. He also raced internationally during his careering including winning the famous 1976 Formula 750 World Championship for Kawasaki before a controversial decision by the FIM nullified the points from one of the races and dropped him back to second in points. He retired from professional racing soon after. However, he continues to race vintage bikes with AHRMA and to tutor up-and-coming riders including MotoGP star Nicky Hayden.

Dale Quarterley - born 1/25/60 - Quarterley is probably the most successful and most popular privateer racer the AMA Superbike series has ever seen. He came up through the ranks of the AMA racing in the support classes. He then stepped to race Kawasakis and Ducatis in Superbike from 1989 until 1995 reaching two important high water marks . First, he is the last privateer to have won an AMA Superbike race, winning at Mid-Ohio in 1993. Second, he ended the 1993 season in second place in the championship, another feat which has not been repeated by a privateer since then. However, I think he will be best remembered for his incredible ability as a privateer to bring in outside sponsorship when even the factory teams struggled to do this. I thus primarily remember him for his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Kawasaki ZX-7RR from the 1993 season. He has spent the last half decade racing NASCAR stock cars.

Bubba Shobert - born 1/29/61 - Shobert was another in the incredible string of multi-talented American racers to rise to fame in the 1980s. He was a three time AMA Grand National Dirt Track Champion riding for Team Honda between 1985 and 1987 and then earned the 1988 AMA Superbike Championship riding a Honda VFR750. In 1989, Shobert followed the path to Grand Prix which had been blazed by other American racers such as Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey. Sadly, the famous Kevin Magee post-race burnout accident at the 1989 Laguna Seca GP resulted in severe head injuries. Thankfully, he recovered but those injuries ended his career as motorcycle racer. He now lives in Texas running his family’s jerky business.

Fabien Foret - born 1/29/73 - This French rider has campaigned the World Superbike series for the past four years, winning that title in 2002 for the Ten Kate Honda team. He was fourth in the 2005 WSS season but is being promoted to World Supebike in 2006 with the Alstare Corona Suzuki team. If you don’t remember him for his World Superbike championship then perhaps you remember him for his habit of continually looking behind him while racing…a trait that has lost him a few races over the past few years.

Davide Tardozzi - born 1/30/59 - This Italian rider raced Bimotas during the infancy of the World Superbike series in 1988 and 1989. However, reliability problems with the bike kept him from winning a championship either year. He then switched to privateer Ducati’s for 1990 and 1991, again without championship success. In 1992, he was hired as the Ducati test rider and then promoted to Ducati Factory Team Manager in 1993. He has since guided the Italian company to 11 Manufacturer’s Championships and 8 Rider’s Championship. He will again be managing the factory Xerox Ducati team this coming season with riders Troy Bayliss and Lorenzo Lanzi.

Finally, it was 1/22/98 when AMA dirt track champ Ricky Graham died in fire at his home. The story of Graham’s meteoric rise to fame as an American dirt tracker in the early 80s is bookended by a sad story of depression and an attempted comeback in the 90s. Graham’s death was a tragedy as it appeared in 1989 that he was finally beginning to triumph over some of the demons he had been fighting for over a decade.

Alright, that’s it for my first attempt at a monthly calendar of motorcycle related dates. If you know of an interesting date in the month of January let me know and I’ll add it to my database os that I can mention it next year.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

The devil is in the details…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

There is an old proverb that says “The devil is in the details”. The idea is that no matter how good the overall plan the minor things are what make or break any project. Well, this past week the Sepang track held the first tests of the year for the MotoGP teams and for many the success or failure of their upcoming race season will be determined in these next couple of tests. For today’s blog entry I’ll be talking about the teams and what some of those devilish details may be for each of them.

First up, lets look at the various Honda teams. The factory Repsol Honda team had a busy test program for Sepang. Primarily, they have to realign the development of their 2006 RC211V behind their new lead rider, Nicky Hayden, after focusing on Max Biaggi last season. Since Max and Nicky have dramatically different riding styles this means that the Honda engineers may have had to make dramatic changes to their bike between ‘05 and ‘06. This will be Hayden’s first time developing a MotoGP bike so he will have to learn quickly how to hone in on problems so that he can provide accurate feedback to the engineers after just a few laps. He will have to quickly and efficiently go through all the myriad options for the new bike to find the best base configuration. Then he can start the fine adjustments necessary to optimize the package. If he picks the wrong path this week he will probably be chasing his tail on setup all season long.

