Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Monday, March 14, 2005

  • I’m afraid that this blog is going to be pretty quiet for the next two weeks as my wife and I are taking a trip to Spain. We will spend a few days playing tourist in Barcelona, then we will head down south to do a nine day motorcycle tour with Edelweiss Bike Travel. !@(afimages/Blog/2005/3/andalucia-road.jpg:L200 popimg: “Andalucia roads”) From what I can tell from reading web pages on the net and from looking at the roads in Garmin’s City Select Europe software, the riding should be fantastic. We’ll be riding around 2000 miles and will be visiting Malaga, Granada, Antequera, Arcos de la Frontera, Sevilla, Jerez, Cadiz, Gibraltar and Ronda during the trip. I’ll be riding the new BMW R1200GS (one of the bikes on my list of possible new bike purchases) and Jonna will be riding a BMW F650GS. Edelweiss tours aren’t for everyone but we had a blast when we did a Sicily to Rome tour with them last year and are doing this as a luxury for Jonna’s 40th birthday. As a result, letting someone else book the hotels, handle the baggage and suggest good roads is just the ticket. I’m sure we’ll do less structured travel in Europe in the future but nothing beats a vacation where you can just focus on riding motorcycles for a week. I’ll post a trip report when we get back…until then, enjoy reading back through some of the older articles on the blog and let me know what you think. [image from Sylvia’s Travel and Motorcycle Site .] (3)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Something old, something new…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

An old wedding adage starts with the phrase “Something old, something new…”. Well, it isn’t exactly nuptials but the joining of the AMA and the reconfigured Daytona circuit has a few folks celebrating tonight. It was an exciting first day of racing at Daytona with some qualifying sessions sprang on the teams with little notice, some fast laps put in today including a last gasp stunner, a few shows of dominance, a surprise winner in one race and a disappointing DNF in another. An excellent way to start the season…

First, the AMA reversed yesterday’s decision about griding the Superstock and Supersport races by last year’s finishing order. Instead, they decided to use this morning’s practice sessions as a qualifying session. This change caught some of the teams by surprise but ultimately it made the grid fairer for everyone. A good call by the AMA in my opinion.

Tommy Hayden at Daytona

Supersport qualifying was first up this morning on a track still damp from yesterday’s rain. Things were further complicated because there wasn’t time to split the Supersport field into two separate sessions, so the whole swarm of them where sent out at once. Getting a clean lap became the secret to pole, rather than bike setup or tire choice. In the end, it was a case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. Tommy Hayden was slated to be on pole due to his winning last season’s championship and when things went back to a qualifying setup he bested all comers to retain that pole position with a 1:43.511 lap time. Ben Spies, Jamie Hacking and Jason Disalvo filled out the front row, though only Spies was on the same second as Hayden with a 1;43.905. The rest of the grid was surprisingly similar to yesterday’s grid based on 2004 results, with only a single row change forward or backwards for those affected.

Next up was the Superstock qualifying session which, unlike the Supersport situation, made for a drastic turn-around from yesterday’s list which featured a front two rows filled with Yamahas and Kawasakis. When the checkered flag few on the Superstock session, it was Suzuki that came out the big winner. Aaron Yates threw down blazing 1:39.667 lap time which bested even teammate Ben Spies fastest *Superbike* practice time from yesterday. Only Yamaha’s Jason Disalvo could stay near Yates with a 1:39.910 while the rest of the grid was nearly a second off the pole time. Yates is back… Another big winner in the qualifying session was Jason Pridmore. He finished 11th in last year’s Superstock class but pulled out a front row starting position during qualifying. M4 Suzuki teammates Vincent Haskovec and Geoff May leaped forward from 12th and 17th based on 2004 results to 7th and 8th based on this morning’s qualifying. The changes swept through the privateer ranks as well. Lee Acree was able to jump from 24th to 12th while Brent George and Jason Perez also jumped into the top 15.

Yates was also back on the bike immediately after Superstock qualifying to lay down some fast times on his Superbike. However, qualifying was all about Mat Mladin as he smashed the field, nearly a second faster than anyone else. As Ben Spies predicted yesterday, the Superbike qualifying times were into the 1:38s as Mladin blitzed the clocks with a 1:38.232. Spies stayed true to his word with a 1:38.963 to grab second. Neil Hodgson showed he is quickly adapting to the new tracks with a 1:39.884 to head a group which included the final spot on the front row taken by Aaron Yates. The second row had a surprise since Geoff May put his bike into fifth. Miguel Duhamel, Jake Zemke and Josh Hayes filled out the second row. A few other factory or factory supported riders were expected to be on the second row but ended up further back: Eric Bostrom (9th) and Kurtis Roberts (13th). However, Mladin had them all covered with his blazing lap time, so they’ll all have to step up come race day no matter what their starting position.

