Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Merry Old England…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

This past weekend’s “European” round of the World Superbike races at the reconfigured Silverstone circuit was actually quite interesting. The “International” layout included some chicanes which slowed down the race pace but also removed most of the passing zones. The difficulty passing meant the race was more processional than action packed. While the racing wasn’t particularly exciting the results do lend some hope for those of us who don’t want the 2005 World Superbike season to be a complete romp. Despite this being called the European round, its really the first of two visits by the WSBK series to the UK. I’ve recently been reading some Winston Churchill writings, so I’m going to tie the two things together by giving one quote from the old curmudgeon and then use that to describe the performance of one of the riders.


“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” – James Toseland - Toseland was definitely the star of the weekend. After sucking earlier in the season, the reigning champ started to regain his winning form at Monza and then went on to do a private three day test with Ducati at Mugello. The result was serious flexing of muscles at Silverstone where Toseland netted a third in the race and a win in race two. In both races Toseland was in contention for the victory and took control of race two for a convincing first place. Perhaps Toseland, and Ducati, may yet emerge as a rival to Troy Corser. What is certainly true is that he hasn’t given up.

“Today we may say aloud before an awe-struck world: We are still masters of our fate. We are still captain of our souls.” – Troy Corser - Despite going winless for the weekend Corser was really once again the ultimate winner. His twin second place finishes continued to grow his points lead over second place Kagayama to the tune of a total 78 points. This means that Corser could take off the next weekend and still have a one race win lead in the championship. I hesitate to say that Corser could have won either race but he was definitely running with the leaders in both legs and didn’t *have* to beat either one based on the two Ducati riders since they were forth and sixth in the championship race coming into the weekend. He finished exactly where he needed to…

“Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed.” - Regis Laconi - Toseland’s French teammate started the weekend in great form, also continuing where he left of at Monza. Laconi looked unstoppable during the first race as he pushed his way through to the front. Corser kept him honest but no one else really seemed to have the pace that these two pulled out. Fame is a fickle mistress, though, and Regis went from hero to zero in race two with an early crash. While Laconi isn’t completely out of the title hunt, he is only hanging on by the faintest of mathematical hope at this point.

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” – Noriyuki Haga - Despite being let down by both bike problems and tires, Nitro Nori still gave his English fans something to cheer about by running in the top three during both races. A fuel pump problem ended his podium appearance n race one but he hung in during race two despite tire degradation that had him a second off the winning pace during the last few laps. Haga, through sheer force of will, kept his popularity (if not his title hopes) alive.

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – Yukio Kagayama - An odd off weekend for the Japanese ace stunted his championship run against teammate Corser. Kagayama’s 11th and 7th place finishes could be the beginning of the end of his dream of being the 2005 World Superbike Champion. Suzuki, however, are probably more interested him maintaining his second place so that they have a chance of a one-two sweep if Corser brings home the crown this season.

“It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.” – Chris Vermeulen - Vermeulen brought his Honda home in forth place in both races showing he is still talented beyond his years. Chris showed he had the pace of the front runners in race two but a poor start meant he couldn’t fight for the win. What he did gain was enough championship points to bring him within three of second place Kagayama.

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” – Frankie Chili - Chili has continued to heal from his broken collarbone and brought home two fifth place finishes to show for it. He continues to show that he is one of the most talented men to over throw a leg over a Superbike and to show that Ducati were foolish for ever removing him from their factory team.

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.” – Ben Bostrom - Unfortunately, Bennie took another back slide after showing a glimmer of hope at Monza. He pulled out of the first race with bike problems and then struggled to a 14th place finish in race two. Saying the team needed track time to improve the bike was a valid excuse for the first few races of the season but that is rapidly failing an explanation for their lack of results. Bostrom really has to start moving forward for the American to get some respect.

“We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!” – Chris Walker - Walker also followed up his excellent Monza results with a strong showing at Silverstone. Despite having a bike that appears to be a handful, the Stalker still pushed he bike through to dual sixth place finishes. For years fans have felt Walker shouldn’t have gone straight from the UK Superbike series to WSBK on a Kawasaki in 2001. His results seem to lend credence to that theory. Its good to have Walker back on the green machines.

“We have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, and France has suffered even more than we have.” – Foggy Petronas riders Steve Martin and Gary McCoy - In race one, both Petronas riders DNF’ed giving them an embarrassing start to their home races. They fared slightly better in the second race with 13th (McCoy) and 20th (Martin) finishes. At least their results improved between race one and two, unlike Laconi who started on the podium and finished in the gravel.

“For myself I am an optimist - it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” Yamaha France riders Norick Abe and Gimbert - The Yamaha France team had a tough weekend. Sebastien Gimbert crashed in race one breaking his ankle and missing the second race. Norick Abe had a clutch problem in the first event, giving Yamaha France two DNFs to start the weekend. Abe rebounded with an eighth in the final race. Good for the team but still far short of what was expected of the ex-GP start.

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Fonsi Nieto - Nieto, another ex-GP star, was originally thought to be another ride who would challenge for the championship but has failed to live up to that expectation. This was particularly true at Silverstone where Nieto ended up retiring in both races. The SC Caracchi team has surely suffered after their glory days with Bostrom and Chili as their riders.

“It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.” – Giovani Bussei - Fan favorite and winner of the 2004 sportsmanship award is steadily improving as he comes to term with his Kawasaki. He had an eighth in race one and a sixteenth in race two. He needs to continue to get championship points this season to show everyone that he deserves to be in the series not just because he is a nice guy but because he is a talented rider.