Next on the Repsol team’s list was the continuing effort to get MotoGP rookie Dani Pedrosa up to speed on the bigger four stroke after he spent the past two seasons dominating the 250GP series. The Spaniard’s small physical stature, as well as his lower muscular strength, means that the bike has to be adapted to fit him and Pedrosa has to develop the endurance needed to ride the bigger bike. Dani’s crew has to get the bike adjusted to match the rider, then get the rider up to speed on the bike and only then can they start to develop the combination of the two to get ready for the upcoming season.

The satellite Honda teams have their own challenges. The Konica Minolta Team has the biggest challenge because they haven’t made either of the official MotoGP tests since the last race of ‘05 and have thus not even started their development program. Their absence is probably due to the costs required to travel to and take part in these tests but their chance of being competitive in ‘06 are dramatically reduced by missing these tests. This is a real pity because rider Makoto Tamada seems capable of running up front but will likely be unable to do so until the team has had a chance to find the correct setup for his new model RC211V…something that is particularly difficult to do during the race season.

On the opposite end of that spectrum is Team Gresini rider Marco Melandri. Like Hayden, Melandri is leading development of his team’s bikes and is returning to a team as the top rider. He’ll have the support of his team but will also have the added pressure of stepping into a lead development role after being the “B” rider behind Sete Gibernau in ‘05. Its unclear how soon Melandri will get an ‘06 RC211V so he could be doing his Sepang test work with a final model of the ‘05 bike or maybe he is already working with an ‘06 model. His new teammate, Toni Elias, on the other hand is having to learn a new bike having moved from Yamaha to Honda this year. In Elias’ favor is that he’s working with the same sponsor, Fortuna, from ‘05 while the rest of Team Gresini have to learn the responsibilities that come with representing a new company.

Finally, there is the smallest and newest Honda satellite team, Lucio Cechinello’s new MotoGP squad with rider Casey Stoner. Stoner has the advantage of having ridden a RC211V at the test last November but at that time it was with the now defunct Pons team. Now Stoner has to work out the kinks with a different team while also adapting to the big MotoGP bikes after a few seasons racing with Pedrosa in the 250 two stroke class. Fortunately, he raced for Cechinello’s team in 250s so he already knows his crew but it appears sponsor Carrera isn’t making the leap to the premier class so who knows who much money the team will have to support their ‘06 effort.

Kenny Roberts Jr testing at Sepang

As long as I’m talking about Honda, I should also talk about Kenny Roberts, Sr’s TeamKR. After nearly withdrawing from MotoGP at the end of last year they are back for this season with a Honda motor in their custom made frame. Kenny Roberts, Jr was finally confirmed as their rider and was riding the new KR211V at Sepang. The big devil for them is adapting their chassis to the Honda motor in the short amount of time between the end of the previous season and the start of the next one. Based on their comments after this week’s test it appear their current frame is too stiff and this means the bike isn’t handling as well when leaned over as will be required to be competitive. They will have a new frame for the next test but it won’t have any alterations based on their Sepang tests, just an alternate geometry based on their initial designs from last Fall. Time is working against the TeamKR folks to get in enough testing to fully develop their new bike before the first race of the season. Worse yet, they can’t really test tires or suspension or engine electronics until they have the frame dialed in.

In this same boat is the Suzuki team. John Hopkins as been tasked with leading the GSV-R development which appears to be all, or at least mostly, new for ‘06. This means he’ll have to find the direction needed to guide development of a new bike, as opposed to working off an iterative design like Hayden is doing with the Honda. On the positive side, the old Suzuki seemed to have serious power problems so hopefully Hopper is working with a better motor this time around. Rumors have it that Suzuki may be trying out pneumatic valves and enhanced electronics, in addition to the normal chassis adjustments, exhaust configurations, suspension components and tires so there will be plenty of options to work through. On the negative side, he’ll be somewhat alone in this engineering work since his teammate Chris Vermeulen is a MotoGP rookie who is still trying to come up to speed on riding such a powerful bike. Fortunately, Suzuki test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi was on hand at Sepang to help out the two factory riders.