The final qualifying session was the Formula Xtreme bikes trying to sort out their positions for the Daytona 200 on Saturday. As expected, the factory Honda’s dominated FX. The best news from this qualifying time is that the pole sitter was able to better the Supersport bike’s times which prevented the embarrassment of having the Superbike spec 600s getting spanked by a less modified bike. The big drama wasn’t in the time but in how pole was determined. Jake Zemke appeared to have pole set with a 1:42.599 but Miguel Duhamel went out with just a few seconds left and threw down a flying 1:42.593 which just pipped Zemke and earned him the pole sitter’s Rolex. High drama and it was caught on TV in the pre-Superstock race coverage so hopefully that will get a few more people interested in qualifying. The rest of the grid was made up of third place Josh Hayes and forth place Kurtis Roberts. The rest of the grid was 1.5+ seconds behind pole, so the factory Hondas have a definite advantage for the race Saturday.

With qualifying out of the way, it was time for the first AMA race of the weekend as the Superstock bikes lined up for their 13 lap final. Now in yesterday’s blog entry and in an article I wrote for Roadracer X magazine’s web site, I predicted that the factory Yamaha and Kawasaki bikes would dominate Superstock. Oppps… from the time the green flag flew, it was obvious that the Suzukis were the bikes to beat. Yates, Pridmore, Disalvo, Hacking and Haskovec shot off from the rest of the pack with Yates and Pridmore swapping the lead over the first few laps. Reigning champ and nice guy Aaron Gobert had a mechanical DNF and wouldn’t factor into the race. Also obvious was that Yates has some serious power as he pulled away from Pridmore exiting the chicane nearly ever lap. This despite Pridmore’s bike supposedly being built to the same spec as Yates’ GSXR by Yoshimura. Hmmm…. It appeared that the two Yamahas were struggling to hold the speed of the Suzukis and eventually Haskovec moved past them and then, with a few laps to go, railed around Pridmore and Yates to take the lead. At the same time, Hacking and Disalvo succumbed to the pressure with both temporarily running off track and dropping out of the draft. On the last lap it seemed like Yates was in the catbird seat being behind Haskovec but the Czech rider was able to up the pace and actually pull away from Y
Yates’ rocket ship. Pridmore couldn’t gain anything, despite Yates tires sliding around, so the finishing order was Haskovec, Yates and Pridmore. This was definitely an upset having Haskovec, riding for the factory supported M4 Suzuki team on Pirelli tires, besting the favorites of the factory Yamahas, the factory Kawasakis and even the factory Suzukis. The highlight of the entire day was seeing the enthusiastic Haskovec’s podium interview which so plainly showed his joy. After years of pre-planned podium speeches, it is great to hear an underdog having an opportunity to express his happiness. This was the “something new”.

The second and final race of the day was the 22 lap Supersport final. Some of the riders had already ridden two qualifying seessions and a race so far today, so this was an endurance race as much as a sprint race. As it was, Tommy Hayden got the jump off the line which was good since there was almost a turn one pile-up. I’ve always felt that Jamie Hacking and Jason Disalvo were “rough” racers that tend to push other riders around. It was ironic, then, that the two of them seemed to lean on each other going into turn one which almost caused an accident. Meanwhile Ben Spies pulled an amazing move around the outside which had me puckering up in my chair. Spies then went to the front with Hayden and Hacking in pursuit. After a few laps, Hayden and Hacking upped the pace and Spies started drifting backwards. Rog Hayden, riding injured after a couple of accidents, started to move forward passing Gobert, Disalvo and Spies to move into third. The Hayden brothers and Hacking pulled out a gap to break the pack but then Tommy had the the field covered power-wise and upped the pace yet again. Rog passed Hacking and appeared to go with Tommy, leaving Hacking for a lonely third. With one lap to go Rog’s bike let go almost putting him on the ground while Tommy rode another perfect lap to win Daytona with a 3+ second break-away, something very rarely seen in the recent history of Supersport racing at the Speedway. Rog’s DNF was heart-breaking as he had ridden such a great race especially considering how beat up he was. Tommy Hayden, the 2004 Supersport champ, showed he and his ZX-6RR are the bikes to beat again this year making this news “something old”.

A toast: Congrats to the winners, condolences to the losers and good luck to those with races yet to be run.

[image from the SpeedTV web site.]

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A super sport…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

The opening salvo has been fired at Daytona…The AMA was able to get in a full morning of practice before rain called a halt to the proceedings around noon. The rain prevented qualifying for the Supersport and Superstock races but the practice times offered up a few surprises..

Ben Spies burns up Daytona

In Superbike practice, it was the Suzukis that dominated the session with Ben Spies clocking the best time by laying down a 1:40.505. Mladin was nearly a half second back in second with a 1:40.933 and Yates followed his two teammates with a 1:41.166. It is hard to read anything into practice times, since you never really know who is still working on a setup and who has already found the setup. Still, the guys that can setup their bike while running fast times are often the ones that can run fast times later in the weekend. Clearly the Yosh crew will be strong come race day.

The real surprise, at least among the big bikes, is that Jason Disalvo turned a 1:40.621 on his Superstock Yamaha R1. That makes him the second fastest rider circulating at Daytona today. Clearly the kid is serious and the bike is fast. Spies feels that the Superbike pace will drop into the 1:38s, if they do their qualifying on a dry track, so we’ll have to see if the Superstock guys have anything left or if DiSalvo’s time shows the high water mark for the Superstock bikes. For the moment, the gap between Superbike and Superstock, at least at Daytona, is looking pretty slim.