“It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.” - me - When all else fails, use other people’s words so you look smart. Hopefully this contrast of historical quotes and rider reviews has made some small progress in that regard.

[image from the Silverstone Circuit web site.]

Monday, May 30, 2005

The ultimate sacrifice…

Author: site admin
Category: Uncategorized

Back in November of last year I did a blog entry about the how important it is on Veteran’s Day to remember those who have served in our military.

Chalmette National Cemetary

Well, today is Memorial Day and despite the continual degradation of my sense of patriotism, or even simple respect for of country, I am still humbled by those that have chosen to dedicate their lives to protecting our country. Even while I openly flip the finger to those currently in power in our government, I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for those who have given their lives for our armed forces.

I hope you’ve taken at least a little bit of time this Monday to think solemnly about those who have fallen in all our country’s conflicts whether it be the fight for independence or those who died just today in foreign lands.

I’ll pick back up with motorcycle talk tomorrow.

[image from my photo collection.]

Friday, May 27, 2005

Cool days and warm beer…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

The only road racing this coming weekend will be the World Superbike series event at the old airfield track of Silverstone in England. This very fast circuit, also used for Formula One racing, has been on the calendar since 2002 but was reconfigured this year to remove it’s fastest straight. As a result, the only rider that has seen his configuration before will be Suzuki’s Yukio Kagayama since he raced the British Superbike series for the past two seasons and this layout was apparently in use for their races. Unfortunately for everyone else, it means that Suzuki again holds the upper hand coming into this race weekend.


So its the same question this week as every other week for the past couple of months…can anyone stop the Suzuki steamroller? More specifically, can anyone stop the Troy Corser steamroller? Last year three riders dominated Silverstone: Haga had a great race weekend last year with two podium finishes so this could be a good time for him to get things right again. Sadly, he has suffered from setup and tire problems all season so it will be a big leap for the Yamaha rider to make.

Another fan favorite in the UK, Frankie Chili showed great form at Silverstone last year but a qualifying snafu mean he had to charge through the pack in both races. He made it onto the podium with a third in the first race but then had a massive highside in the second race. He has had top ten finishes at the last two races, despite having a broken collarbone, so hopefully he will be healthy enough to fight for the lead in this race.

The person that really dominated at Silverstone last year was Chris Vermeulen. In fact, it was his performances as the UK track that propelled him into championship contention. He rode great in the second race at Monza and his win there makes him the most likely candidate to challenge Troy Corser. Unlike both Chili and Haga who have had machine and/or health problems, Vermeulen has been steadily improving this season. It seems like the Winston Ten Kate Honda is gaining speed with each round and the young Australian is again proving to be a rider capable of winning races (and championships).

Another rider on my watch list for this weekend is Ducati’s Regis Laconi. Like Chili, he had a mixed result at Silverstone last year despite some great rides. He crashed out of race one while running at the front and then came back with a third in race two. But what shows that Laconi’s strength is on the rise was his performances last weekend at Monza. A forth in race one, after battling with the lead group for the whole race, followed by a second in race two. It appears that the Ducati does well at a fast, flowing circuit like Monza (just hope it doesn’t only like fast, flowing *Italian* circuits) and it also appears that the Bologna based team have found a setup that works for the bikes since Toseland was up front at Monza as well.

The British riders always seem to step up a bit when they are back in the motherland so I think both Toseland and Walker will ride well. Toseland showed an awakening at Monza and if he can continue with that improvement should run with the leaders. Walker had a great race two at Monza but I think it will be a stretch for him to do that again at Silverstone. I expect him to be near the front but not dicing with the leaders.

Finally, the wildcard British Superbike riders usually make an impact but the Pirelli spec tire rule means that the front runners in BSB can’t race the WSBK round. There are only two BSB riders entered as wildcards and neither are likely to make an impact in the top 15.

If anyone is going to stop Suzuki, its probably going to be Honda and Ducati. If anyone is going to stop Troy Corser, it is probably Yukio Kagayama, Chris Vermeulen and Regis Laconi. The rest of the race should be a big battle between the gaggle of Yamahas (Haga, Pitt, Abe, Gimbert, Nieto, Cardoso), the herd of Hondas (Chili, Neukirchner, Muggeridge, Bostrom), the smattering of Kawasakis (Walker, Bussei) and the pair of FPR bikes (McCoy and Martin). Should be an exciting couple of races this weekend…

[image from the Silverstone Circuit web site.]

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Karmic justice…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

In a past life I must have kicked puppies and stolen from children. Or kicked children and stolen from puppies. Clearly something bad is in my past.

Now I don’t normally believe in reincarnation but an experience today has caused me to question that stand on the concept of karma. You see, the local motorcycle shop where I have my BMW serviced is Foothills BMW. They are a good shop and, among other nice services, they offer loaner bikes so you can ride even while your bike is otherwise laid up. In my case, I brought my GS in for its 36,000 mile service today and got one of their loaner bikes to get me to/from work. Normally, their service pool is made up of F650GS and CS bikes but it appears they have recently added new bike…I was expecting a F650 but what I got was a R1200C Montauk. Oh the horror!

Anyone that has ready my blog for awhile will know that there is only one bike I have ever publicly criticized on the blog. It was a posting I did back in December of last year where I explain how glad I was that BMW was finally stopping production of the R1200C.

