AMA Pro Road Racing previews Topeka (yes)
Tornado Nationals First Major Motorcycle Race In Topeka in Nearly 20 Years
At least one 2009 championship will be decided and several other season titles could be on the line at this weekend’s Tornado Nationals presented by Briggs Auto, which marks the return of top-level AMA Pro Road Racing to Heartland Park Topeka for the first time since 1991. The full weekend of action is also the final event on the 2009 calendar to feature every AMA Pro Road Racing championship and an impressive entry of nearly 130 motorcycles is headed to the 2.5-mile Kansas road course.
The highlight of the Tornado Nationals will be dual Saturday and Sunday races for the premier AMA Pro National Guard American Superbike presented by Parts Unlimited and AMA Pro Daytona SportBike presented by AMSOIL divisions. Also on the card is the season-ending event for the West-division riders of AMA Pro SuperSport presented by Shoei, who will compete head-to-head with their counterparts from the East in the last of this season’s three dual-championship shootouts. The jam-packed schedule also includes a two-hour AMA Pro SunTrust Moto-GT race that is the only event of the weekend featuring scheduled pit stops and rider changes.
The action begins with practice, qualifying and Superpole qualifying on Friday, July 31, and continues straight into the weekend with three races each day on Saturday and Sunday. The SunTrust Moto-GT enduro kicks off the weekend’s races at 11 a.m. on Saturday, August 1, and will be followed that afternoon by the first finals for American Superbike at 3 p.m. and Daytona SportBike at 4 p.m. Sunday, August 2, will see Daytona SportBike roll off first at 2 p.m., SuperSport following at 3 p.m. and Superbike closing the weekend at 4 p.m. The Superbike and Daytona SportBike races are each 20 laps for 50 miles while the SuperSport race is a 16-lap distance for 40 miles.
The Tornado Nationals will be featured in a pair of same-day telecasts on SPEED. Saturday’s American Superbike and Daytona SportBike finals will be shown that night in a two-hour show at 10:30 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. PT) while Sunday’s premier class races and other highlights will air in a two-hour show that evening at Midnight ET (9 p.m. PT). On-site fans at Heartland Park Topeka can also enjoy a Fan Party and Rider Autograph Session on Friday night beginning at 6:00 p.m. in the northwest Paddock Pavilion.
Championship points leader Mat Mladin (No. 7 Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000) is a virtual lock to win the 2009 AMA Pro American Superbike title and he could do just that at Heartland Park. The Ironman Australian has an unmatched record of 10 wins so far this season, including a streak of seven in a row to open the year. He has been AMA Pro Road Racing’s top rider in 2009 and has won all but four races and captured seven of eight pole positions. The most recent round at Mid-Ohio marked the only event this year where Mladin failed to win a race or the pole, but he still managed to finish third in the Saturday final and left Ohio having given up just one point of his big championship lead.
Mladin leads the American Superbike class in every possible statistical category and all tiebreaker scenarios favor Suzuki’s only winning 2009 American Superbike rider. He has a strong 126-point championship lead, 390 – 264, over Yoshimura Suzuki teammate and nearest challenger Tommy Hayden (No. 22 Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000) and Mladin will seal a record-extending seventh AMA Pro American Superbike title if he maintains or builds on that gap by the end of the Tornado Nationals weekend.
Mladin’s teammates Hayden and Blake Young (No. 79 Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000) have been among the handful of riders that have challenged the American Superbike leader this year. Hayden is still winless in his American Superbike career but he has been on the podium in half of the year’s 14 races. That run includes the Sunday final at Mid-Ohio where Hayden finished third on a day that Mladin posted a season-low finish of seventh. Hayden’s best finishes have been seconds in the Saturday finals at Road Atlanta and Infineon Raceway and both rounds in March at Auto Club Speedway in California.
Young has overcome severe injuries to his left pinkie and ring finger in a Sunday final accident at Barber Motorsports Park to remain one of Mladin’s strongest challengers. His best run of the year came two races ago in the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca where he led the most laps for the first time this season before finishing second to Mladin. That finish matched two other runner-up showings in the last two races before his accident in Race 1 at Barber, the day before his spill, and the Sunday finale at Road Atlanta in early April.
Although a solid sixth in the championship standings with 201 points despite missing a pair of races, Young has been eliminated from the title picture. Along with Hayden, the only other riders who have a very slim yet mathematical chance of catching Mladin make up the rest of the top five in the championship standings. Yamaha’s American Superbike riders Ben Bostrom (No. 2 Yamaha Motor Corp. USA Yamaha R1) and Josh Hayes (No. 4 Yamaha Motor Corp. USA Yamaha R1) are both in that group and rank third and fourth, respectively, heading to Topeka.