With the smaller bikes, the situation is even more clear though not necessarily as surprising. Like last year, the “stock” Supersport bikes are actually lapping on the opening day faster than the “built” Formula Xtreme bikes. FX only had one practice session while most of the Supersport bikes used the first Daytona 200 practice (since the 200 is running Formula Xtreme bikes this year) for extra track time in addition to their own morning practice. When the Formula Xtreme practice was called to an early halt due to rain, it was the Supersport bikes which dominated the top of the time charts. The fast Supersport bike was Jason Disalvo with a 1:44.242. The fastest FX bike was Josh Hayes a half second back in forth with a 1:44.646. The next FX bike was a full second off Disalvo’s time. Another eye opener was that the factory Hondas, the only true factory bikes racing Formula Xtreme, finished the morning practice in 8th and 16th. Ouch! Clearly the Formula Xtreme bikes find themselves once again struggling to turn the laps of the stockers.

It is possible that the reason for this gap is that the FX bikes have to go 68 laps while the Supersport bikes only have to churn out 22. Or maybe the FX bikes will improve their numbers when they get more track time. However, it is just as likely that the majority of the factories have chosen Supersport as the arena to duke it out with 600s and thus aren’t putting the development (or riders, or crew) into FX teams. Whatever the cause, if the AMA is ever going to realize its apparent goal of having Superbike spec 600s replace the current liter size Superbike class, they need to see a lot more performance and a lot more buy-in from the other factories.

Because of the rain today, the grids for the Supersport and Superstock races tomorrow will be grided based first on a rider’s finishing order in last season’s series and second based on the order of entry form for this year. This is really going to help some of the riders like Kawasaki’s Roger Lee Hayden who crashed today and would normally be gridded at the back of Supersport but now gets the #2 spot. Conversely, it is going to crush other riders like Aaron Yates, Pascal Picotte, Jason Pridmore and Geoff May who either didn’t run Supersport/Superstock last year or who are on more competitive machinery this year than last. It will also be a set back to privateers that were hoping to make a good showing during a one-off ride at Daytona but now find themselves stuck near the back of grids with 33 (Superstock) or 61 (Supersport) riders.

What is clear from the practice times in both Supersport and Superstock is that the front runners will likely be the same as last year: the factory Yamaha and factory Kawasaki riders and they will be gridded at the front anyway. The lack of qualifying may change some finishing positions but it won’t likely affect the podium.

Despite the first day’s drama, it should still make for some super racing tomorrow.

[image from the Daytona International Speedway web site.]

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Missing in action…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

We’re just a day away from the start of the first AMA road race of the season and the beginning of another season of Superbike racing. I did a blog entry two months ago detailing who would be racing in the AMA series this season. What I haven’t done is list all the big name crew chiefs and lead mechanics which will be in the series this season. Many times the guys spinning wrenches and managing laptops are the unsung heroes of the Superbike series. This coming weekend’s visit to Daytona International Speedway may be the best example of this in years. The new track layout means there are now slow first gear turns in the infield, along with the WFO run on the east banking. The track surface continues to degrade and is made trickier because of the transition from the new track surface onto the banking which supposedly add a pretty big bump. Many of the factory teams actually build their bikes in their US shops rather than having trick parts shipped in from true factories. The tuner’s job this year will be tougher than ever before and the folks that win races may well be thanking their crew even more than in the past.

The list of stars behind the scenes in the paddock this year may be the best in years. Al Luddington, Ray Plumb, David McGrath and Merlyn Plumlee fill out the always impressive Honda factory crew line-up. Over at Erion, the pairing of Kevin Erion and Rick Hobbs lead the list of names of people with a successful history in the AMA series. Even the privateer teams like the new Hotbodies Honda team has big guns since their crew will include Mike Velasco, one of the most famous tuners in AMA history. Yoshimura Suzuki has an amazing crew with Don Sakakura, Peter Doyle, Reg O”Rourke, Katsu Yanagawa and Tom Houseworth. Michael Jordan’s Suzuki crew has ex-Mladin crew chief Amar Bazzaa and the ex-Harley Superbike squad from Gemini racing supporting their effort. M4 Suzuki will have WERA legend Keith Perry handling their wrenches. Ducati has AMA regular Gary Medley and many of the factory Ducati mechanics that worked with Hodgson in World Superbike. Kawasaki returns with Mike Preston and Joey Lombardo as their big names, while factory supported Attack Kawasaki has Richard Stamboli and Jerry Daggett for their name dropping. Finally, Yamaha has a less famous crew of wrenches but they are headed by Tom Halverson who has been a powerhouse behind Yamaha for ages. That is an impressive list of talent lined up behind the factory riders in the AMA.