BMW Montauk

I said then that the R1200C is “the high water mark in BMW’s pool of aesthetic embarrassments”. I can safely say that my opinion of the bike now that I have viewed it from the seat hasn’t changed at all. Mechanically, there isn’t much to complain about with the Montauk. The engine is better than I expected, still gutless at the lowest end of the tach but having surprisingly good acceleration in the mid-range. Comfort wise, the thick handlebars just suck (why mimic one of the worst parts of Harley Davidson bikes when you build a cruiser?) and the bend on the bars was odd enough to hurt my wrists. As with all cruisers, the foot pegs are too far forward for my preference meaning I kept slamming my feet down into the pavement when I went to put my feet on the pegs only to find they weren’t where I expected them.

Ultimately, my complaint with the bike is still its looks. Too many things going in too many different directions all covered with too much chrome. It looks more like a mutant Hot Wheels toy than a real motorcycle. I’ll just have to hope no one recognizes me on the 15 mile ride back to the shop. In the meantime, I’m gonna be real nice to puppies and small children so this won’t happen to me again in my next lifetime.

[image from my photo collection.]

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The future, future of the sport…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

Back in January when I did my AMA rider review I made a big deal about how riders like Ben Spies, Roger Lee Hayden and (reluctantly) Jason Disalvo are the future of the sport. Riders like Duhamel, Mladin, Bostrom and Yates, no matter how great, aren’t going to rule the sport forever. In fact, I think the Hayden brothers, Spies and Disalvo will have taken over the championship battles in the next two or three years. So when Ben and Roger Lee are no longer the newcomers, where will the next crop of star riders come from? Well, the answer is already in front of us…

As with many of the other rookies in the sport, the next generation of motorcycles racers are already honing their craft. In fact, they are often on the track at the same time as the current big name riders. The Hayden brothers didn’t just appear on factory bikes, they worked their way through a farm system of privateer and then factory supported teams. Just a decade ago, teams with names like EBSCO, Zero Gravity, Suzuki Sport, Hypercycle and Kinkos were running riders with names like Jamie Hacking, Nicky Hayden and Jake Zemke.

Matsushima Performance and Tuning team

Some other teams, like Erion Honda, Emgo Suzuki (the ex-Team Valvoline/Team Hammer), Hooters Suzuki and Corona Suzuki are still out there today and are still feeding talented riders into the AMA series. I think the teams to watch this year to spot new talent are the Grant Matsushima run MPTRacing team, the Hotbodies team, the Millenium KWS team, the Corona team and Topline Racing. All of these teams are busy scouting new talent that will race for cheap in an effort to get noticed by a factory team next year. Many of the teams have a tire sponsor, usually Pirelli or Bridgestones rather than the front running Dunlops, but their sponsorship list is dominated by small non-motorcycle related businesses like construction companies or printing companies. (Obviously, the Corona Suzuki team is the major exception to this with their big name beer sponsor and massive paddock presence).

Where do these riders come from? Well, it seems there are a few standard places that the small teams are looking to find up-and-coming riders.

First, the most fertile ground for the past thirty years have been on the dirt tracks of America. Racing on short tracks and 1/2 miles teaches kids throttle control and gets them used to the rigors of racing. Since flat track racing doesn’t pay as well as road racing and there is a lot of overlap with the skillset it is usually easy to convinced talented young riders to give road racing a try. Of the current riders MPT Racing’s Danny Eslick is the best example of one who came out of the dirt track world. He’s very fast and very comfortable sliding the bike around. His finishes thus far this season in Formula Xtreme include three top five finishes.

Second, check the local CCS and WERA races to see who is shining there. Riders like Aaron Yates, Scott Russell and Mike Smith all strutted their stuff in WERA and CCS before being picked up by AMA teams. If a rider is fast enough to win in the CCS Race of Champions or the WERA Grand Nationals there is a very good chance they’ll soon be riding in one of the AMA classes. The current racer from this background is Millenium KWS’s Blake Young. This young (pardon the pun) rider made an impression with his rides in CCS and is already backing that up with competitive riders in AMA Supersport (three top 15s) and Superstock (two top 15s). He’s teamed with veteran Lee Acree, so expect to see Young continuing to improve as he learns from his experienced teammate.

Third, casting an eye down under seems to be a popular place to look for riding talent. Over the past decade the AMA series has been dominated by Aussie riders like Troy Corser, Troy Bayliss, Mat Mladin, Anthony Gobert, Aaron Gobert and Damon Buckmaster. There are a few talented Australian riders chasing Yank dollars in the field this year but I think the best example is Corona Suzuki’s Brent George. This kid showed up at last years Suzuki Cup races at Atlanta and impressed many with a podium finish against circuit experts Mike Smith and Geoff May. Thus far this season George has finished in the top 15 at every Superstock race and in the top 15 twice in Superbike. Don’t be surprised to find him as the new Wonder from Down Under in a few years.

Finally, those scouting for international talent sometimes look north of the border and poach riders from the Canadian Superbike series. Duhamel, Picotte, Crevier and Szoke were all Canuck racers before being tempted by warmer weather and US paychecks. While this plan hasn’t paid the consistent rewards of importing Aussies this year brings back a talented young rider named Chris Peris riding for Topline Racing. He has certainly earned great results including four top-10 finishes in the ultra competitive Supersport class and four top-5 finishes in Formula Xtreme.