Kawasaki is a step ahead of Suzuki by working with an evolutionary design of their ZX-RR Ninja and also by having returning rider Shinya Nakano as their lead rider. On the other hand, they appear to be trying out another variation of the big bang firing order for their motor which means less peak power and more stress on the motor. Based on Kawasaki’s improvement the past two seasons it would appear that Nakano is an excellent development rider so they are probably in good hands in this regard. His teammate, on the other hand, is MotoGP rookie Randy de Puniet who will be learning to ride the big Kwack at these initial tests. Like Suzuki, this means that all the testing is dependent on a single rider. They are racing to speed up their development with the front running manufacturers while being hampered with the smallest R&D budget of the bunch and only minor sponsorship. Money is definitely the detail they have to overcome.

Even further down the testing path is the factory Yamaha team. They have two returning riders, a championship winning bike with only evolutionary improvements, an experienced crew and a big money sponsor behind them. The only things waiting to trip up this team will be of their own making. For Valentino Rossi, this is likely to be over confidence. It seems unlikely that Rossi would underestimate his opponents but given his apparent focus on testing Formula One cars in ‘06 it is possible that he’ll lose some of his focus. The only reason I think he would undertake these driving tests are because he feels certain that he can win in MotoGP while also learning a new form of racing. It is possible, however improbable, that this could finally be the chink his armor that his rivals have needed for the past five years. For his teammate, Colin Edwards, it will be finding the confidence to perform at his peak while being in the shadow of his spectacular teammate. The path to gaining this confidence took a small hit at Sepang when Edwards crashed during testing and his M1 burst into flames. The other impediment to gaining this confidence is knowing that development is based primarily on Rossi’s, rather than Edwards’ feedback, so the Texan will effectively be riding someone else’s bike. The claim as always been that Edwards and Rossi have similar riding styles so perhaps this year’s test results will finally prove or disprove that assertion. The only other trap waiting to catch the Yamaha team is the impending legal battle with Altadis over the claimed breech of the Gauloises agreement. if the litigation goes bad for the Japanese company they may end up paying significant penalties to their ex-sponsor. This is money badly needed to pay Rossi’s extravagant salary, development costs of the 800cc bike for ‘07 and to keep the current M1 successful in 2006.

Unlike the factory team, the only satellite Yamaha team this season is starting out with a lot of obvious pre-season challenges to overcome. First, the Herve Poncharal lead Tech 3 team is still working out how many riders they will have. At the moment, Brit James Ellison is confirmed but rumors are swirling about that Carlos Checa may be added before the next test at Phillip Island. Second, if Checa is added it is likely that they will then have to deal with having two different tire manufacturers supplying their team since Ellison is sponsored by Dunlop while Checa has a long standing association with Michelin. Third, the team is still looking for sponsorship after being abandoned by Fortuna during the Rossi-Gauloises fiasco. So with a new rider, new tires and no money the team will have to develop their bike for the upcoming season while also being distracted with rider, tire and sponsorship negotiations. It is not even the little details that will hamper these guys it is the overall chaos of their big plan.

With that depressing situation out of the way lets cheer up a bit by looking at the Ducati team. Lead rider Loris Capirossi is back and helping develop this sixth generation of the Desmosedici MotoGP bike. In addition, he has been teamed with star rider Sete Gibernau who has previous experience at developing bikes from his ‘05 stint with Team Gresini. Both racers have been turning fast lap times and both ended the Sepang test with bragging rights as the top two riders. The modifications to last year’s GP5 model seem to have again improved the Duck’s handling while maintaining it’s class leading power output. It also appears that Ducati learned from their ‘05 pre-season tests mistakes where a dramatically new slipper clutch/engine management system was forced on the riders and resulted in crashes and injuries. These in turn reduced testing time and eroded rider confidence in the bikes. Perhaps Ducati’s devil’s were washed out last year and they have a solid plan in place for this one.

