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.]

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.]

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Show me the money…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

The 1996 movie Jerry Maguire brought the job of sports management straight into the limelight. In the movie, Maguire strikes out on his own and banks his entire career on a single up-and-coming athlete. The movie fulfills its’ Hollywood script destiny when his client emerges as a superstar and catapults both of them into fame and fortune.

Lawdog with Eric Bostrom

Well, I think that Norm Viano, aka the Lawdog, has achieved something this year that is as deserving of a movie screenplay as anything that Leigh Steinberg (the real life inspiration for the Jerry Maguire character) ever pulled off. Lawdog got both of the Bostrom brothers signed to rare factory contracts despite performances over the past two years that would have most riders begging for a privateer ride. Clearly Viano is a miracle worker when it comes to sports management.

Now let me say for a moment that I’m sorry to be so harsh when talking about the brothers Boz. I think both guys are talented racers and both bring excitement to the grid whenever they line up. I’m glad to see they will be in the AMA paddock in ‘06 and wish them both the best next year but I think a critical analysis of their 2005 seasons highlights just how amazing these recent signings really are:

First, there is the second return of Ben Bostrom to AMA Superbike. Bennie was off to Europe this past summer with dreams of redeeming himself after a disappointing season aboard a Ducati in 2002 followed by two unremarkable seasons in the AMA on a Honda. He signed on with the Renegade Honda team but was behind the eight ball from the beginning due to a lack of testing and a shortage of bike parts. I think everyone involved will admit that the season sucked for everyone involved. BBoz’s best finish was a sixth in race two at Valencia but he was only inside the top ten on four occasions (the 6th and three 10th place finishes). These tepid results were amplified by ten rounds in which which zero points were scored, including four DNFs, and also by two crashes resulting in significant injuries. The worst of these accidents occurred at Silverstone where Ben had a vicious highside which resulted in broken vertebra. This was a tough year to be in the Renegade pits. I don’t think anyone would point the finger at Ben and say the team’s struggles were his fault but nonetheless his record for the past few seasons had to make his manager’s job pretty difficult when finding him a new gig. This last week it was announced that Ben would be teaming with Neil Hodgson in the AMA Superbike series on the Ducati Austin bike. Clearly Viano has pulled the rabbit out of the hat with this signing!

The person leaving Ducati to free up that coveted factory ride is Ben’s brother Eric Bostrom. EBoz’s issue for the past couple of seasons as primarily been one of consistency rather than outright poor results. 2005 was a bipolar year for Eric. On one hand, he was the second winningest rider in the AMA Superbike class, behind champ Mat Mladin, with three victories. Bostrom won his traditional race at PPIR but then backed that up with convincing victories at both Laguna Seca and Mid-Ohio. There were glimpses there of the Eric of old when he was an animal aboard the Kawasaki ZX-7R. However, the other side of the story has been one of Eric struggling to come to grips with the handling of the Ducati. At nearly half the AMA Superbike races in 2005 Eric finished outside the top five. This in a year when only seven full factory riders were on the grid. Eric’s third place finish in the championship, along with his race wins, certainly looked good on paper but anyone who watched the season unfold knows just what a disappointing the year was for the younger Bostrom. Earlier this week Yamaha put out a press release confirming that Eric Bostrom would be riding their bikes in Superstock and Formula Xtreme in 2006. I’m sure Eric would rather be racing in Superbike but that fact that he has another factory ride is another minor miracle for the Lawdog.

I do hope that the two Bostrom brothers get their mojo back in 2006 as I think both provide a critical combination of talent and personality to the paddock. Both are past AMA champs (Ben with AMA Superbike, Supermoto and 600cc Dirt Track titles, Eric with AMA Supersport, Formula Xtreme, Supertwins and 883cc Dirt Track titles) and both riders have won AMA races in the past two years. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to admit that I’m a huge fan of Eric Bostrom and that I’m excited at the prospect of watching him back aboard a four cylinder machine. But until the two riders have an opportunity to step up their on-bike performance the real star of their team is the Lawdog who got his rider’s signed to contracts which I would have previously thought only possible in a cheesy Hollywood movie.

Good job Mr. Viano and good luck to your riders.

[image from the Eric Bostrom web site

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A whiter shade of pale…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

A press release came out this week announcing that the Jordan Suzuki has signed rookie sensation Jake Holden to join 2005 riders Jason Pridmore and Steve Rapp. Holden will be riding a Superstock spec GSXR1000 in both the AMA Superstock and Superbike classes. This is a fantastic opportunity for the talented rider and another sign that Jordan is serious about winning championships in 2006.

Montez Stewart in Team Jordan 2005

However, one rider’s gain is always another rider’s loss and in this case it is Montez Stewart who will probably be short a chair when the music stops. Strictly looking at this from a results stand point, the folks at Jordan Suzuki undoubtedly made the right choice. Holden’s performance in 2005 was noteworthy as he finished sixth in Superstock and was nineteenth in Superbike. Jake ran some strong races that showed he has the talent and skill to run up front. Montez has continued to improve as a rider and put in respectable rides in Superstock but ultimately wasn’t able to generate the same results as his replacement.

Still, I’m sorry to see Tez lose this seat on the Jordan team. While having more skilled riders in the AMA series is always appreciated the other thing that is missing from the paddock is diversity. Whether its a case of gender or race, the one thing that is clearly obvious when walking through the Superbike pits is the fact that the sport is dominated by white males. Michael Jordan’s presence in the paddock has been a huge step forward in getting some exposure to a new audience and having Montez Stewart on his team has helped bring some much needed racial variation to the AMA ranks.

I’m sure that Stewart’s reason for racing is to improve as a rider, not necessarily to be a role model for minorities but I think he has been in the fortunate position of doing both. I think it is important for our sport to expand beyond its traditional audience and find new racers and new fans. Drag racing has successfully done this, in no small part because of the success of Ricky Gadsen. The same is becoming true of Supercross thanks to the performances to James “Bubba” Stewart. Finally, from what I’ve seen in the pits at the AMA races over the past two seasons there has been an explosion of new fans coming to the races primarily to see Michael Jordan and his rider Montez Stewart.