If you’re really curious about the future stars of the sport, check out Roadracing World and Motorcycle Technology magazine’s annual “Young Guns” feature. It lists riders between the ages of 13 and 19 who have finished in the top three in an expert level road race. Past “Young Guns” include all three Hayden brothers, John Hopkins, Ben Spies, Jason Disalvo, Tony Miering, Nicky Wimbauer and many others. Its another great feature offered to the motorcycle racing community by the often controversial John Ulrich.

In the meantime, watch as these talented riders improve this year and next.

[image from the MPT Racing web site.]

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

\’Tar Wars…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

Well, okay, not so long ago and not really so far away. In fact, just this past weekend in Colorado Springs. I won’t bore you by making this a Star Wars parody, it just seemed like too easy of a pun to make given my southern accent, the new movie opening recently and the marketing assault that rivals anything in the war on terror…

At Daytona this year, plenty of paddock pundits were pontificating about Pirelli. Specifically, that despite Michelin losing their only factory team connection, there appeared to be a tire war brewing in AMA Superbike. With all the factory teams running Dunlops it was assumed this season would be a cakewalk for the UK based company but then Pirelli shod Vincent Haskovec rode his Emgo M4 sponsored Suzuki to a surprise win in the Superstock race. Had all the nay-sayers been wrong? Had Pirelli buying their way into the World Superbike series actually netted them a competitive race tire? Had Pirelli succeeded where Michelin had failed? Well, the subsequent races have shown that optimism for the Italian tire manufacturer was probably a bit premature. The best litmus test for this may well have been this past weekend at Pikes Peak International Raceway.

Ben Spies tire warmer

PPIR is hard on tires. In fact the general opinion is that PPIR is harder on tires than any of the other tracks currently on the AMA calendar. Daytona, long known to eat rear tires for breakfast, still doesn’t put the constant strain on the left hand side of the tire that PPIR does with over 1/2 the lap being one long bumpy left hand turn. This was vividly illustrated this year when three different factory and factory supported riders were forced to pit for a new rear tire during the Superbike race: Mat Mladin, Jake Zemke and Kurtis Roberts. During the race, both Ben Spies and Aaron Yates were noticeably spinning up the rear tire exiting tight left hand turns. It was one of these spins that cost Aaron Yates the race win.

No matter how bad things were for Dunlop, things appeared even more grim among their competitors. When walking around the pits one thing that was immediately obvious was how busy the Dunlop guys were. Their canopy had three stations with hydraulic mounting machines and three tables set up for balancing tires. At any given time there would be 8 or 10 crew members frantically running around handling tire duties for all the racers running their tires. Also interesting was that Dunlop brought three different compounds of tires to PPIR for their riders including two different multi-compound tires. These slicks have two or three different types of rubber all molded together into a single tire. The left hand side of the tire would be a harder compound that can stand up to the high temperatures generated in the long left turns and the rest of the tire would be a softer compound that could be effectively used in the right hand turns since that side of the tire runs cooler. It is even possible that additional “stripes” of rubber could be used in the tire so that a particular area of the tire could be made more resilent to overheating. Fascinating stuff and proof that Dunlop has really done their homework on PPIR over the years.

In contrast, the Michelin area was positively lazy. Three or four guys wearing Michelin shirts would generally be sitting around chatting or aimlessly balancing a tire. Plainly they are the least involved of the tire manufacturers and the lack of activity around their semi was clear evidence of that. Michelin should have the leg up on everyone else in terms of motorcycle tire development since they virtually own MotoGP racing. However, every track is unique and Michelin needs at least a couple of top level AMA Superbike riders running their tires if they hope to develop competitive tires for the US tracks. It isn’t happening given their current level of involvement.

Splitting the difference between these two, the Pirelli tire guys were moderately busy. Their biggest partner in AMA Superbike is the Emgo M4 team and you could regularly see crew members from the team at the Pirelli truck and vice-versa. Clearly they are working together closely. Unfortunately, at PPIR the Pirelli tires weren’t working all that great with the track. Michael Barnes was standing in for the injured Vincent Haskovec and actually carded decent finishes for the weekend…a fine forth in Superstock and a sixth Formula Xtreme. Not bad considering it was his first ride on the bikes. However, those results are even better considering how badly his Pirelli tires were sliding around after the halfway point in each race. In the early stages of the Formula Xtreme race Barnes was fighting with Ben Attard and Chris Peris for third place. Then his rear tire started sliding and he steadily dropped back to his eventual sixth place result. What was particularly noticable was that his tires were sliding exiting the sweeping right hand turn five. This would indicate that even the cooler right hand side of the tire wasn’t performing as well as the Dunlop tires run by the other racers. Probably the very situation that one of those multi-compound Dunlop tires is meant to address since the Pirellis probably run a hard single compound tire so the right hand side never comes up to operating temperature. The same thing could be seen in the Superstock race though Barney seemed to ride around the problem better on the GSXR1000 than he did on the Superbike-spec 600. Perhaps the heavier bike generated the extra heat to make the right side of the tire work better while overheating the left side even more. Great rides from Barnes but it does open the question of how competitive would he have been on Dunlops?

Finally, Bridgestone had a semi at PPIR but it was practically just there as a rolling billboard. I didn’t see any riders going to/from the Bridgestone area. Like Corona, they could have simply hired models to walk around in their gear and not really changed their impact on the weekend. Like Michelin, Bridgestone theoretically could be a huge force in Superbike racing since they are the biggest tire manufacturer in Formula One car racing and have recently taken a huge bite out of Michelin’s market in MotoGP racing. Its a matter of them deciding to put resources in the US national series and then getting some riders on their tires so they can start collecting crucial data from our tracks.