Or perhaps they have just shoved those vexing details down to their satellite team D’Antin Ducati. Where the factory team is set with experienced riders and a strong sponsor, the D’Antin team is struggling. They recently signed ex-Kawasaki rider Alex Hoffman and recent World Superbike racer Jose Luis Cardoso as riders but both missed the first test back in November. Neither have raced a Ducati before, though Cardoso has raced for D’Antin in the past and Hoffman did race in MotoGP last year. The two riders will have to come up to speed on the customer GP6 Duc before they can begin to adjust the bike to try to improve their lap times. What the team does have going for it is an even closer level of cooperation with the Ducati factory compared to last year and a current version of the bike, rather than the one generation old version they have raced in the past. What they are going to be hampered by is the lack of sponsorship and thus the costs associated with both testing and racing.

Finally, the underdog of the season is the WCM-Bimota team who, like the Konica Minolta team, didn’t have the funding to run the pre-season tests. They are, in fact, at an even greater disadvantage because they are only a couple of months away from the first race and don’t yet have any signed riders or a running motorcycle. The current rumors are the Brit veteran Jeremy McWilliams and American GP rookie Jason Perez will be riding their bike and it is assumed they will be running a KTM powered bike that is somehow badged as a Bimota. However, until they show up for the first race of the year I think that their participation, as well as certainly their competitiveness, will be very much in question.

Let me say one more word about how the devil is in the details during testing. It is always risky to make assumptions about a team or rider’s preparedness based on the lap times given for a test. On the one hand, you never know when the rider is testing components and when they are focusing on a fast lap. Likewise, you never know when they are or aren’t throwing down fast laps with super sticky qualifying tires as opposed to testing at race pace on harder tires. However, there are two bits of data that are very useful and that is seeing all the lap times and the number of consecutive laps run throughout the entire test. Unfortunately, this data isn’t generally available and, if it is, it may come from the teams rather than an unbiased third party like the FIM and thus be of questionable accuracy. Only if we could see the times that riders have run consistently and the average lap times over a simulation of race distance would we be able to make some real predictions about the upcoming season.

However, the one abstraction of this that is available is to at least see who consistently shows up at the top of the lap charts that are released since those riders are the ones most likely to be doing their test and development work at a fast enough pace to be helpful. For example, the Ducati riders were fast the second and third days of the test. It is possible that this was due to their access to the spectacular Bridgestone qualifying tires but it is also likely that they wouldn’t have wasted the time on qualifying tires unless they felt their setup was pretty solid. If not, they would likely have continued to focus on their development work by running race simulations on race compound tires.

In contrast, a rider like Kenny Roberts Jr is consistently near the bottom of the lap time charts because he is currently running about three seconds off the pace of the front runners. Any development he does on the bike right now, aside from collecting data on their frame stiffness issue, is unlikely to be useful later because the frame, suspension and tires will all react differently when dealing with the stresses created when running a faster pace. The sooner the frame is fixed, and no longer holding KRJR back, the sooner he can push up the lap times and start developing the bike at the speed it needs to run to be at the front.

Like the past few seasons, at this stage of testing it looks like the factory Ducati, Honda and Yamaha teams have done the best job of exorcising their pre-season demons. It looks like Gresini Honda are well positioned and that Kawasaki is again well placed to improve. Less clear is the situation at Suzuki though it does appear they are putting forth their strongest effort yet. Finally, it looks like the others are going to be struggling throughout pre-season testing and probably into the early part of the ‘06 season.

[image from the Yahoo Sports UK web site.]

Monday, January 23, 2006

Aged like fine wine…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, AMA Superbikes, AMA Supermoto, MotoGP, Other Forms Of Racing, WSBK

So I, like most of the official motorcycle press, spent a lot of time last year heralding the new guys that were joining the sport of bike racing. Guys like James Stewart, Ben Spies, Max Neukirchner, and Marco Melandri got more than their fair share of bits and bytes at the beginning of the season. However, as it turns out, 2005 was a good year to be one of the old folks. Despite many current racers being considered near retirement age, the old guys generally stuck it to the youngsters last year. What is really amazing is that this trend was pretty consistent across all disciplines of motorcycle racing.

