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Mat Mladin went a perfect two-for-two in 2009 with a win in Saturday’s AMA Pro National Guard American Superbike presented by Parts Unlimited race while young American-rider Danny Eslick gave Buell its first major worldwide motorcycle road racing victory in the AMA Pro Daytona SportBike presented by AMSOIL race. The co-feature events were the opening rounds of this weekend’s Suzuki AMA Pro Superbike Challenge double header at Auto Club Speedway.
Mladin (No. 7 Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000) started the weekend by winning his second-straight pole in Friday’s single-bike Superpole session but was out gunned at the start by teammate Tommy Hayden (No. 22 Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000). The Yoshimura duo would go on to stage a thrilling race-long battle that featured frequent side-by-side action, three official lead changes and numerous other lead swaps within race laps.
The first came when Hayden made a great start from the third spot on the front row and led the first lap. Mladin was quick to pounce, however, and passed Hayden for the lead through the Auto Club Speedway tri-oval on Lap 2. Hayden took the lead again on Lap 9 and then waged an all-out war for the top spot with his teammate in the race’s closing laps. Mladin took the lead with two laps to go, Hayden moved back to the front on the final lap but Mladin made the winning move in Turn 10 with the checkered flag in sight.
"It was just an out-braking pass down there for the lead," Mladin said. "I was strong down there all weekend. I was within three or four bike lengths of Tommy on the back straight, so I just got in there deep. Tommy let it roll a little bit, so I let it roll and it got us the lead. It was a good race. If there is anybody up here in this field that I would like to see win one it is Tommy, but I am not going to give him one, I am going to push him hard."
Hayden had one of the best American Superbike races of his career and joins Mladin as the only riders who have hit the top-three podium in the year’s opening races at Daytona and Auto Club.
"I had a pretty good pace, good rhythm and the laps were pretty consistent but Mat wasn’t going anywhere," Hayden said. "I was plus zero the whole way. I tried to get through the lappers clean and I felt that I struggled a little bit with those, I could have been a little more aggressive and it would have helped me out. Overall it was a good race and a good start to the season. It’s a little disappointing to be that close but it’s where I wanted to be at this part of the year, to be close to Mat, see what he does and try to learn from him and at least challenge for victories. I feel like I’ve made that step and now I just have to work on closing them out."
Third-place went to No. 54 National Guard/Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000 rider Geoff May who shook off a disappointing Daytona opener to hit the podium in California.
"Daytona was disappointing, I’m not going to sugarcoat it," May said. "We sat down and went over everything, figured out what went wrong and worked real hard to figure it out. We found some stuff in the suspension that was wrong, there were some mistakes made that won’t happen again and you’ve seen the results of it. We’ve got the bikes where Aaron (Yates) and I are both comfortable now and we’re back towards the front of the field."
Yoshimura’s third rider Blake Young (No. 79 Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000) finished fourth to back up his strong fifth-place finish at Daytona. Jake Holden (No. 100 Corona Extra Honda CBR1000RR) hit the top five in a great return to the Corona team in replacement of injured rider Neil Hodgson.
Holden had a race-long battle with factory Yamaha teammates Josh Hayes and Ben Bostrom, who finished sixth and seventh, respectively. David Anthony (No. 25 Aussie Dave Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000), Taylor Knapp (No. 44 Taylor Knapp Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000) and Aaron Gobert (No. 59 Holden Racing Honda CBR1000RR) all had solid runs to complete the top 10.
The scheduled 21-lap race was shortened by two laps after a red-flag incident just after the initial race start. Larry Pegram (No. 72 Foremost Insurance/Pegram Racing Ducati 1098R) started sixth and was in thick of the lead pack when he had a highside incident at Turn 3. The race was stopped as safety crews tended to Pegram, who has been cleared to race tomorrow, and the race was later restarted for 19 laps.
The only other major incident came when Aaron Yates (No. 23 Brand Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000) lowsided while running third. Yates was uninjured and rode his bike back to the pits and ultimately recovered to finish 15th.
Auto Club Speedway race two for AMA Pro National Guard American Superbike presented by Parts Unlimited is Sunday at 4 p.m. local time.