Either way, PPIR did highlight that the tire wars aren’t as hot as they first appeared at Daytona. Before anyone will really challenge Dunlop for supremacy in the AMA Superbike wars Pirelli will need to create a better tire and both Michelin and Bridgestone need to get some top riders on their tires. In the meantime, we can always hope that Barnes will get a chance to come over to the dark side and compete head-to-head with the factory boys.

Use the force, Michael…

[image from the Superbike Planet web site.]

Monday, May 23, 2005

Harmonic convergence…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

The New Age folks have a number of very interesting theories about life. One of those curious “facts” is the idea that there are streams of energy that flow across the surface of the earth and that there are special places where these paths of energy cross. The places of convergence have unique properties to which the New Age devotees flock. Some of these sacred locations in the US include Santa Fe NM, Sedona AZ and Crestone CO. (Interestingly enough, these places are demonstrably locations of special financial energy because land in these towns is disgustingly expensive…but I digress).

Well, I’ve always been skeptical about this theory but I’m beginning to think there is something special about Fountain, Colorado. That’s the only way I can explain Eric Bostrom’s performance yesterday at PPIR.

PPIR results

Thus far this season, EBoz has struggled. Well, that’s putting it politely. In ‘03 Eric was “the man”. Last year he struggled with the Michelin clad Duc 999 and everyone…team, fans and Eric…surely expected him to return to his ‘03 form this year with him back on Dunlops and with a year on the Ducati under his belt. Given that benchmark, Bostrom has sucked this year: 11th at Daytona, 8th and 5th at Barber, 5th and 4th at Fontana, 10th and 7th at Infineon. Today Eric seemed to align all his chakras and everything clicked. He was second in qualifying throwing down strong laps for the second half of the 40 minute session. Then in the race he repeated last year’s jack rabbit start. Yates eventually clawed his way through traffic to catch up to Bostrom. The Enforcer even took the lead and looked to have it won but traffic kept him from getting away and roasted tires let him down on the last lap allowing Eric back by for the win. Eric’s sixth win at PPIR and his forth straight. Its really a pity the energy grid doesn’t cross the other nine tracks on the ‘05 schedule since Eric is amazing to watch when things come together for him.

In contrast, Mladin has ruled all year with only a mechanical failure at Infineon marring a perfect season. There is only one track on the AMA schedule that Mladin hasn’t won and its the little oval in Colorado. Mat came in confident that this was his year to check PPIR off his list. Well, once again the Mladin curse kicked in and Mat struggled. Perhaps Mat didn’t wear the right crystal or chant the right mantra before the trace. Then again, a bad race for Mat means forth…still valuable points towards the championship.

As I mentioned in my pre-race posting on Friday there are a few other guys that seem able to tap into PPIR’s mystical energy:

Josh Hayes - With a few weekends on a reliable Attack Kawasaki behind him, Hayes showed that his ‘04 performance of coming through the pack after a crash wasn’t a fluke. Josh didn’t crash this time and instead used that same Pike’s Peak mojo to finish the Superbike race in fifth, ahead of Hodgson, Duhamel and Zemke. This is Hayes second fifth in three races so once again he is stickin’ it to the factory boys.

Tommy Hayden - The elder of the Hayden brothers has always run well at PPIR. Maybe its his dirt track background, maybe its his smooth riding style or maybe its cosmic karma but Tommy once again put on a good show for us Colorado fans. Tommy visited the podium in both of his races, third in Superstock and second in Supersport. He ran second for most of the Supersport race until race leader Jason Disalvo threw his Yamaha away in turn three. Tommy nearly crashed avoiding the sliding bike and rider but rejoined the in third. He rode hard to regain second with a deft pass on Jamie Hacking but couldn’t find a way past brother Roger Lee for the win. This increased his lead in Superport to 8 points and his Supersport run solidified his forth place standing there.

Jake Zemke - The Californian has had some memorable rides in Colorado. Today he had two noteworthy rides but only got the glory for one of them…Zemke lead the Formula Xtreme race from start to finish, winning his forth straight FX race and giving him a 13 point lead over teammate Duhamel in the title chase. This win also moved him into first place on the most FX wins list with 10. Zemke’s second race for the day didn’t turn out so well… In Superbike, Zemke came out running strong in third for that first half of the race. It looked like Jake would put the CBR on the podium, especially once Mladin pitted for a new tire, but then he suffered his own personal tire problems eventually pitting for new rubber. Zemke eventually finished thirteenth, hardly fair considering how long he held third place on the track against the monster Suzukis and against PPIR expert Bostrom. It doesn’t require any spiritual mumbo-jumbo to know 13 was definitely an unlucky number for Jake.

Jamie Hacking - Jamie has often struggled at PPIR including some high profile crashes in the past. This year he finally seemed to find the way to channel the mysterious Fountain, CO power. Hacking won a hard fought Superstock battle after holding off persistent attacks from Aaron Yates. He then followed this up with a third place in Supersport, not quite able to run with the two Hayden brother’s Kawasakis but pulling well clear of teammate Aaron Gobert. In addition to putting in strong performances this year, it also seems like Hacking has mellowed a lot over the past two years. I thought he was a jerk for much of his early racing career but ‘04 seemed to have brought about a change. He seems to be a less physical rider and less aggressive towards his competitors both on track and off. The new ager followers might say there has been a transference because unfortunately it appears that the worst parts of Hacking’s prior persona have been picked up by his teammate Jason Disalvo. The change in Hacking in both his outward personality and his performance at PPIR mean he was one to watch this past weekend.