Victor Fasola

But one name is once again missing from that list of tuning talent in the AMA paddock, that of Victor Fasola. Fasola has towered over the AMA scene for over 20 years (both figuratively and literally…the guys is something like 6” 8″ tall!) and he has tuned or handled crew chief duties for winning riders like Scott Russell, Tom Kipp, Tripp Nobles, Doug Polen, Aaron Yates and Anthony Gobert. He has worked with the Kawasaki, Ducati and Suzuki factories and helped bring them championships in Superstock, Supersport, Superbike and World Superbike. He has also tuned for many of the fast “local guys” in the Atlanta area in both WERA and CCS and even tuned on some seriously fast street bikes. An impressive list of accolades…

Vic has been in and out of the AMA paddock for the past few years. His last visit was in 2003 as the crew chief for the Ducati Austin Superbike team with riders Anthony Gobert and Giovanni Bussei. Unfortunately, that season was plagued with rider-team conflict, which resulted in Gobert being fired. The end of the season brought an announcement about Eric Bostrom being signed as lead rider and a bigger commitment from the Ducati factory, definitely exciting news for any crew chief. Sadly, Vic’s wife passed away in the Spring of ‘04 and Vic resigned his position with Ducati Austin to spend time with his son, extended family and friends. By the end of the summer of ‘04 Fascola’s name again appeared in the AMA paddock this time as the crew chief of an Aprilia Superbike team that was being formed with riders Mike Hale and Matt Wait. The team made a big PR splash announcing their intention of running a few races in ‘04 and the full ‘05 AMA Superbike season. Vic headed off to Italy to work with the factory race department in building the bikes and the two riders showed up at a couple of AMA races to get everyone psyched for their first race. Then the team suddenly imploded when the team owner failed to raise the needed money and Fasola was out of work again.

Fasola is currently working in the car racing arena but he’ll definitely be missed in the Daytona pits this coming weekend and I hope he can get back into motorcycle racing in the near future.

[image from the Ducati web site.]

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The simple things…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

I’ve long been a fan of one marque race series at the regional and national level. Having a race class which is focused on a single brand and model of motorcycle helps keep racing affordable especially when the rules require few modifications. The most famous of the spec racing classes is the famous Suzuki cup series which focuses on various models of Suzuki bikes including the GSXR line and the SV line. However, there have also been race series based on the BMW R1100S, the Harley 883 Sportster, the Aprilia RS250, the Triumph Speed Triple and the MZ Skorpion. All of these race classes have provided affordable, competitive racing for beginners and in many cases have had better contingency support than other support classes like the AMA’s 250GP, Pro Thunder and even Formula Xtreme. The Suzuki Cup and Harley 883 series ended up being feeder classes in which many famous racers like Kevin Schwantz, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, Aaron Yates, the Bostrom Brothers, the Wait brothers and many others.

Not all single marque series were that successful. Series like the MZ Skorpion cup and the Triumph Speed Triple both struggled. The Speed Triple Challenge in the mid-90s started off with a lot of support from racers but was quickly criticized because of reliability problems with the bikes. Specifically, it appeared that the oil passages in the head were too small to deal with the quantity of oil that was needed at high rpm. Since internal engine modifications weren’t allowed, this meant engines failed spectacularly and expensively. Racers either made the essential oil passage expansion necessary to maintain reliability and risked disqualification, or hoped they could win enough in some races to offset the frequent engine rebuilds to deal with the wear ‘n tear. Triumph didn’t offer a fix and these problems eventually eroded the popularity of a series popular with racers. The old AMA Supertwins race series, using Harley 883s, also suffered from mechanical failures since the exhaust valves on the rear cylinder of the air-cooled motor frequently failed but the series organizer altered the rules to allow different valve, valve seat and valve guide materials. This meant racers would work around the problems (even though the front runners were still replacing rear heads during race weekends) and kept the series popular for nearly a decade. Perhaps if Triumph had worked with the racers that series would have done better.

The MZ Skorpion Cup also started off with lots of buy-in from racers but that series also quickly waned mainly because the performance of the Skorpion bikes was less than expected. Since AHRMA, who oversaw the Skorpion Cup, also ran two different Sound of Singles race series it meant there were time when “built” singles were racing against the Skorpion Cup bikes. After the first few times that the Skorpion bikes were lapped by the other single cylinder bikes riders tended to abandon the Skorpion Cup series and start building Sound of Singles bikes. Suzuki’s SV 650, run successfully as part of the Suzuki Cup, aren’t particularly powerful either but WERA who oversee the Suzuki Cup don’t run the SVs at the same time as more powerful bikes like the GSXR600s. As a result, the SVs stay an attractive series and due to the low cost continues to gain popularity.

Triumph Thruxton photo

Now comes that latest single marque race class with the Triumph Thruxton Cup being run this year as part of the AHRMA roadrace race series. The bikes are the Thruxton version of the Triumph Bonneville line which features a 900cc parallel twin good for around 70hp. There are limited modifications allowed, basically just an exhaust system and jetting. The frame, suspension, brakes and wheels must be stock. No slicks are allowed, so tire costs will be cheaper. The stock bodywork is required, so the class will have a strong visible connection to the stock bike. Finally, Triumph is ponying up the bucks in contingency for the class and discounts for people buying the bikes to race in the class. All this should add up to a series which will be appealing to racers and provide close racing for the spectators. Whats more the race series should prove attractive to folks who want to race a vintage style bike but don’t want to deal with the reliability problems commonly encountered when racing old Triumphs.