This past season saw a major shift with not only Tez on the grid but also the VeneMoto team which fielded two Venezuelan riders named Armando Ferrer and Victor Chirinos in the AMA series. Adding to the Latin influence in the pits, Hotbodies helped sponsor Mexican rider Dirk Sanchez. Finally, Kawasaki stepped up with support for Jessica Zalusky which added some much needed gender diversity to the field.

Thus it is a bit disappointing to see a little backsliding in this trend with Montez Stewart leaving the Jordan team. However, hope isn’t lost yet. There is still a chance that some other team will be the value in having Stewart…not just as a talented rider but also because of the message he can send that the AMA paddock is a place that welcomes racers no matter what their race.

[image from the Joe Rocket web site.]

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

September \’05 Odds and Ends…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, AMA Superbikes, MotoGP, WSBK

Well, another page of my MotoGP calendar needs to be turned over and that means it is time for another of my monthly Odds and Ends “catch up” postings. September has been really busy, especially with both silly season and new bike announcements trickling out, so I’ll have to skip a few things just to keep this post from being too long.

Rossi checks out the Ferrari F1 car

First up, is a news item about newly crowned ‘05 MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi. No matter how talented the guy is on the track his real talent is his ability to constantly keep his name in the news. He has monopolized the headlines for most of September as people focused on what he was already doing in 2005, questioned his 2006 plans and speculated about what he would be doing in 2007. For 2005, he has been winning races but has also now had two controversial accidents. The season opener at Jerez with Sete Gibernau and now one with Marco Melandri at Motegi. I’ve covered all this in my MotoGP blog entries but the overriding message is that Rossi continues to keep people guessing. As for 2006, I covered Rossi’s re-signing with Yamaha in my August Odds and Ends posting so that isn’t new news but who will be sponsoring the Italian superstar’s Yamaha has been the topic of endless speculation. Rossi is currently sponsored at Yamaha by Altadis’ Gauloisis cigarette brand but has apparently asked to be run without tobacco sponsorship on this bike in ‘06. The most likely reason for this, other than a possible dislike of tobacco companies, is that he is still flirting with racing a Ferrari F1 car in the near future. The best way to avoid problems with Philip Morris, the long time sponsor of Ferrari, is to make sure he has no contractual obligations to a competing tobacco company. What colors Rossi will be running next year is yet to be decided but the rumors continue to pop up on motorcycle racing news sites. Finally, there is the constant speculation about Vale becoming a F1 driver in ‘07. Again, the flurry of rumors continued all through September. First, Ferrari sent out a press releases claiming Rossi was basically signed as a test rider in 2006 then Rossi responded with a harsh public statement saying no such thing had been signed and finally Ferrari sent out another message which back pedalled considerably from their earlier claims. Presumably Valentino’s manager has been frantically fielding phone calls from Yamaha, Ferrari, Altadis and Philip Morris all month long and I suspect the actual situation probably isn’t clear to any one of these people yet. All the while, Rossi’s popularity is growing ever stronger and his name is showing up in news reports the world over. We’ll see if October brings any answers…

The rest of silly season has been so completely dwarfed by the Rossi story that very little has made the news. It seems that most of the 2005 championship winners (or likely championship winners when you look at the two international series) are already tied up for 2006. In the AMA series, Mladin (Suzuki), Yates (Suzuki), Duhamel (Honda) and Hayden (Kawasaki) are all staying put for at least another year. The biggest news in the AMA paddock has been Eric Bostrom’s move from Ducati to a Supersport/Superstock ride with Yamaha which, in my opinion, seems like a waste of his talent. The MotoGP silly season has been excruciatingly slow to play out this year and many of the top riders are still unsigned for next year. Leading that list is Sete Gibernau who may be back with Movistar Honda or may be riding for Ducati. Max Biaggi will almost certainly stay with Honda but probably won’t be in Repsol colors. Whether he ends up with the Movistar or Camel team is probably dependent on where Sete ends up. Bayliss and Barros, both teammates at Camel Honda, are unsigned for next year as is Suzuki’s Kenny Roberts Jr. It also appears that Yamaha’s Ruben Xaus, Ducati’s Carlos Checa, Kawasaki’s Alex Hoffman, and all the smaller teams riders like Shane Byrne, James Ellison, Franco Battaini and Roberto Rolfo are without contracts for next season. It seems pretty late in the year for this many teams to be without a signed rider but that may be because the current season still has four races to go. I expect all of these riders to have clarification within the next month. As far as World Superbike goes, it seems certain that Corser will be back with Suzuki next year. However, both Ducati riders, Regis Laconi and James Toseland, appear to be up in the air. Likewise, most of the Yamaha riders (Haga, Pitt, Abe, Gimbert) are still looking for jobs. Honda is rumored to be moving Chris Vermeulen to MotoGP so that opens up a seat at Ten Kate, though presumably his teammate Karl Muggeridge will stay on another year. Who knows what is happening with Kawasaki. Again, I suspect a lot of the WSBK riders will be confirmed in the next month but in the meantime you can always follow who is going where on my silly season web page.

Speaking of the AMA series, a tentative 2006 race schedule has already been announced. Combine this early release of dates for next year with the long term commitment that the AMA Pro Racing board announced earlier this summer for the superbike class rules and you’d almost get the idea that they have been listening to the criticism that has been leveled at them for the past decade. These efforts to get things nailed down early and with more solidity mean that teams can better plan and prepare for the upcoming year. Even better than the AMA’s promptness in this regard is the content of the proposed ‘06 series: As late as February of last year there were only nine circuits listed on the ‘05 schedule while the tentative ‘06 schedule already shows 11. Only three ovals are on the list (Daytona, Fontana and PPIR) while the remaining eight rounds will be at true road race tracks. This year the AMA raced at the same three ovals (and eventually at VIR to make ten rounds) so I’m glad to see that the new addition to the schedule is a venue with a true road race track. Racing at more places that don’t just cram a flat infield into a NASCAR oval will help make the sport safer and will keep the racing more interesting. It is only a baby step but adding one new track is definitely a step in the right direction. Now if only they can find a series sponsor!