Finally, every vortex of universal bliss is bound to have its downer. It was the track itself that was again the embarrassing stain on the clean white robe of a weekend. As if the dinky 1.3 mile layout with crumbling asphalt isn’t bad enough the riders had to deal with the added excitement of having water seep up through the cracks all during the weekend. To show that some people know how to make a bad situation worse, the track sprinkler systems ran on Saturday evening adding water to an already saturated ground. The fix? The track officials had holes bored into the surface where tampons were inserted to soak up water. Now the surface resembles a cheese grater, not to mention bringing up that age old question of exactly what is the traction coefficient of a wet tampon? The final coup-de-grace was the complete cluster caused by jamming a few thousand motorcycles out just two exists. The motorcyclists, many in leathers and helmets, were left baking in the sun while the VIPs in their air conditioned cars were flagged out of the parking areas in the infield. A miserable end to what was actually an exciting weekend of racing.

[image from my photo collection.]

Friday, May 20, 2005

Water in the desert…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

“Any water in the desert will do.”
Saudi Arabian Proverb

For the past few years, since the Phoenix race was dropped of the calendar in 1999, the AMA’s only visit to the western states has been their annual visit to Pikes Peak International Raceway. By any non-NASCAR race fan’s evaluation, PPIR is not a great track. First of all, it’s a NASCAR oval which means lots of concrete walls and mostly left turns. Second, it is small even by NASCAR standards which means it is more reminiscent of a concrete speedway or short track race than of a road race. Finally, it is in the plains of Colorado which means it is subject to both the bitter cold of winter and the baking heat of being in a high plains desert. As a result, the track surface is rough and bumpy at its best and crumbling apart at its worst. Since 1997 this has been an event the AMA Superbike guys soldier through rather than anticipate. But for the fans of AMA Superbike racing their annual visit this coming weekend is our sip of cool water that breaks the one year draught.

Those complaints stated, as a Colorado resident I’m happy to have a place to watch the fastest guys in the country show their stuff even if it’s the equivalent of watching Rossi zoom around a go kart track on a moped. The turnout for the PPIR event, now in its ninth year, has grown steadily over the past two or three events. The parking lot is now filled with bikes and the promoter has started adding new activities like a free style motocross demonstration, extreme skateboard/BMX bicycle exhibitions and live bands which will hopefully draw even more fans in the coming years.

Eric Bostrom wins PPIR in '04

The track layout and surface not withstanding, the most defining characteristic of the PPIR event has always been the success that underdogs have had at the track…particularly underdogs whose past includes a lot of dirt track racing. PPIR was one of the few events which breathed life into the old Harley Superbike effort when, in 1999, Pascal Picotte ran up front during the race. Even the most successful Superbike rider at PPIR, Eric Bostrom, has been a clear underdog during many of his race wins. Last year Eric had struggled at all the previous races on the Ducati and suddenly came alive at the Colorado bullring to win the race over the dominant Mat Mladin. It turned out to be his only win of the season.

In addition to EBoz, dirt trackers like the Hayden brothers, Kurtis Roberts, Jake Zemke, Ben Bostrom and Larry Pegram have had memorable rides at PPIR. While racing the then-new Honda RC-51 in 2000, Nicky Hayden lead the race over Mat Mladin before burning all the rubber of his rear slick and fading back to finish 5th. Kurtis Roberts has always been the most impressive rider to watch through turns one and two. Back in his days racing the Erion Honda Formula Xtreme CBR he used to broad slide the bike all the way through the long left hand turn looking like a dirt tracker entering turn one at the Springfield mile. Memorable stuff.

Jake Zemke has also has memorable races at PPIR but rarely races he is proud of. In 2003 he was gridded on the back row of the 600SS race because a tech inspection revealed a rules infraction with his bike’s oil pressure relief valve. When the green flag fell, Zemke started a charge through the pack that drew more attention from the stands that the battle for the lead. In the end, Zemke finished 7th and instantly became a fan favorite.

Likewise, Josh Hayes had an impressive ride last year in the Superbike event. After crashing on the first lap, Hayes remounted his Kawasaki in dead last and started rocketing his way back through the field. The inspired ride showed just how gritty a competitor he is and his eventually 7th place finish was amazing considering how difficult it can be to pass on the 1.3 mile long circuit.

Speaking of which, passing has always been a problem at PPIR. Because the track is so short, the Superbike races usually run 48 laps. The large grids that the AMA allows, combined with the wide disparity in lap times, means the leaders usually start passing back markers after just six or seven laps. Some riders have been lapped as many as three times in the past but the new usage of the blue flag and recent habit of black flagging slow riders after they have been lapped twice is helping. Still, the Superbike finishes at PPIR are rarely close as backmarkers inevitably string out the field making it tough for riders which missed the lead group early to bridge the gap back up to them. In contrast, the Supersport races at PPIR are almost always fantastic, perhaps making this class the true oasis among the dry scortching sands of roadrace wasteland. Turn four, leading into the infield, has decided many of the Supersport races at PPIR as the short straight leading up to that turn allows drafting and subsequent close passes on the smaller bikes.