The first race was this past weekend in South Carolina. Entries were sparse with just 17 bikes making the grid but the racing was supposedly good. In an effort to increase interest in the class, both among racers and fans, AHRMA has drafted ex-Superbike star Doug Polen to race the Triumph Thruxton Cup race this week at Daytona. There are another eight races after Daytona in the AHRMA series so hopefully the class will grow. Lets also hope that Triumph does a better job of supporting the Thruxton Cup series than they did with the old Speed Triple series and that AHRMA doesn’t stick the Thruxtons on the track at the same time as more powerful bikes like the Battle of the Twins or Sound of Thunder bikes.

I think the Thruxton is a great bike and the Thruxton Cup seems to be great series. I’m looking forward to September 11th when AHRMA will visit Colorado so I can watch the bikes in person…

[image from the web Bike World web site.]

Monday, March 7, 2005

My Suzie Q…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX

Say that you’ll be true
And never leave me blue
My Susie Q
— Credence Clearwater Revival

First, let me say that yes I have heard the saying “Don’t count your eggs before they hatch” and I’m not yet talking about chickens. However, I am predicting that the folks at Suzuki may have a lot of poultry on their hands at the end of the year. Suzuki has consistently hired great riders and then given those riders great bikes. What makes this exciting is that Suzuki is the third largest of the four Japanese manufacturers and thus works with a budget that is probably half what Honda or Yamaha have available. Clearly they have something figured out both in how to make motorcycles and how to motivate riders to race under the Suzuki banner.

RC throws the Nac in San Fran

Where to start is easy…Ricky Carmichael. I have run out of cliches to use in describing what the guy has done to the 2005 Supercross field. I don’t think I’ve used annihilate yet, so that will have to do. I thought that Ricky’s win last week after crashing in Atlanta was going to be the highlight of the season but I think his annihilating the field at St. Louis has topped it. From the first practice until the waving of the checkered flag, RC was at least a second a lap faster than anyone else in the field. He has radically changed Supercross this season and is also changing the other riders. Chad Reed, a great Supercross racer, looked demolished on the podium at St. Louis. He had ridden a perfect race and was down *5* seconds after the first three laps. I don’t know if Reed has the stamina to keep picking up the shattered pieces of his self image after every race. Kevin Windham, on the other hand, looks like a guy on valium. He yet again got a 1-2 punch from Carmichael and Reed, this time finishing 20+ seconds down on RC and 14 seconds behind Reed. On the podium the guy seemed to be staring off into another world while describing how happy he is with his riding. The AMA better bring in a team of psychologists fast, while there are still some shreds of ego left to work with. What really highlights the job Carmichael has done with SX is to look further down the time sheets. Names like Tortelli, Vuillemin, Fonseca, Byrne, Short, Ferry, Preston, Larocco and even McGrath would be headline news just a few years ago. Now the best of them finishing more than 30 seconds behind the winner. With a 49 second lap time, most of them are being lapped. Carmichael has created a new sport which just happens to take place on a Supercross track and so far no one else can play. There are still seven races left in the season but I’m sure Suzuki’s PR department is already writing up the ads about their winning the AMA SX title for the first time in 20+ years.

Second on the excitement list has to be their start to the World Superbike series. After dominating the pre-season tests, the Alstare Suzuki team swept the season opener in Qatar by swapping 1-2 finishes. Now I’m not saying that the WSBK title is already being engraved with Suzuki’s name but surely their Marketing department is busy re-learning how to spell “World Superbike” since they haven’t even had the hope of doing well in that series this millennium.

Third would be returning to the domestic stage to talk about Mat Mladin and the rest of the Suzuki teams in AMA Superbike. 5 time AMA Superbike champ Mat Mladin gave some insight into his determination by running fast laps at the Daytona tire test, and the other pre-season tests in California. He has a new monsterously powerful GSXR1000 and was able to start pre-season testing earlier this season than last. Considering how well he raced last year, giving him even more testing time spells trouble for the other racers. Even if Suzuki doesn’t want to put all the proverbial eggs in one basket by hawking Mladin, just look at his team-mates at Yoshimura Suzuki. Until his disastrous 2004 season, Aaron Yates looked like one of the few men in the paddock who could run with Mladin. It remains to be seen if Yates can bounce back from last season’s troubles and return to form. Superbike rookie Ben Spies is the most exciting thing to happy to AMA Superbike racing since Nicky Hayden. The kid is unbelievably fast and after two seasons racing the GSXR in Formula Xtreme and Superstock, he is already comfortable with the bike. I think Spies has to be a title favorite in both Superbike and Superstock in 2005. That would certainly get the publicity hacks at Suzuki in a fervor.