Speaking of the new road race track the AMA announcement shows a mid-June date for the inaugural Superbike race at the Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City, Utah in 2006. Even better, this is currently slated to be a doubleheader round so it increases the races on next year’s calendar by *two*. I’m excited about this news for two reasons, the first of which is simply that its close enough that I can actually attend which means I should hit three AMA Superbike races in ‘06: Miller Motorsports Park, PPIR and Laguna. Second, the AMA adding another event in the Rocky Mountain region means that they can now seriously consider dropping PPIR event off the schedule in the future. Its a crappy track for road racing and losing it from the ‘07 AMA schedule wouldn’t be much of a loss. Lets hope the clock has started ticking on how much longer the AMA guys will have to suffer through going round and round the PPIR merry-go-round.

Another bit of exciting AMA Superbike news as the announcement at the Kawasaki dealer show that Team Green would be racing the ZX-10R in Superbike next season with Tommy and Roger Lee Hayden as their riders. This again is great news for the sport because it gets the premier superbike class that much closer to having full participation by all the major manufacturers. Additionally, it puts two of the most talented riders in the series into the top class in the series which again increases the excitement of the racing. Both riders deserve a shot at the top prize in AMA road racing and I’m thrilled to see they are getting their shot. Kudos to Kawasaki for taking up the challenge. Now if only Yamaha was so brave.

Also on the domestic front the AMA Pro Racing board made news this month when they handed down fines to motocross riders Mike Alessi and Matt Walker after the Tedesco/Alessi/Walker incident earlier this month at Glen Helen. At issue was an accident in which Alessi appeared to intentionally take out 125cc championship rival Ivan Tedesco but ended up taking himself down as well. Alessi then stood on Tedesco’s still running bike to prevent him from being able to continue the race. Meanwhile Tedesco’s teammate Walker doubled back on the track to knock Alessi of the Kawasaki so Ivan could get back underway. The AMA decided that because of his actions Alessi needed to take a $5,000 hit to his wallet, as well as a disqualification from the entire Glen Helen round and a 12 month probation. Finally, and perhaps the most painful, is that Alessi is also taken out of the running for the AMA Pro Racing Rookie of the Year award. Walker was deemed to have also acted in a way that negatively affects the sport and was given a $2,500 fine, a disqualification from the second moto at Glen Helen and a was put on probation for next year’s Supercross and Motocross seasons. I have mixed feelings about the reprimand for Walker but I’m thrilled to see Alessi get such a heavy penalty after acting so immature. Bravo to the AMA for taking action on this.

Shifting gears completely, let me mention two completely unrelated things to close out this month’s Odds and Ends.

First, Yamaha did an initial announcement of their new bikes earlier this month and included in that a quick photo of the ‘06 FJR1300 sport touring bike. Then all the info associated with the FJR was removed from their web site which caused all sorts of rumors to start flying around the net. Well, at the Paris Motorcycle Show today the European model FJR was officially announced and the mystery was finally revealed: the 2006 FJR will be released with a semi-automatic transmission. This means it will have a conventional gearbox but will use electronics to handle the shifts without the rider having to use a shift lever. It remains to be announced if this auto tranny will be available on US models or not. This will be the first production street bike since the old Hondamatic and Moto Guzzi Convert to have an automatic transmission so this is pretty big news from a technology stand point. However, as a rider I have zero interest in such a thing as shifting gears is a fundamental part of the motorcycle experience for me.

Finally, I wanted to mention that a new motorcycle movie about New Zealander HJ “Bert” Munro has been released Down Under called The World’s Fastest Indian. I doubt this movie will make it to US theaters but it should eventually be available on DVD some time next year. If you haven’t heard of HJ Munro he build Indian motorcycles in the pre-WWII era as land speed racers. Like John Britten, who came along much later, Munru hand build most of his bike’s parts in a little shed in on the south island of New Zealand and was a real innovator at a time when the application of technology to motorcycles was still at a relatively early stage. His story is a fascinating one to anyone interested in the people who pushed the limits of motorcycles during the infancy of the sport. I think it will make a nice addition to my library of motorcycle movies so I hope the DVD does make it to the US so I can buy a copy. Maybe it will inspire me to finally buy that welder for the garage I’ve been dreaming out…

That’s it for this month. Thanks for reading.

[image from the web site.]

Monday, September 19, 2005

Support system…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

Well, I once again missed the weekend’s racing due to a technical problem with my VCR (…oh, and yes I do know how to spell DVR so spare me the emails…). Since I can’t write about the Japanese GP until I see the re-runs this coming Tuesday I’ll have to go through the backlog of articles that I’ve been meaning to do when I found the ‘Roundtuit and write something. Well…I pulled a random thought out of my head and it turned out to be doing my long overdue review of the ‘05 AMA support classes so here it goes:

The AMA support races were unique this year because all three came down to the final round before crowning a champ. With the factories all splitting their attention across the four classes, there were top riders in each as well as a mix of new model bikes and aging machines. Thus some of the support classes become as important, if not more so, than the “premier” Superbike class.

Tommy Hayden wins Supersport title

First and foremost is the Supersport class. With the status of the AMA’s “premier” class still unclear, it seems like the manufacturers have decided the two “stock” classes are where they have settled down for a head-to-head battle. With 600cc sport bikes the most popular sports bikes in the big four’s lineup a Supersport championship helps move a lot of bikes off showroom floors and it may in fact be the most important trophy that a factory can bring home. Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki all had full factory efforts in Supersport. Kawasaki started the season with the advantage of having the #1 plate on the front of defending champ Tommy Hayden’s ZX-6, along with brother Roger Lee as his teammate. To counter this, Yamaha put forth their four rider “dream team” of Jamie Hacking, Aaron Gobert, Damon Buckmaster and Jason Disalvo on the new R6. Finally, Suzuki kept their toe in the Supersport waters by having rising star Ben Spies ride the little changed GSXR-600. Even the factory support teams like M4 Suzuki and Attack Kawasaki put riders like Geoff May and Ben Attard in the class. Finally, some of the top up-and-coming riders like Chris Peris, Robert Jensen, Blake Young, Danny Eslick and Nicky Moore decided to use Supersport as the showcase for their talents in the hopes of getting better rides next year.