This year could be the most exciting race in years. Eric Bostrom has done so well at PPIR that it would be silly to ignore the chance of him having another breakthrough ride. Mat Mladin has always struggled at PPIR but seems convinced that he can turn that around this year. Mat’s teammates Ben Spies and Aaron Yates are also both riders with a strong dirt back ground and should do well this year as well. PPIR could be Jake Zemke’s best chance to run up front aboard his still under development Honda. Jake’s teammate Duhamel is always strong at PPIR, especially through the flat, sweeping right hand turn five. Duhamel’s other strength has always been his ability to get through traffic which definitely pays dividends here. If the Attack Kawasaki will hold together, this could give Josh Hayes an opportunity to put in another strong ride, hopefully without having to charge through the field after a crash. Even Kurtis Roberts could improve his recent showings if he can use his dirt track style to slide his underpowered Erion Honda towards the front. It would be nice if we could get some tight racing again after a few years of run away wins.

My best memory of the place involved just such tight racing. It was my first year cornerworking at PPIR back in 1998. I was working turn four, the tight left hander that leads off the back straight and into the infield. During the 600 Supersport race, the leaders would regularly all enter the turn with the rear tire locked up and hung waaaaay out on the right side as they fanned out for the draft pass. Each lap I was convinced that Larry Pegram, Nicky Hayden, Tommy Hayden and Eric Bostrom where all going to go down in a sliding, sparking heap as they fought in that turn but each lap they pulled it together. In the end Larry Pegram took his first and only Supersport race win. One of the most exciting races I’ve watched at the Fountain, CO track.

As they say, the Pikes Peak International Raceway event ain’t much but I’m thankful to have it nonetheless. Those stuck in the desert can’t be too picky about how we quench our thirst. Until someone ponies up the big bucks to build a better track in the Colorado area, I’ll be a faithful spectator at PPIR and hope others do the same. Hope to see you there this May 22!

[image from the Pikes Peak International Raceway web site.]

Thursday, May 19, 2005

May \’05 odds and ends

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, AMA Supermoto

So things have been happening so fast in the motorcycle racing world that I’m falling behind in getting out the news while still maintaining my one post per day format. As a result, I’m going to cut back on how much I say on each topic for today and try to get out a lot of information in an effort to get caught up…

OLN TV logo

First, after what as been the most exciting Supercross series in years ESPN decided to drop their option to cover the upcoming AMA motocross season. So don’t tune into ESPN2 this summer if you want to watch Bubba, Ricky, Chad, Kevin and all the others duke it out. Fortunately, OLN snapped up the contract and will be televising the series in its entirety. More good news is that OLN is rumored to be getting David Bailey to handle their announcing duties. Based on what I’ve heard when he’s announced the Daytona Supercross on SpeedTV David should be better at color commentary than ESPN’s Cameron Steele or OLN’s Jerry Bernardo. The bad news is that OLN plans to show the motocross races one week after the event rather than showing them live or tape delayed the same day. The current schedule is to show the 250s on Saturday one week after the race and then the 125s will be shown the Thursday after that. The first race at Hangtown in Sacramento will be shown on May 29th. Tune in and support OLN!

Speaking of dirt bike racing, I never got a chance to give a review of the AMA Supercross finale from Vegas. Neither the much anticipated mano-a-mano battle in the 250s or the east-west comparison in the 125s really materialized. In the 250s, Stewart crashed in his heat race which jammed his thumb and he chose to skip the race. With Bubba out, I think Ricky decided to play it safe rather than risk an injury that would put him behind for the outdoor races. Kevin pushed too hard and crashed out while leading. The result was a big win for Reed, hopefully boosting his confidence for the upcoming motocross season. A big crash in the first lap of the 125s put a lot of the front runners at the back of the pack, so the Langston/Tedesco/Ramsey/Hansen/Walker/Millsaps/Grant battle didn’t happen. Millsaps got the win, somewhat redeeming himself after early season crashes took him out of the east coast 125 championship battle. Like the first race of the season, the anticipation for Vegas turned out to be more exciting than the actual race. Now its time to look forward to the opening of the motocross season this coming weekend…

One person that will be missing the AMA Motocross series is Suzuki rider Sebastien Tortelli who broke his wrist in a practice crash just before Vegas. This is too bad for two different reasons. First, Tortellli has always been a better outdoors than supercross rider. He did well during the SX season, finishing seventh, so looked to be ready for a strong season on the motocross tracks. Second, his job during the SX season was to develop the four stroke RM-Z450 which both he and Ricky Carmichael will be running in the outdoors. Now Tortelli won’t have a chance to benefit from all the development work he did throughout the Supercross season. Hopefully Sebastien can return for the last few motocross races.

Back on the asphalt, the support classes for all the roadrace series have eclipsed the premier series, the only possible exception being the MotoGP series. I’ll try to do some postings in the future that review how these series are developing but I will encourage roadrace fans to tune into the World Supersport, 250 and 125GP races and the AMA Supersport and Superstock races on SpeedTV when they are shown on Tuesdays.

A press release that raised my eyebrows this past week was a message from Yamaha announcing that Doug Henry will be racing a pair of factory supported Graves Yamahas in the AMA Supermoto series. Last season it seemed like the AMA Supermoto series stalled out after a first year growth that surprised and excited many of us fans. This faltering seemed even more clear when the first round of the ‘05 season was cancelled dropping the season to only seven rounds. Having Yamaha join KTM in the series as factories with supported teams should help add some much needed prestige this season. Lets hope they can get Honda enticed into fielding a full factory supported team and get supermoto growing again.