That not enough for you? Okay, then imagine how much press Suzuki is going to generate in 2005 thanks to the Michael Jordan Suzuki team. Riders Jason Pridmore and Steve Rapp should be front runners in Superstock, if not Superbike. Rider Montez Stewart brings much needed ethnic diversity to the grid, which should bring in new fans, and he should rapidly improve his riding this season thanks to his two team-mates. If Montez can up his game, the press levels will ratchet up even higher. But most of all, just having Michael Jordan walk in the front gates of a race track will get Suzuki more street creed than anything else. He brings with him a flood of publicity from Nike to Sports Illustrated to ESPN to People magazine and that is guaranteed to bring more people into Suzuki dealerships all across the country.

If Suzuki really wants to brag, they can talk up their development agreement with Kawasaki. When this was first announced, I think a lot of us were disappointed as we were afraid we’d start seeing Ninja’s that looked a lot like GSXRs. What has happened is that both manufacturers have learned from each other and gone on to produce unique bikes that out perform those of Honda and Yamaha, both companies whose R&D budgets are bigger that the total company budget of either smaller brand. The result has been the new ZX-10 and GSXR1000 power houses, the KX and RM 125 and 250 four stroke motocrossers, the zx-6RR and GSXR-600 which lead the Supersport class in power. It has also resulted in Kawasaki and Suzuki dominating 125 Supercross races in both the East and West series. Kawasaki winning the ultra competitive AMA Supersport series. Suzuki ruling the AMA Superbike series. Suzuki has also dominated other forms of racing like the AMA Grand National Cross Country series and the ATV MX series. Kawasaki is also challenging for wins in AMA Superstock and Enduro series. Clearly Suzuki has a lot to be proud of in their cooperation with Kawasaki. Add that to the bullet points that Suzuki can use in their Marketing campaigns. In fact, it is only the MotoGP series that is giving Suzuki an ounce of humility at this point…

In 2003, Suzuki swept all but two of the AMA road racing championships with Superbike (Mladin), Superstock (Hayes) and Formula Xtreme (Spies). That year their Marketing and PR departments had the opportunity to go nuts. I’m predicting that 2005 may give them another chance.

[image from the Motoworld Racing web site.]

Friday, March 4, 2005

You say Toe-may-toe…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

I did a blog posting earlier this week comparing the WSBK and MotoGP times from Qatar. Well, as I forecast, the times got quicker still on the third day of the MotoGP test. (The Camel Honda squad with Barros and Bayliss are sticking around for a fourth day of testing but everyone else called it quits after yesterday afternoon…or evening in the case of Tamada).

So the faster laps times, combined with this awesome photo of Tamada, motivated me to do a quick followup posting…

Evening riding for Tamada at Qatar

First, on his third and final day of testing at Qatar, Tamada knocked another second off this best lap time to finish with a fast lap of 1:56.6. I was pretty impressed on Tuesday when I wrote that the MotoGP guys were nearly three seconds faster than the WSBK bikes during their first two days of testing. The fact that the top MotoGP riders could knock another full second off their lap times shows just how much testing they are really doing as opposed to just running fast laps. I suspect they’ll knock another second off their lap times when they return to Qatar for their actual race in October. By then, they may well pick up even more time since Honda usually releases upgraded components to all the teams around the middle of the season.

Second, I think that I underestimated Tamada when I wrote my MotoGP rider review back in November. At the time, it seemed like Honda wasn’t really going to support Tamada and I wasn’t completely sure he’d even make the grid. I fully expected, if he was racing, that he would be aboard a “bitza bike” made from whatever hand-me-downs he could get out the back door of the factory. Instead, it looks like Honda has stepped up with a full customer bike (second tier behind the two Repsol bikes and maybe Gibernau’s bike, depending on what you read into the press releases about the Repsol-Movistar agreement) and it looks like Michelin is giving him their top tier tires. As a result, Tamada has been consistently fast at all of the pre-season tests. He left two of the Sepang tests as fastest guy and has backed that up by blitzing the Qatar test as well.

Clearly this guy is motivated. Whether that is enough to beat Rossi is another question but based on his attitude before the Motegi race last year, he certainly has the confidence to think he can. Something that Biaggi and Gibernau, both still pretty mentally battered after the past few season, may not have. I think its thrilling to see Tamada going so well. The Japanese have long hoped for a champ in the premier class of the GPs and their previous contenders like Okada, Itoh, Abe, Ukawa, Katoh and Haga have never quite achieved that lofty height. Perhaps Tamada has the skill, determination and mental strength to be a contender…

[image from the MCN web site.]