First off, the sports of Supercross and Motocross have always been considered a young man’s sport. They are two of the most physically intensive sports in the world and the combination of jumps, ruts and crashes can exact a harsh toll on the body. The top news story at the beginning of the 2005 AMA Supercross season was the 19 year old sensation James Stewart. However, at the end of the season, it was the seasoned veteran Ricky Carmichael, at 25 years old, who swept both premier AMA Supercross and Motocross classes. In SX, 23 year old Chad Reed was second overall but the runner-up in the outdoor series was Kevin Windham who is two years older than Carmichael. Impressive stuff for guys on the second half of their twenties but the real surprises are found just a little further down the championship points listing.

As I pointed out in a blog posting last season, old timer Mike Larocco embarrassed most of the factory teams by bringing his privateer Honda home in 5th place in championship. Not bad for a then 33 year old. Even 34 year old Jeremy McGrath turned in some strong riders in his one-off appearances in ‘05, showing that the King of Supercross can still teach the youngsters a thing or two.

John Dowd at Washougal

Want to really blow your mind? Take a look at the AMA Motocross points table for 2005. Despite competing in the most physically demanding form of dirt bike racing, 40 year old John Dowd managed to snag 7th overall in the AMA Motocross division aboard his privateer Suzuki! This guy was born in 1965, turned pro in 1988 and was the 1998 West Coast 125cc Supercross Championship…the year Dowd start racing in the Pro ranks James Bubba Stewart was two years old and Chad Reed had just turned six. For a little perspective, remember that Reed finished the ‘05 season in 8th, 15 points *behind* Dowd, while Stewart finished up in 12th a staggering 135 points down on the vet. Lets all say it together now…”JD is the man!”

Alright, so the more experienced riders did well in the premier class. Surely the young guys made their mark in the entry level 125 classes. I mean, there has to be a whole hoard of teenagers out there just waiting for their chance to race with the twenty-somethings, right? Well, sorry to disappoint but the stats don’t bare that out either. The 125 champs, Grant Langton (1st in 125 SX East and 4th in 125 MX) and Ivan Tedesco (1st in SX West and 1st in 125 MX), are both already in their twenties. Langston was 23 last year and and Tedesco a year older. Not exactly ready to hand up their riding boots but not representative of a youth movement either.

Fortunately, things in the dirt world aren’t totally bleak. James Stewart looks to have turned around a miserable ‘05 and is riding strong this year and starting to live up to the hype. The teenage Alessi brothers seemed to have knocked the edge off their egos and are steadily improving as riders. Ryan Sipes, who had some strong showings in the 125 class last season, is just barely breaking the twenty mark. The two Ryans, Villopoto and Mills, are still in their teens and both are riding well so far in this year’s Supercross Lites class. Hopefully these are the guys that can step it up and run with the grey hairs. Frankly, I think they will have to if they want to justify their getting a factory ride in the year couple of years.

Okay, lets shift gears now and look at my personal favorite: Road racing. Its generally understood that road racing is an environment where older and more experienced riders can be competitive against the young up-and-comers. Still, the stats for 2005 have to be a little disappointing for the folks that are looking to the younger generation for the next big thing. Of the four championships crowned in the AMA series, three of them went to riders who are in their thirties. Matt Mladin won his *sixth* AMA Superbike title while at the same time celebrating birthday number 33. His 32 year old teammate Aaron Yates topped the ultra-competitive Superstock class to put a third championship trophy on his mantle. Miguel Duhamel, the elder statesman of the AMA series, brought home his seventh AMA title by winning the Formula Xtreme class despite being just a couple years shy of forty. Even Tommy Hayden, the relative spring chicken of the 2005 AMA champions, isn’t exactly representing the youth movement since he was 27 when he sewed up his second straight AMA Supersport title. This trend towards old riders is generally true across the entire AMA Superbike paddock with only a handful of riders under the drinking age and all of them eligible to vote.

Okay, lets look a little further afield. 2005 World Superbike Champ Troy Corser was 34 when he lofted the title trophy last summer. In fact, the WSBK paddock has more riders over the age of 25 than they have riders under that age and the series appear to be skewing their average even higher in 2006 with ex-GP castaways like Alex Barros, Troy Bayliss and Max Biaggi rumored to be racing there. It is nearing the point where WSBK teams should drop sponsorship from youth oriented companies like Corona or Koji and switch over to old foggie brands like Geritol and Metamucil.