The season started out as a Yamaha-Kawasaki duel with both Hacking and T. Hayden taking five straight podium finishes in the first half of the ten round series including two wins each. Likewise, this was mirrored by their teammates where R. Hayden and J. Disalvo each had a DNF but also had consistent top four finishes in the other four races. No one else was close to these four and by mid-season the championship fight was confined to them. Unfortunately, Hacking had an accident after PPIR while training on his bicycle which broken both of his wrists and put him out for the rest of the season. This opened the door for Tommy to build up a sizeable points lead which he held despite an accident at Laguna Seca which broke his hand. The main story of the second half of the season was the injuries of Hayden and Hacking but the sub-plot was the emergence of Rog Hayden and Disalvo stepping up to make their grab for race wins and a late season points charge for the title. Tommy won round six at Road America but from then until the end of the season every race was won by either Roger Lee or Jason. Rog ultimately got the better of the battle with three straight wins compared to a single win by JD. Tommy Hayden put in amazing rider with a broken hand to card two amazing second places finishes in the final four rounds. His worst finish of the year was a sixth at Lagana earned just a few hours after his bone breaking crash. At the end of the year, the top three were T. Hayden, R. Hayden and J. Disalvo. Hacking slipped down to 12th in the standings after his injury. Spies came through in forth, followed by May, Gobert, Buckmaster and Attard. Class rookies Jensen and Peris filled out the last two spots of the top 10. A great season of racing with a lot of interesting stories and very deserving champion. A great story for Kawasaki, a respectable showing from Yamaha and a less than stellar endeavor for Suzuki.

Super-size the Supersport class and you get the Superstock bikes. These are the 1000cc bikes but in a configuration that is closer to stock (though things are a bit confusing since they run racing slicks rather than DOT tires). Like the smaller displacement class, three of the four manufacturers went head-to-head in Superstock. Yamaha brought back defending champ Aaron Gobert on the R1 along with his three compadres of Jamie Hacking, Damon Buckmaster and Jason Disalvo. Kawasaki put the two Hayden brothers on the big ZX-10Rs and Suzuki put Aaron Yates on a GSXR-thou. Again, a number of the factory support teams like Jordan Suzuki (Steve Rapp, Montez Stewart, Jason Pridmore), M4 Suzuki (Vincent Haskovec, Geoff May, Michael Barnes), Corona Suzuki (Brent George, Tony Meiring), Hooters Suzuki (Eric Wood, Jimmy Moore), Hypercycle Suzuki (John Haner) and KWS Suzuki (Lee Acree) chose to focus on Supersport. Since nearly all these teams ran GSXRs, Suzuki had to be the favorite for the title if only because of the raw number of their bikes entered in the class.

The season started off with an emotional win by M4’s Czech rider Vincent Haskovec at Daytona with Yates and Pridmore filling out the all-Suzuki podium. Round two mixed things up with a Kawasaki win from T. Hayden, a runner up for Disalvo and a third for Yates. Another shuffle at round three with Disalvo getting a win, Hacking second and Rapp preventing the Yamaha sweep. Round four had Yates notch his first victory of the season while Hacking and Disalvo rounded out the rostrum. The fifth winner in five races was crowned with Hacking taking his first class win for ‘05, followed home by Yates and T.Hayden. It has to be exciting racing when every weekend puts a new face on the top step of the podium. In the second half of the season, things changed completely. Aaron Yates decided he better win this thing and proceeded to win four straight, only backing off at the final round to tie up the championship with a conservative ninth place finish. When Yates started his roll, only Disalvo could hang tough. JD scored five straight podium finishes, including three seconds, while trying to keep Yates honest. Also notable was Tommy Hayden who dropped out of the class after he crashed and broke his hand at Laguna while leading in Superstock. Until the accident he was in the top three in points and a threat for the title. His brother Roger Lee showed he can ride a big bike by getting on the podium three times in the second half of the season and winning the last race of the year. Another rider that emerged was ‘04 star privateer Geoff May who got two podium finishes this year in Superstock while riding for the M4 team. The top ten for the ’stockers shows just how competitive the class really was with Suzuki (Yates), Yamaha (Disalvo), Suzuki (Rapp), Kawasaki (R. Hayden), Suzuki (J. Haner), Suzuki (J. Holden), Yamaha (Buckmaster), Suzuki (May), Yamaha (Gobert) and Kawasaki (T. Hayden) finishing in that order. Yates winning the championship earned him for than a #1 plate has he seemed certain to lose his Yoshimura ride in ‘06 until the final race of the year when he was suddenly re-signed. The Superstock championship undoubtedly earned him that contract renewal.

The final AMA support class is their “other” premier class which is Forumla Xtreme. For years FX was an “anything goes” class but the upgrade of Superbikes to 1000cc bikes made the two classes nearly redundant. As a result, the AMA “downgraded” FX to be a 600 Superbike class for ‘04. A great idea, really, and one that has been discussed for years but unfortunately they failed to get buy-in from the manufacturers before creating the class. For two straight years, Honda has been the only factory to race in the class meaning it is essentially a nine round marketing campaign for HRC. (As an aside, I think all the factories should be racing in Superbike and FX, leaving the ’stock classes to privateers and factory support teams but I’m not the one that has to manage the R&D costs for the factories…) Anyway, for ‘05 everyone knew that FX was going to be a two-man battle with everyone else just around to fight for the final podium spot. This turned out to be precisely the case. Honda’s two star riders of Miguel Duhamel and Jake Zemke lined up with their CBR600RRs as the two championship contenders. The second tier Erion Honda riders of Kurtis Roberts and Alex Gobert were there as well, meaning Honda should have been sweeping the podium on a regular basis. The most likely folks to challenge Erion for that third spot were M4 Suzuki riders of Vincent Haskovec and later Michael Barnes. Ben Attard and the Attack squad put a green Kawasaki in the field but the rest of the pack was made up of privateers like Danny Eslick, Chris Peris, Opie Caylor, Nicky Moore and Mike Hale.