In the MotoGP world, Tony Elias has now joined the injured list after breaking his wrist and leg in a testing accident on Monday. He will miss the June 5th MotoGP race at Mugello. The list of who is healthy in the MotoGP paddock is pretty short these days. Its even worse if you think of the mental beating that everyone has taken by Rossi. Those bruises to every other rider’s confidence could be more damaging than any back or wrist injury.

The sad news coming out of California this morning confirms everyone’s worst fears that Team M4 Emgo Suzuki rider Vincent Haskovec has been paralysed after his accident at Infineon Raceway. The Team Hammer web site posted an official announcement. This is sad, sad news not only because Vincent was a popular rider but because he had taken a big step forward this year as a rider and was a genuine contender for the Superstock title. Add in that he was the top non-factory Honda rider in Formula Xtreme and its easy to see how big a hole his absence from the paddock is going to create. My best wishes go out to Haskovec for a speedy recovery to full health and that he has all the support he can get for the rocky road that lies ahead for him.

I think that’s enough for my first effort at catching up. Tomorrow I’ll post my review for this weekend’s AMA race at PPIR.

[image from the OLN TV web site.]

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Not in my (future) backyard…

Author: site admin
Category: Motorcycles

Unlike so many blogs on the net, I rarely use this as a platform for rants. I try to post stories that motorcycle enthusiasts and particularly motorcycle race enthusiasts will enjoy without it just being one long Dennis Miller-ish bitch session. Well, this is one of the few times where I’ve summoned up some self-righteous rage and need to vent.

Maybe the following reference is an 80s thing, like referring to something a totally awesome or exclaiming “Just say no”. If so, I’ll try to explain it below. You see, as a long-haired, tree-hugging, pinko-commie environmentalist type I’ve often heard, and have probably been called, the term NIMBY. This acronym came out of the post-Three Mile Island anti-nuclear reactor protests and was primarily aimed a folks who protested things being built near their home. Since back in those halcyon days, it was usually the liberals who did such protests (this was before the days of do-gooder fundamentalists protesting strip clubs, blue collar unions protesting Walmart and gun-toting conservatives protesting illegal aliens). The general idea was that we damned environmentalists were too weak-minded to understand the bigger issue and instead just wanted to protect our own ass.

My how the times they are a changin’. What does this have to do with motorcycles, my usual topic, you might ask? Well, plenty. It seems that the past decade has brought about a whole new breed of NIMBYs, this time from the very people that probably bitched about us hippies a mere twenty years ago. The new target for this phenomena? Race tracks, or to use the fashionable catch phrase of the day, noise pollution. (Rational people might think you were nuts for moving next door to a race track and then complaining about the noise but only idiots would dare question anyone fighting some type of pollution?)

There are two instances of this that have me the most pissed off. The first is happening in California where Laguna Seca continues to be restricted by local bone heads who moved into the hills outside Monterrey, built their mega-mansion and then - oppps! - discovered there was a race track there. Nevermind that the Laguna Seca motorsports park was built in 1956 and is maintained by a non-profit whose board is composed of local people including county officials. Somehow this apparently top secret facility eluded their detection until after they’d plopped down the nest egg left over from their dot com IPO. Now little Billy can’t take his Saturday afternoon nap because AMA Superbikes are getting in their qualifying session and damnit, something must be done. The end result is that Laguna Seca has a set number of big events (MotoGP, World Superbike, Vintage races, SCCA, etc) that they can run each year. These events must be approved by the board and are subject to complaints from local home owners. There has even been talk of setting a decibel limit which, if it happens, would pretty much crush the chances of having MotoGP there in the future. This July will undoubtedly be the litmus test for this.

Fronterra Village

The second instance of a race track being hit with sound problems is a much less spectacular venue in a much less affluent neighborhood but has a much more personal impact… The local MRA roadracing organization only has a few tracks on which to race. These same tracks also serve as venues for local track days, so they’re an asset even to non-racers. None of these tracks are world class. Hell, they aren’t really even national caliber. Most are short, bumpy and tight with crappy facilities. Passable classrooms for local racers and riders to hone their craft but tracks not worthy of any recognition outside Colorado. Of these, Second Creek Raceway is the most used as it is the closest to downtown Denver. Its also close to DIA, which would seem to be an ideal place for a race track since surely noise can’t be a problem directly underneath the path of landing aircraft! Well, think again. The grotesque stain of suburbia can encroach anywhere, even on a race track located in the middle of freakin’ nowhere with an airport just a few miles away. A bunch of developers (don’t get this environmentalist started on which layer of hell is reserved for land developers) decided to build a little blob of communities just a half mile from Second Creek. They called this little slice of paradise Fronterra Village and started putting up crappy little boxes made of OSB, dry wall and pastel paint. Like mushrooms after a rainstorm, one minute the area was empty open plains and the next it was covered with identical looking suburban dream homes. Families looking for affordable housing arrived like 49er’s racing for homesteads and then just as promptly started noticing strange noises on Friday nights and weekends. Petitions were signed, local county commissioners were called and soon the track owners started getting notices about breaking noise ordinances. It looks like this will be the last year for Second Creek (and probably their neighbor Rocky Mountain National Speedway) and soon the track will be turned into Second Creek Homes or something.

Meanwhile the environmentalists are complaining about how all these developments keep popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. Kentucky blue grass, acres of pavement and dislocation of local wildlife all have us hippies in a rage. Well, I say this obvious landscape pollution shouldn’t be allowed! …or at least not in my racetrack’s backyard.

[image from the Colorado Home Store web site.]