Alright, since I mentioned the topic of MotoGP up there I’ll admit that things are looking better in the Grand Prix paddock. While seven time World Champ and 2005 title winner Valentino Rossi isn’t exactly a rookie at 26 he’s also a decade years younger than some of his competitors were in ‘05. Things really start to look up when checking the stats of second place Marco Melandri (23) and third place Nicky Hayden (24). The outlook is even brighter when checking the age of the new comers to MotoGP for ‘06 as Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Chris Vermeulen are all under 25. Finally, things are downright heartening in the 250 and 125 classes were the average age on the podium is regularly under 20.

Alright, how about a couple more quick examples of how old age and experience is overcoming the exuberance of youth? In the world of AMA Flat track racing, it has been Chris Carr who has dominated for the past half decade. The younger riders in series look up to him as a mentor and, at 37, its a good thing they do because he is old enough to be their father.

Finally, as a sign of respect, I’ve saved the oldest for last. Logic would dictate that a rider that is 44 years of age shouldn’t be able to win at anything in competitive motorcycle racing. Yet the legendary Jeff Ward did just that in 2004 by tying up the premier class in the AMA Supermoto series and it was only a stalled bike in the final round that prevented him from winning it in 2005 as well. In fact, the past three seasons have netted Ward one Supermoto championship and two second place finishes…not bad for a guy who won seven AMA Motocross championships in the 80s.

I want to see the various forms of motorcycle racing grow and thus I’m always looking at the young guys to see who will be the next big thing. However, for 2006, I have to say “Viva la Veterans!”.

[image from the web site.]

Friday, January 20, 2006


Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX

The drought in my blog postings seems to have coincided with the start of the 2006 AMA Supercross season so I’m already falling a little behind in commenting on what is happening in the deafening and dirty world of indoor motorcycle racing.

Well, the first sound to roll out of the arena this season has been the thundering sound of four strokes. Just as the big thumpers swallowed the motocross season in one big gulp in ‘05 they have now turned their appetite to supercross. Everyone has known that the two strokes where soon going to puff their last cloud of blue smoke but a few people have undoubtedly been surprised by just how fast this wave of cam shafts and overhead valves has descended upon the supercross landscape.

Bubba whipping the Kawi four stroke

The second sound, immediately following the first, was a deafening shattering sound when James Bubba Stewart crushed the year long reputation he’d gained as being immature. Stewart’s legacy from the ‘05 Supercross and Motocross seasons where that he was blindingly fast but unable to control his emotions and that he was destined to crash his brains out long before he’d win any titles. (I myself put those same criticisms on this blog and still stand by them based on what I saw last year). However, Stewart showed up at the Amp’d Mobile World Supercross opener in Toronto and flat humiliated the assembled masses. No small feat since both Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed, the current superstars of supercross, were in attendance. In fact, Bubba was so on his game in Canada that he crashed on the first lap but still went on to smoke the field by 5 seconds. Since one win, especially a win after a crash, doesn’t set the record straight Stewart when on to the second round at Vancouver and did it all over again. James is fast, incredibly fast, but also seems to have his head in gear as well.

With the tinkling echos of the exploding Stewart image still coursing through the paddock, the next sound was the huff and puff of the rest of the field trying frantically to up their game. In particular, both Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed left Canada with a angry look in their eyes. I have a feeling their trainers got a phone call early Monday morning after the Vancouver races telling them not to make any plans for the next few weeks.

Around mid-December the sounds again changed and this time it was a big whump sound followed shortly thereafter by a lot of cussing. That was when Kevin Windham got launched off his Honda while training and broke his arm. The accident was bad enough that Windham is probably out for the first half of the 2006 SX season. If you listen careful, you can hear the sickening sound of the life leaking out of Windham’s professional career. 2006 seemed like a make or break year for the likable Honda rider. He already had SX experience on the four strokes, he’s earned a strong (if distant) second to Carmichael in the outdoor series and he had the hopes and dreams of Big Red resting on his shoulders. Its gonna take a second miraculous comeback for him to recover from this accident…

When the starting gun cracked off a shot in Anaheim for the first official round of the AMA Motocross series, it was again Bubba that was making the most noise. Carmichael lead early but then went into the dirt and Stewart decided not to hang around in second while RC was dusting himself. He again flew to the front and won the race in fine style. However, both Reed and Carmichael were in touch this time around so the other message that was loud and clear is that they had both gotten the hurry up message from the Canadian rounds. If the race at Anaheim did anything it was to convince everyone that they better get the 2006 Supercross rounds programmed into Tivo. We won’t want to miss a single round.