As expected, the season was a titanic struggle between Zemke and Duhamel. The two earned every win and only gave up two second place finishes to other riders. In fact, the only surprise was that there were only two Honda sweeps of the podium over the nine races (FX didn’t race at Laguna Seca, thus the “missing” race) both with Roberts doing the honors. The battle for third place was primarily between Haskovec, Attard, Barnes and Jensen. The tragedy of the season was at the forth round at Infinion Raceway where Haskovec crashed and slid into a unprotected tire wall. He bike followed him in and the resulting accident ended with one of the most promising riders in the series being paralyzed. In better news, Kurtis Roberts was only set to race two events in Formula Xtreme and was on the podium in both races, showing that perhaps Erion should have focused the youngest Roberts in that class instead of Superbike where they struggled all season. The real breakthrough, though, was Danny Eslick who came into the year with minimal road racing experience but got top five finishes on five different occasions. Likewise, Ben Attard deserves credit for being in the top five in every race, except the season opener at Daytona, including two third place podium finishes. But in the end it was all about Zemke and Duhamel. They battled all season long with Zemke winning out on raw wins with five compared to four from Dahamel but the Canadian taking the championship thanks to a crash by the Californian while leading at the final round. Despite the class being a bit of a snooze-fest, the final race was probably the best race of the year in any class. Proof that even predictable races can be very exciting. Eslick finished the season a fantastic third overall, showing that the youngster is a new emerging talent in AMA road racing. Attard was forth and Aaron Gobert fifth. The final five were Barnes (the replacement for Haskovec), Peris, Moore, Caylor and Knapp. Hopefully, more factories and/or factory supported teams will enter the FX field in the years to come making it more exciting series and reserving the other classes for those who can’t afford to race in Superbike spec classes.

All in all, a great year of racing. All the champs rode hard and all three has phenomenal teams behind them. The days of a privateer winning over the factories in the support classes are probably long gone. However, I do have two observations:

First, while a number of talented new faces showed up this year including Eslick and Peris, three of the four AMA champions are seasoned veterans. Duhamel is at least 37, Mladin 33 and Yates is 32. Even Hayden, at 27, is hardly a youngster any more. The promising stars of tomorrow like Spies, R. Hayden, Zemke, Disalvo, Attard, Eslick, Peris and Young need to start winning championships. Some, most notably factory riders Spies, Zemke, R. Hayden and Disalvo are already winning races and their second place finishes in the various classes give some hope that a new generation may finally be ready to take over. While I’m happy to see old guys winning not just in the AMA but also showing well in World Superbike (Corser, Haga) and even in motocross and supercross (Larocco, Dowd) I do think it is a sign that the young guys aren’t working hard enough. Lets hope the racers still in their twenties can start sticking it to the vets next year.

Second, I think that Vincent Haskovec’s injury is a huge loss for Haskovec, for the AMA and perhaps for the sport. If nothing else, it is a frightening reminder of just how dangerous this sport can be. At its worst, it is a situation where a talented racer has had his life dramatically changed, a series has lost some of its prestige and the sport may have lost some fans. That’s bad mojo all around. While Vincent’s accident has spurred a renewed interest in making our tracks safer, no end result can justify the impact this has had on his life. Lets hope that the AMA and the tracks make a huge step forward with track safety for next year so no other riders will have to suffer this kind of accident.

So while I offer congratuations to Tommy Hayden (Supersport), Aaron Yates (Superstock) and Miguel Duhamel (Formula Extreme) for their championships, I want to close by sending out my thoughts to Vincent Haskovec for the price he ultimately paid in providing the entertainment that AMA road racing offered in ‘05.

[image from the Kawasaki web site.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

It takes two hands now…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

This past weekend was a great one for Suzuki as the brand tied up three championships: AMA Motocross (Ricky Carmichael), AMA Superstock (Aaron Yates) and AMA Superbike (Mat Mladin). Way back in April I did a blog entry that forecast Suzuki would have a banner year in production racing and with the GSXR1000 winning both AMA classes for which it is eligible and likely to win World Superbike as well, the Hamamatsu, Japan based company have a lot to be proud of this year. However, even more proud has to be the Mat Mladin family. Not only did Mladin do what he needed to do at Road Atlanta in order to tie up the 2005 Superbike championship, his *sixth* AMA Superbike title, but he also earned pole position which finalized his sweep of pole positions for the season. He did everything in 2005, short of a Carmichael-esque series sweep, to stamp his authority on the Superbike grid. Marty Craggill, the rider sponsored by Mladin, finished out the AMA Superbike season in 7th as the top privateer which is another phenomenal achievement for Mat. Finally, he goes into pre-season testing with a new three year contract with Suzuki meaning he can enjoy his time off and then come back for winter testing focused on how to keep him championship steamroller going in 2006.

Number six of Mat Mladin

But I’m getting ahead of myself…Mladin came into the Road Atlanta round with a relatively small 21 point lead over teammate Ben Spies. Despite Mladin having been dominant all season his two DNFs, along with consistent riding by Superbike rookie Spies, meant his seemingly insurmountable mid-season points advantage had been eroded to what is paid for a single win. If Mladin had bad luck in either of the Road Atlanta races then Spies could still snatch away the 2005 championship. This meant Mladin had to walk a fine line between conservative rides that wouldn’t risk a crash or mechanical while still riding hard enough to gain valuable points. Spies, on the other hand, needed to run the table: Get the single point for pole position, get the two points available for leading the most laps in the two races and finally get the full 72 points available for two wins. From the first laps of practice, it looks like Spies hopes were evaporating fast. Mladin was fast straight out of the truck and then threw down a stunning lap in qualifying to get pole by 1.5 seconds over Spies. (As a side note, this was the 47 AMA Superbike pole position for Mat, the final needed to sweep the poles for this year and the 1:21.685 time bettered the Road Atlanta lap record by nearly 1/2 a second. Impressive!)

When the riders lined up on Saturday for race one, Spies did what he needed to do off the start by grabbing the hole shot. Unfortunately, for him, Mladin also got off to a good start and Spies lead didn’t even last one lap. Mladin went to the front and slowly pulled away. However, it appeared that Spies luck may yet improve because the race was red flagged on lap 18 because Heath Small crashed and knocked himself into another realm of (un)consciousness. The riders were re-gridded for an eight lap sprint race which appeared to favor Spies…Mladin is rougher on clutches that his Yoshimura teammate. When the race was restarted, Spies again got a great launch and held it longer, this time a full lap, before being passed by Mladin. Unlike the first stint, Mladin didn’t pull a gap and was pressured by Spies for the entire eight laps. Meanwhile the two inched away from their third teammate Aaron Yates. With two laps to go, Mladin gained a little breathing room and Yates threw his GSXR into the turn 10 gravel trap. Mladin carded his eleventh win of the season and gained another six points over Spies in the championship hunt. Yates crash was particularly painful because not only did it end another potential all-Suzuki podium but it also ruined any chance of him overtaking Eric Bostrom for third in the championship battle…ruling out a Suzuki 1-2-3 in the title race. Ouch! Yates misfortune gifted Miguel Duhamel with the final podium spot which was a nice reward for the slow but steady improvement the American Honda squad has been dealing with all season with their CBR.

