Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Thursday, September 1, 2005

The break…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes

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

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

Mladin - The Big Kahuna

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

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

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

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

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

[image from the AMA Superbike web site.]