Then, bang, things exploded again last weekend when the second AMA round burst into Phoenix. In a reversal of the Anaheim race, it was Stewart who crashed out during the race and Carmichael that looked dominant. Reed ran up front early in the race but a big incident in which the Aussie spectacularly crashed but somehow missed the hitting the ground part. This handed the lead to RC while Reed got the bike pointed back in the right direction and got back up to speed. Bubba charged from the back of the pack to third with Chad hanging onto second. The big wins put Carmichael and Stewart even in points but Reed’s consistent second places have him only one point behind. Exciting stuff.

The top three riders weren’t the only ones making noises. First up was the sound of stiff joints and geritol bottles being cracked open as Iron Man Mike Larocco picked up where he left off in ‘05 by smacking the youngsters around. He took the finish line jump at Anaheim in fourth place behind Stewart, Reed and Carmichael. Then, as a followup lesson to the whippersnappers in the field Jeremy McGrath stuck it to them in Phoenix by finishing in fourth (again behind Carmichael, Reed and Stewart). The Rock kept it in the top ten with an eighth at around two. Maybe its because I have a head of grey hair or maybe its because I’m stick of hearing cocky little punks talk smack in front of their factory semis while finishing outside the top ten but I think it is awesome that these older racers are doing so well. It is time the younger factory riders catch the clue that even if they aren’t good enough (yet) to run with the front three they damned sure better make sure they’re fast enough to beat the guys who are eligible for the vet class. Besides, the roar of the Phoenix crowd when Showtime McGrath and his ring-ding two stroke went to the front on lap one brought back some great memories.

That’s still not it for the soundscape that is the 2006 Supercross series. Another distinctive tone was the forehead slaps from the AMA officials when they realized that these big, powerful four strokes where faster than the current track designs allowed. In Canada, the front guys weren’t carrying much corner speed but would just slam the bike into the corners on the brakes, get the bike back upright and then still have enough acceleration to go from a dead stop to nailing a big triple in just a few yards. By the third race at Anaheim the track layout seemed to have gained back some complexity but then some of the riders complained it was too tough. Hopefully, the designers can find a way to build tracks that are challenging for the four strokes without being so dangerous that riders are getting hurt. The deep trenches in the Phoenix whoops seemed like a good design, as did the rhythm section in Anaheim. In fact, I think even the dry, dusty track surface at Phoenix added another level of complexity that was good for the competition.

Thank you sir, how about another? Well, maybe some moaning is what we should be talking about. That moaning being the sound of the rest of the field after being handily spanked four races in a row. Last year, it seemed pretty obvious that the depth of talent was rising in the 125 class (now called Lites) while it was shrinking in the 250 class (now just called Supercross). Well, now it is easy to see why that is happening…the front three are so far ahead of everyone else on the track that even crashes aren’t keeping them off the podium. Sponsors have to be questioning why they are shelling out bucks to put their name on rider’s bikes when those bikes are never getting any camera time. In fact, the guys at the back of the field are probably more sponsor friendly because they are getting lapped twice and thus offer up twice the opportunity to show up on TV. Meanwhile, the Lites class is chock full of talent and is already offering up close racing and a variety of fast guys. The cha-ching of sponsorship change may soon be falling into the coffers of Lites riders rather than those in the supposed premier Supercross class.

One thing I don’t want to hear this season? The ambulance. With Windham already out, the field of potential race winners has shrunk 25%. With the front three all riding on the ragged edge (and all three having fallen or nearly fallen a few times already this season) is seems like the danger level is well into the red. There is a barely controlled intensity to the riding right now and just a little bad luck could result in a season ending crash. Lets hope these guys ride hard, but safe, this spring so we can enjoy the competition all season long.

Okay, that does it for tonight. The next sound you hear is the last byte of data falling into the bit bucket as I sign off. Have a good, and silent, night.

[image from the Discover Today’s Motorcycling web site.]