On Sunday, the riders lined up for the last race of the season and all eyes were on Mladin and Spies. At the start, Mladin rocketed to the lead but an immediate red flag called everyone back for a complete restart. As was seen in race one at VIR, Mladin’s clutch didn’t hook up well on the restart and he ended up mid-pack. Spies, meanwhile, got yet another holeshot and started to pull away. It took Mladin most of the race to conservatively work his way from 20th to 4th…high enough in the points to lock up the 2006 championship. Meanwhile Yates, sensing a win was his only chance to catch back up to EBoz for third overall, was on a mission. He caught, then passed and then pulled away from Spies. Yates took the win by over 6 seconds from Spies. Neil Hodgson bookended his 2005 season by ending on the podium (this time in third, in contrast to his second place in the season opener at Daytona).

When all the points were tallied, the top five in the championship battle were:

1 - Mat Mladin (536)
2 - Ben Spies (514)
3 - Eric Bostrom (431)
4 - Aaron Yates (414)
5 - Miguel Duhamel (392)
6 - Neil Hodgson (384)
7 - Marty Craggill (331)
8 - Steve Rapp (305)
9 - Josh Hayes (302)
1o - Lee Acree (301)

Mladin now has six AMA Superbike championships, twice the number of any other racer. Additionally, his 11 race wins this season pulls him well clear of Duhamel when it comes to the total number of AMA superbike race wins. Mladin now has a total of 43. Whether you like Mladin or not, there is no denying his unbelievable talent and his unstoppable work ethic. The raw stats show that Mladin is the best superbike rider the AMA has ever seen.

If Mat’s fellow competitors have anything to look forward to in 2006, its that those same stats may provide a small glimmer of hope. His six US championships have been spread over seven years broken into two strings of three years each: Mladin topped the points table in 1999, 2000 and 2001, then winning again in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Nicky Hayden sits in the middle of that streak as he took the 2002 title. Anyone believing in numerology may having something to look forward to…for the rest, there is always the fight for second place…

[image from the web site.]

Friday, September 2, 2005

Double superbikes in September…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes, MRA, WSBK

This weekend servers up a three course meal made up of double shots of production bike racing. First, the World Superbike series lines up for their ninth weekend of a twelve race season in Assen, Holland. Then the AMA boys take a visit down south for their final race of the season with a double header at Road Atlanta. As if four superbike races weren’t enough for one weekend, the local MRA club has their first ever double header weekend at PPIR. Regional, national or international, this Labor Day weekend has you covered.

First up, lets cast our eyes on the International stage. The World Superbike series is entering the final quarter of their season with this weekend’s race at the famous Assen TT Circuit. With Troy Corser on top by 110 points, it seems unlikely anyone will be able to win the title without the Aussie having some sort of problem but since they don’t give out the trophies until the final checkered flag it is still a bit early to declare him the champ. The riders that will have to step it up here at the end of the season to even keep their hopes alive are Honda’s Chris Vermeulen and Ducati’s Regis Laconi. Unfortunately, Laconi threw his Duc down the track in practice this morning and ripped a few holes in his body. At a time when he needs to be at his best, he may be at his worst. I think today’s highside has ended the Frenchman’s ‘05 championship run. So that leaves Australian Vermeulen as the great hope if the Superbike championship battle is to stay exciting for the last four races. Fortunately, his Dutch Ten Kate Honda team are on home ground this weekend which may be enough of an advantage to tip the balance in Chris’ favor. Chris has been consistent over the last three rounds with four podium appearances in six races (two 2nds, two 3rds) but hasn’t won since the second Monza race back in June. He needs to get back to his winning ways this weekend. Haga, on the other hand, has won two of the last four races but with him mired down in fifth in points he is just racing for pride at this point. Vermeulen doesn’t need to crash but he does need to maximize his points. Haga, if he continues with his current form, is going to hamper that goal as he may well take much needed points away from the Honda rider this weekend. As with the MotoGP guys earlier this summer the World Superbike guys are visiting this Assen track for the last time before a major construction project dramatically changes the layout and just like the GP riders the WSBK riders are already bemoaning the changes to the track. Lets hope this weekend’s race is a good one and that it doesn’t end up going down as the last of the great Assen motorcycle races.

Superbikes at Road Atlanta

Closer to home, the AMA Superbike series has their last race of the year this weekend. What isn’t unusual is that Mat Mladin comes in as the clear favorite to win the championship having won 10 races so far this year. What is unusual is that the now traditional Rd. Atlanta double header is closing out the season where normally it is held earlier in the year. Strangely enough, despite the event being the last on the calendar all four AMA classes come to the Georgia track without a champion in any of them having already been decided. Thus all the races this weekend will be closely watched to see who is crowned but none of them will be more highly anticipated that the two Superbike races. Mladin leads teammate Spies by a scant 21 points after his double wins at VIR last weekend. As with the World Superbike points race, Mladin has the upper hand and only a crash or a bike problem will keep him from earning his 6th AMA Superbike title. However, problems have often found Mat at this track including his spectacular rear tire failure in ‘03 and his nearly running into an ambulance in ‘99. Since Mladin opened his weekend at Road Atlanta by turning laps a second faster than anyone else, the odds are clearly in his favor even considering his infrequent bad luck on the back straight. With the other Yoshimura riders also riding well at Road A, another pair of Suzuki podium sweeps may be likely. This morning, Honda’s Miguel Duhamel and Ducati’s Neil Hodgson were also fast so expect them to be involved in the fight for the final podium spot.