Bostrom, who is third in the championship standings with 246 points, finished second to Hayes in Race 2 at Mid-Ohio as Yamaha scored a rare one-two American Superbike finish. It was Bostrom’s fifth consecutive top-five showing and eighth of the year and matched his season-best finish of second, which he did for the first time in the Sunday final at Infineon.
Hayes dominated the Mid-Ohio weekend after becoming the first rider other than Mladin this season to earn the top spot in Superpole qualifying on Friday. He then won both of the weekend’s races and joins Mladin as 2009’s only American Superbike repeat race winner with three victories. Hayes first won this year when he broke both Mladin’s 2009 win streak and Suzuki’s multi-year lock on the American Superbike division with a breakout victory in Race 1 at Infineon in May, where he also led the most race laps. He heads to Heartland Park fourth in the championship with 245 points, just one behind teammate Bostrom.
The year’s only other American Superbike race winner is Larry Pegram (No. 72 Foremost Insurance/Pegram Racing Ducati 1098R) who is fifth in the American Superbike standings with 223 points. Pegram out-raced Mladin and the rest of the field three races ago at Road America for his first win in 10 years. The lone Ducati rider in American Superbike has finished in the top five in six of the last seven races in a competitive run that began with a third-place showing in the Saturday final at Infineon. He cracked the podium for the first time this season with a third-place finish in Race 2 at Auto Club Speedway.
Geoff May (No. 54 National Guard Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000) and his Jordan Motorsports teammate Aaron Yates (No. 23 Brand Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000) rank seventh and eighth, respectively, in the American Superbike standings. May’s best finishes were three third-place showings within the year’s first five races while Yates has posted back-to-back third-place showings of his own in Race 2 at Road America and at Laguna Seca. Yates has also given the Jordan team its top results of the year with second-place finishes in the Sunday final at Barber and one event ago at Mid-Ohio in Race 1 on Saturday.
A pair of top privateers completes the American Superbike top 10 but one will miss this weekend’s race at Topeka and the rest of the season. David Anthony (No. 25 Aussie Dave Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000) remains 10th in the championship despite missing both Mid-Ohio races after a spill in Saturday’s final qualifying. He is currently recovering from surgery to repair a fractured femur. Taylor Knapp (No. 44 Taylor Knapp Racing Buell 1125RR) is ninth in the standings and his season has been anchored by eight top-10 finishes, including the Sunday final at Mid-Ohio. In that race Knapp debuted the Buell 1125RR and two more of the new machines will be on track at Topeka in the hands of veteran Buell rider Shawn Higbee (No. 11 Higbee-Racing.com Buell 1125RR) and Walt Sipp (No. 221 Walt Sipp Racing Buell 1125RR).
Honda has been competitive in American Superbike this year despite an early season injury to top rider Neil Hodgson (No. 100 Corona Extra Honda CBR1000RR). The former World Superbike Champion has recovered from an early-season motocross training injury to score strong sixth-place finishes in the recent races at Road America and Laguna Seca. The finishes were Hodgson’s best showings since taking second in the Daytona opener and he has made just eight race starts this season. Jake Holden (No. 59 Holden Racing Honda CBR1000RR) filled in capably for Hodgson in the first part of the year and is continuing to fly Corona Extra colors. His best result of the year was fifth in the Saturday final at Auto Club, his first race subbing for Hodgson. Another rider to watch in the Honda camp is Aaron Gobert (No. 96 AGR Inc. Honda CBR1000RR) who is entered on his own Aaron Gobert Racing (AGR) Honda for the Tornado Nationals.
Other riders to keep an eye on in Topeka include Road America Race 1 runner-up Michael Laverty (No. 8 Celtic Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000), Chris Ulrich (No. 18 Roadracingworld.com Suzuki GSX-R1000) and Scott Jensen (No. 61 Moto Garage Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000). A total of 31 American Superbikes are entered for the Tornado Nationals.
Wide-Open Daytona SportBike
While Mladin and Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura have all but sealed the American Superbike championships, the title battle in AMA Pro Daytona SportBike presented by AMSOIL is closer than it has been all season. Danny Eslick (No. 9 GEICO Powersports/RMR Buell 1125R) muscled his way to a sweep of both races two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio and has moved to within just 10 points of mid-season terror Martin Cardenas (No. 36 Team M4 Suzuki GSX-R600). Cardenas has 285 points and six wins while Eslick has 275 markers and five wins to his credit. Also firmly in the mix is Jamie Hacking (No. 88 Monster Energy Attack Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R) who is far from out of it in third place with 241 championship points.