Thursday, March 3, 2005

  • I’ve been married now, happily married even, for the past five years. My wife and I truly are best friends and we share many common interests, chief among those being motorcycles and travelling. Whoa! Hold on there a second. Don’t head for goodle yet. I know what you’re thinking but but trust me this blog entry isn’t just to make mushy talk about my partner so bare with me a minute. So, where was I? Oh right… Last summer we did a two week motorcycle tour around Italy with Edelweiss Bike Travel which we both loved. It was just after our return from that trip that I (again) discovered that I had married the right woman because she said “Gee, next year is my 40th birthday so why don’t we do another two week motorcycle trip for my birthday present?” I coulda’ found religion right then and there but as an ex-religion/philosophy student that would have just been confusing so I just jumped for joy instead. This past Fall we spent time looking over maps, talking to people and dreaming longingly of riding motorcycles as the Colorado snow started to pile up. Eventually, we decided that two weeks riding around sunny southern Spain would be a perfect way to celebrate Jonna’s 40th birthday and to thaw out after a long, cold winter. Just to make sure it was properly touristy we decided to spend three days in Barcelona before starting the motorcycle trip. We booked the tour with Edelweiss and have been patiently waiting since then. So, now its just a couple of weeks before we leave and I’m finally getting around to researching some things for our trip. I have my new GPS programmed. I’ve been listening to the “Spanish for Travellers” tapes. I’ve thumbed through our Fodor’s book and read some web sites. Today I decided to look around see what was happening in the motorcycling world in Spain over the next few weeks. …and now the trouble begins. It turns out that the final two MotoGP IRTA tests (with *all* the MotoGP teams participating) are scheduled for Circuit de Catalunya (just outside Barcelona) on March 18-20 and for Circuit de Jerez (at Jerez) on March 25 - 27. Need I even explain that our schedule calls for us being near both of these places on exactly those dates? This trip is a birthday gift for my wife and an opportunity for us to share our love of travel. A chance to see new cultures, eat exotic food, learn some world history and meet lots of great people. This trip isn’t about me fulfilling my motorcycle racing obsession. I shouldn’t…I couldn’t…surely, I wouldn’t…attempt to sneak over to either circuit during this trip just to catch a little glimpse of someone like Rossi or Biaggi or Gibernau or Hayden riding their MotoGP bikes? No, I have the willpower to stick with the plan and to enjoy the wonders of Barcelona without bolting for the train system, jumping a few stops over to the Montmelo’ stop and then sprinting the blocks to the famous Circuit de Catalunya. Whimper… !@(afimages/Blog/2005/3/Jerez-map.jpg:R200 popimg: “Jerez Circuit”) The temptation is probably stronger the next week at Jerez. Our tour plan actually calls for a day off to enjoy the town of Rhonda. As it turns out, Rhonda is only about an hour from Jerez. Stop the temptation now while I still have a wife! I’m sure there are lots of fascinating things to see in Rhonda. Rumor has there are lots of Roman ruins there. Supposedly the Spanish wine from that area is fantastic. The famous Rock of Gibraltar is just a short drive away. I’m certain I’ll find a day in Rhonda interesting and fulfilling. Moreso that just watching silly little motorcycles drive around in circles. Uhhh….just how comfortable are those Spanish couches? Maybe I’ll just go ahead and plan on sleeping on them for two straight weeks. [image from the No Limits Track Days web site.] (1)

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

WSBK versus MotoGP…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP, WSBK

In addition to kicking off the road race season a few weeks early, having the World Superbike teams racing in Qatar this past weekend accomplished something else…it gave us race fans an early glimpse as to the difference between the current production based Superbikes and the current MotoGP dedicated race bikes. The March WSBK race weekend ended on Sunday and then on Tuesday some of the MotoGP teams showed up for some pre-season testing.

A true apples to apples comparison will never be possible and, because of freakish weather last weekend, is even less meaningful. However, its rare for both series to visit the same track so we’ll have to work with what we have. The times that have been released so far do back up the fact that there is a big difference between a production based series on spec tires and a “clean sheet” series with trick, unobtanium tires. During qualifying for last weekends WSBK race, held on a semi-wet track, the fastest time in Superpole was laid down by Ducati mounted Regis Laconi with a 2:01.5. The fastest time laid down by any of the riders during pre-Superpole qualifying was a 2:01.2 by Troy Corser in the first qualifying session. These times were presumably set using a qualifying tire or, if those are not in use, by the softest available race tire. The fastest race time, set by Yamaha mounted Sebastien Gimbert, was a 2:01.8.

240hp + Nicky Hayden = no tire

Now fast forward 48 hours and the MotoGP teams hit the now dry Losail Circuit for some laps. At the end of the first day, Nicky Hayden and his Honda RC211V have turned a best lap of 1:58.3. After another 24 hours, Ducati’s Loris Capirossi has chopped off nearly another second with a 1:57.6. It isn’t known for sure (or at least not by arm-chair journalists like me) whether these guys were running qualifying tires or not but I’d say its highly likely. Even more likely in the case of Capirossi’s time since a) Bridgestone is known to have excellent qualifiers, b) Capirossi’s fast times from Sepang were using the Qs and c) everyone has to test for qualifying runs and race distance. All this after just two days at the track so times from tomorrow will likely be even lower.

So, a little quick math here (ummm…two point oh…errrrr…carry the one…convert to seconds…ah ha!) shows that the MotoGP bikes are lapping over three and a half seconds faster than the WSBK bikes. That’s pretty significant. Even more significant is that the slowest of the full factory bikes at the MotoGP test is 9th fastest Troy Bayliss with a 1:58.6, only a second slower than Capirossi. Rewind back to that first (and dry) WSBK qualifying session. Ninth was Nori Haga who turned a 2:02.6 aboard his Yamaha R1, almost a one and a half seconds slower than Corser’s 2:01.2. Clearly the further down the field you go, the bigger the gap.