Finally, the MRA is heading down to southern Colorado to knock out a double header weekend at Pikes Peak International Raceway. This will be the seventh and eighth of the ten round season and the points earned this weekend may well lock up the premier Race of the Rockies titles…in practice even if not in points. Shane Turpin has trounced the competition this season having won every RoR GTO race. The only reason he hasn’t already tied up the title is that second in points Dan Turner has been nearly as consistent only failing to finish second on one occasion (when he finished forth). Turpin currently holds a 28 point lead over Turner with Rich Demming a further 14 points behind. Turpin also leads the RoR GTU class with a 31 point lead over Marty Sims and a 45 point lead over Greg Greenwood. It seems nearly certain that Shane will be the double #1 plate holder for the MRA in ‘06. The MRA has 28 different classes so there will be lots of racing this weekend and plenty of excitement for those following the points battles. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of PPIR. However, I do hope people will turn out for the races this weekend, not only because I want to see people support the MRA but I think PPIR deserves a little as well after they supported the Racing 2 Save Lives event earlier this summer.

Alright, so I’ll admit that all the major title chases have lost the majority of their interest. Suzuki seems to be ruling the production bike roost and the points leaders have seemingly insurmountable leads. Still, the racing in all three series is fantastic and the competition seems to be working hard to close the gap on the GSXRs. There may yet be a surprise or two in store for us fans. I plan to spend at least a little of my Labor Day weekend watching racing and hopefully you will too.

[image from the Road Atlanta web site.]

Thursday, September 1, 2005

The break…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

In an effort to stay at least a little current, I’ll get my review of last weekend’s AMA races posted today since the next and final round of the series is this coming weekend.

This year RPM took over the promotions duty for the VIR round of the AMA Superbike series. In doing so, they also resurrected their “Big Kahuna” title for the rider that earns the most points over the two races of the double header weekend (unfortunately, it appears they haven’t resurrected the old prize where the rider that gets the “Big Kahuna” award also gets a trip to Hawaii…).

Mladin - The Big Kahuna

No matter how you cut it, the Big Kahuna at VIR was obvious. Mat Mladin smashed the lap record to earn pole position and then convincingly won both races. Surfers know that the most important moment of any wave is that moment when the wave breaks. From then on, the surfer can ride the face of the wave all the way to the beach. Well, I think VIR was the break in the crushing wave that will eventually become Mladin’s sixth AMA superbike title. Mladin’s double win boosts him back to a 21 point lead over young Ben Spies in the championship battle. While this isn’t an insurmountable gap the twin victories may well have been the decisive results needed to break Spies’ drive for the title.

In the Saturday event, the reigning superbike champ initially looked like he would pull one of his patented run-away wins. When the race started Spies jumped to the front but within a few laps Mladin had comfortably made the pass for the lead but that same lap the red flags came out an called the race to a halt. On the restart, Mladin got off the line horribly and, with shades of Mid-Ohio, had to to start working his way up through the pack. Over the next ten or so laps, Mladin dispatched each rider in the field until he was back up to second. Then the race was stopped a second time due to another accident. Spies’ team did a frantic clutch change during the break but Mladin’s team, probably remembering the Fontana fiasco, opted not to make change to Mat’s bike. As a result, he got another lousy start when the race was again re-started and again had to work his way through the field. Mladin seemed more focused in the third leg and rocketed back to the front, quickly passing both of his Yoshimura teammates for the lead. At that point, Mladin held on for the victory while Spies and Yates filled out the other two steps of the podium for another Suzuki sweep.

With Mladin winning on Saturday, the pressure was really on Spies to rebound on Sunday to keep this title hope alive. Unfortunately, for the young Texan, Mat missed the memo and apparently ate an extra bowl of Wheaties for breakfast. From the green flag, Mladin was on a mission. He charged through to the front and then just disappeared. He turned in lap after lap at record speeds while everyone else struggled to try to match his speed. In the end, Mladin lapped all the way up to the top 10 and won the race by 11 seconds over Yates and Spies. This marked the fifth Suzuki sweep of the podium this season. Clearly the GSXR is the bike to beat this season and with his 10 wins so far this year Mat Mladin is clearly the best of the best.

For the rest of the racers, Duhamel was at the top of the non-Yoshimura Suzuki riders, bringing his Honda home to fifth and fourth place finishes across the two races. This weekend, when combined with his fourth and second finishes from Mid-Ohio, made if four straight top fives for the Canadian. While the American Honda developed CBR isn’t yet up to the level of the GSXR, it has improved into being the second best bike on the AMA Superbike grid. Duhamel’s teammate Zemke got a fourth in the first race but then had a DNF in race two to ruin his overall stats for the weekend. Still, the Honda’s consistently beat the Ducati’s at VIR so props to their riders. Speaking of the Ducatis, both riders struggled this past weekend. Hodgson crashed out of race one but then rebounded to a fifth in the second event. Bostrom was consistent with sixth and seventh results but after his wins at Pikes Peak, Laguna Seca and Mid-Ohio, two finishes outside the top five were far below what was expected. EBoz seemed to have found something after PPIR but has apparently once again slid to the back of the factory bike pack. If 6/7 finishes were disappointing for Bostrom, the opposite 7/6 results were excellent for Josh Hayes on the semi-privateer Attack Kawasaki. Now that the Attack squad’s early season mechanical woes are behind them they are again stealing points from the full factory teams. Their success can be measured not by how far they are from the front but how many factory guys are behind them. Hayes beat a factory Ducati in each race in Virginia which has to qualify as success.

So the story of the weekend is Mladin and his regaining control over a championship battle that momentarily seemed to be faltering due to the crash at Mid-Ohio. At VIR he stepped back up and put his stamp of authority on the title fight. With only the double header at Road Atlanta left in the season Mladin continues to churn out win after win. The #1 plate can’t be given to Mladin a week early but with 41 career superbike wins the stats would back up him carrying that number again in 2006. Perhaps now he can now just ride the season’s momentum through to Georgia where he can tie up the 2005 Superbike championship. Big Kahuna, indeed!

[image from the AMA Superbike web site.]

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Back to the grind stone…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes, MotoGP

Normally, I would do my weekend race preview on Friday but with the Iron Butt Rally riders returning to Denver at the end of this week I thought I’ll pull the preview in one day so I can give another IBR update after watching some of the IBR riders return from the first leg.

There are two races this weekend and both have something in common. Both venues are defined by their terrain as both are built in rolling hills. Second, both are classic courses making them among the best visited by their respective series. Finally, in both cases the main news for the weekend focuses on the two championship leaders. In fact, if the headlines on Monday aren’t focused on the two title favorites, then you can bet the biggest news will in fact have something to do with them anyway! In this case, the two events are the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Czech Republic at the Autodromo Brno and the AMA Superbike Suzuki Big Kahuna Nationals at Virginia International Raceway.

The Grand Prix weekend at Brno should be the most interesting of the two as the MotoGP riders are returning to the final third of their season after a four week break. This means that injuries will have healed, which is especially important for John Hopkins, Makoto Tamada and Tony Elias, and the tired bodies are rested. The riders that have been struggling have had some time to find motivation, those that have been under the pressure of Rossi’s mind games have had a month off to rebuild their shattered confidence and the engineers back in the R&D labs will finally have a chance to try out their latest miracle fixes for whatever ails their non-winning machines. Going into the break, it was obvious that Rossi was in the cat bird seat as he currently holds a 120 point lead over Melandri after winning all but two of the races so far this season. With 25 points awarded per win Rossi only needs two more race wins from the remaining six in order to clinch his 5th premier championship title.

The battle for second place in the championship race couldn’t offer more of a contrast compared to the battle for the lead. While Rossi is running away out front there are six riders all within 15 points of each other in the fight for the runner up spot. Currently Melandri is at the front of the scrap but only by one point over his teammate Gibernau. Another spot and another point behind them is Edwards who is then trailed by a single point by Biaggi. When four riders are spread only a single point apart you know there will be some fireworks over the next few races. With Barros and Hayden tied for sixth a further 12 points behind Biaggi it really is anyone’s guess on how the final title points tally will look.

The last three races (Laguna, Donington and Sachsenring) have shown that Rossi is the only rider with any consistency what-so-ever. The riders that have tried to build some momentum, like Hayden, Edwards and Biaggi, have all struggled during at least one round. Hayden was the golden child at Laguna with his amazing win and was equally impressive taking the third step on the Sachsenring podium but then fell off in the rain at Donington in between those results. Edwards was 2nd and 4th in the US and UK but then slipped to 8th in Germany. Biaggi has a pair of fourth place finishes but also got bitten by the rain in Britain. The only other consistency has been with DNFs. Melandri fell twice in a row before bringing it home in seventh at the Sachsenring. Likewise, Checa and Bayliss have two falls each, though the Spaniard was fifth in the wet and Bayliss was 6th in the California sunshine. Gibernau is the only rider to show improvement, going from a Laguna 5th to a DNF to second. None of these guys have put together the kind of mid-season charge needed to beat Rossi on track and none have had the consistency to stay close in the points. The final rider news is the big fat question mark that will be hanging over Shane Byrne’s head given the recent melt down between KTM and Team Roberts. I think it will be a miracle if the TeamKR bike can even take to the track since the engine, rider and tires are all in doubt.

Aerial view of Autodromo Brno

What is certain is that the 3.36 mile Brno circuit should, as it has done for nearly 20 years, provide some great racing. As I mentioned back in my Brno World Superbike race preview back in July the track is what all motorcycle race tracks should be: fast, challenging, safe and scenic. It is laid out on the hills outside Prague and the resulting elevation changes give the track a distinct character. Imagine Assen with its high speed turns and off-camber turns but laid out in the Czech hills rather than the plains of Holland. The track is filled with bumpy high speed sweeping down-hill turns which means that riders need to have near telepathic communication from their front tire. With the track being unusually wide this also means that those with confidence in their bike setup and with a bucket load of courage will have plenty of passing opportunities. Roughly half the track is taken in third gear or faster which means a bike will average over 100mph over the course of a lap and will top out over 180mph on at least two different sections of the track. This is a seriously cool track!

The AMA boys double header at VIR, in contrast to the MotoGP race, marks the penultimate round of their series with only a double header at Rd Atlanta in one week remaining. Also unlike the MotoGP series, the points battle in the superbike championship is far from decided. Thanks to two DNFs (one a mechanical failure and the second being taken out in someelse’s crash) Mat Mladin has a narrow nine point lead over his Yoshimura teammate Ben Spies despite having put on a commanding performance so far this season with eight wins. Also unlike MotoGP, the contest for the second place is more spread out with the recently resurgent Eric Bostrom trailing Spies by 54 points and Aaron Yates a further 18 points behind Bostrom. This means that Spies has enough of a cushion that he can afford to go for the broke at VIR in an effort to beat Mladin.

It is consistency that has kept Spies in the fight, especially over the last three races where he’s had a 4th, a 2nd and a 3rd, but he needs some wins in these final races to really have a shot at the #1 plate. Mladin had a second at Laguna and a first at Mid-Ohio before being torpedoed by Yates in the second Mid-Ohio race and so is still the favorite coming into this weekend…only a fool would bet against him. The fight for third doesn’t look good for Yates as it is Eboz that has earned the most points over the last three races with two wins and one third. Yates was on the podium at Laguna but then he threw his Suzuki into the dirt in both Mid-Ohio rounds which allowed his Ducati mounted rival to jump ahead of him in the title hunt. The stats would indicate that Eboz is on a roll and has the upper hand in the fight for third.

The stage upon which this end of season drama will take place is a beautiful 17 turn, 2.25 mile laid out on the the hills near Danville, VA. The venue is a classic road race circuit, unlike the NASCAR oval infields which fill out a third of the schedule, and thus one of the better events on the calendar. It is made even better because, like the Suzuki Cycle Fest that I attended last weekend, it is being promoted by RPM. They understand how to make an event successful by providing a variety of things to do above and beyond the racing. In this case, those attending the VIR event will not only have the opportunity to watch the AMA races but we also see a go kart event comprising teams made up of AMA racers, moto-journalists and fans. If the racing doesn’t do it for you SpeedTV will have a huge display area, there will be screening of the movie Faster, a motorcycle stunt demonstration team will be performing, there will be live music in the evenings and a vendor area for those interested in shopping for motorcycle gear. This is a seriously cool event!

Not a bad weekend of entertainment, whether you’re watching a great GP race at Brno on TV or if you’re lucky enough to be attending the AMA superbike weekend in Virginia.

[image from the Autodromo Brno web page.]