So what does this mental masturbation and meaningless numerology really mean? Well, for one, it shows that the extra 40hp available on the purpose built MotoGP bikes has some real measurable benefit. Second, it shows that having major tire manufacturers fighting for lap times makes a better tire than having a single spec tire. Third, it shows that having a pre-season test on a dry track is better than having a race weekend with mixed conditions. Finally, it shows that the depth off the field in MotoGP, at least through the top ten, is closer than in WSBK.

Other than reaffirming what we already knew, there hasn’t been any real shock. Still, I think its freakin’ cool that you can watch some fantastic riders on unbelievably powerful bikes race around a world class track and then just a couple of days later see every factory MotoGP rider *smash* the previous weekend’s race times like they were made by novice racers. It makes me giggle like a school kid. Damn those MotoGP bikes are *cool*.

[image from the Nicky Hayden web site.]

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Its a green flag for roadracing…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

The 2005 road race season started this past weekend with the WSBK opener in Losail, Qatar. Maybe its has been the long winter drought or maybe its the rules changes but it turned out to be a great race and has really whetted my appetite for more.

The big winner this past weekend was the Alstare Suzuki team, as their riders Troy Corser and Yukio Kagayama split the two victories. After Alstare Suzuki struggled for years with their underpowered GSXR-750 against the full might of Ducati, this past weekend had to be a long overdue compensation for all their hard work. What’s more, their rider’s battle with Ducati mounted Regis Laconi showed that the team’s GSXR-1000 has the power to hold off the Duc even giving it the benefit off the draft. That has to have Francis Batta and the entire Alstare Corona Suzuki team dancing in the streets. They have dominated pre-season testing and now swept the first race of the season.

This will also have filled the sails of Troy Corser. This first race win was the final reward for his four miserable seasons with the Foggy Petronas team. He has been saying for years that he had the talent and desire to win races but not the bike. He is certainly backing that statement up already aboard the Suzuki. It fact it was downright eerie to see how he immediately returned to his pre-Petronas style of jumping out early in the race, showing his trademark smooth riding and then turning quick consistent laps until taking the checkers for a win. He seemed on track for a repeat in race two but was slowed by a worn front tire.

Yukio Kagayama wheelie

Kagayama somehow managed to surprise even more than Corser. He took his maiden World Superbike win in only the second race of the season and looked untouchable for the second two thirds off race two. He was also a stark contrast to Corser. Where the Australian has always been deceptively smooth on the bike, always looking much slower than the stop watch actually reveals, Japanese rider Kagayama seemed to be on the ragged edge from the first corner till the finish line. He was visibly pushing the front tire into the faster corners and every corner exit was a near-highside with the bike violently bucking and weaving as the rear tire repeated broke loose. The British motorcycling press have long heralded Yukio’s wild riding and our first glimpse certainly backs that up. I think it will be impossible for Kagayama to maintain this for the entire season without a crash, like the one that put him out of the British Superbike Series title hunt, but has plenty of time to learn how to keep the speed and loose the recklessness. Haga had the same out of control look for most of his first Yamaha tour of duty which resulted in some spectacular accidents. Whether he crashes or not, its obvious from day one that Yukio will be one to watch this season.

What about the others? Well. Laconi showed he can dig deep and race for the win. I think he started last season overly confident and his missing the 2004 WSBK title seems to have given him focus. He was the only person anywhere near the pace of the two Suzukis. Toseland, on the second factory Ducati, fought hard but wasn’t quite on the same pace as the front three. The hoard of Yamahas also appeared fast but seemed to be just a little down on the leaders. Haga was surprising slow over the weekend while his teammate Pitt was surprisingly fast. Abe, one of the few riders with prior race experience on the circuit, made a better than expected showing while his teammate Gimbert turned a solid qualifying run into a dismal race results, again a surprise. Crowd favorite Chili continued his inconsistent record by having a mechanical failure in race one and then a fantastic fifth in race two. The 41 year old continues to stick it to the young guys. Honda’s only other notable finish for the weekend was Vermeulen’s forth in the same race. For those, like myself, who forecast that Vermeulen would fight for the title this year it wasn’t a particularly auspicious start. Hopefully the two Ten Kate riders are still recovering from last week’s flu. The biggest disappointment for Honda had to be Ben Bostrom. After crashing his only bike in practice he had to ride a near-stock bike in the races to a finish outside the points in race one and a DNF in race two. The Renegade team will have a lot of work to do before the next race weekend. Kawasaki also showed they still have a big step to make as their riders struggled to get into the top ten. Sounds like they need some of the same magic growth potion that they put into their MotoGP effort last season for their two WSBK teams this season. Finally, the Foggy Petronas boys of McCoy and Martin showed that they will be doing rain dances all season. On even a semi-dry track, they are so badly outclassed they were luck to qualify. Its going to be a long season in that pit.

The teams now have a month to learn from Losail and prepare for their next race at Phillip Island in April.

[image from the Team Suzuki Racing web site.]