Just two events ago Cardenas was a full 50-points clear of the competition, but a distant 36th place finish at Laguna Seca and rare showing out of the top 10 in Race 1 at Mid-Ohio saw his lead dwindle. The quick Colombian did rally, however, to finish third behind Eslick and Hacking in the Sunday final at Mid-Ohio for a class-leading ninth podium result of the year. That unmatched record includes four wins in a row, which he did by sweeping both the Infineon and Barber weekends. His victory in Race 1 at Road Atlanta was the first Daytona SportBike victory of his career and he won most recently in the Sunday final at Road America.
Eslick has also doubled up on weekend sweeps and first gave notice he would be a challenger for the Daytona SportBike crown when he went two-for-two at Auto Club Speedway in March. One event later at Road Atlanta he answered the Saturday win by Cardenas with a victory of his own in the Sunday final. In total, the young Oklahoma rider has finished eighth or better in 12 of 14 races this year.
Although still looking for a 2009 win, Hacking may be one of the most consistent riders in AMA Pro Road Racing. He has finished out of the top five just six times in 14 races this season, out of the top-10 just twice and his best results have been five second-place showings, including most recently in the Sunday final at Mid-Ohio. Hacking’s teammate Roger Hayden (No. 95 Monster Energy Attack Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R) finished fifth in the same Mid-Ohio race for his best result since posting a pair of seconds in the Saturday finals at Road Atlanta and Road America.
The year’s only other race winners are Bostrom, who has gone a perfect two for two in Daytona SportBike cameos on his No. 1s Graves Motorsports Yamaha YZF-R6, and Canadian rider Chris Peris (No. 10 Erion Racing Honda CBR600RR). Bostrom won both the season-opening Daytona 200 and at Laguna Seca in his only scheduled Daytona SportBike races of the season. Peris won Race 1 in the rain at Road America and also has a third-place finish at Road Atlanta to his credit.
Yamaha’s fulltime Daytona SportBike riders are Josh Herrin (No. 8 Team Graves Yamaha YZF-R6) and Tommy Aquino (No. 6 Team Graves Yamaha YZF-R6). Herrin finished second to his Yamaha colleague Bostrom in Daytona, earned another runner-up showing in Race 2 at Road Atlanta and took his third second-place finish of the season in the Saturday final one event ago at Mid-Ohio. Herrin is fourth in the championship standings with 211 points and has also finished third in two of the last six races, including Laguna Seca and the Sunday race at Infineon. Aquino hit the podium for the first time this year at Mid-Ohio where he finished third, one spot behind Herrin, on Saturday. He also crossed the finish line just behind his teammate at Infineon and Laguna Seca for then-season-best fourth-place finishes.
Peris is teammates with veteran Honda rider Jake Zemke (No. 1x Erion Racing Honda CBR600RR) who also factored into Erion’s strong Road America weekend with a season-high finish of second in the Sunday final. It was Zemke’s first podium finish of the season but he also showed well at Mid-Ohio with his second fourth-place finish of the season on Saturday. Zemke also did well to finish 10th on a back-up bike in Race 2 at Mid-Ohio after his primary mount failed to fire just minutes from the race start.
Cardenas partners with the equally quick Jason DiSalvo (No. 40 Team M4 Suzuki GSX-R600) who has five podium finishes and a series-leading four poles so far in 2009. DiSalvo finished third in the Daytona 200, Race 1 at Auto Club and three races ago in the Sunday final at Road America in addition to season-high second-place finishes behind Cardenas in the Saturday final at Barber and the Sunday race at Infineon. DiSalvo rounds out the top five in the championship with 201 points.
Chaz Davies (No. 57 Factory Aprilia Millennium Technologies Team Aprilia RSV1000R) is the main Aprilia threat and scored a season-high finish of second two races ago at Laguna Seca. The British rider also has fourth-place showings at Barber and Infineon that have helped keep the former Daytona 200 winner in the top-10 championship standings all season. His fifth-place finish on Saturday at Mid-Ohio was his fifth top-five result of the year. Steve Rapp (No. 48 Bazzaz/Pat Clark Motorsports Yamaha YZF-R6) is another past Daytona 200 winner who is hitting his stride after taking his first podium of the year at Infineon with a third-place finish in the Saturday final. His next best results have been four sixth-place finishes, including a run of three-straight in the last three races.
Other Daytona SportBike riders to watch in the Tornado Nationals include Eslick’s teammate Michael Barnes (No. 34 GEICO Powersports/RMR Buell 1125R), Knapp (No. 54 Latus Motors Racing Buell 1125R) and Melissa Paris (No. 13 Markbilt Racing Yamaha YZF-R6). Barnes has a season-best showing of fifth in the Sunday final at Barber, Knapp scored his third fourth-place finish of 2009 one race ago on Sunday at Mid-Ohio and Paris, who is married to factory Yamaha rider Hayes, is prepping for her fourth event weekend of the season. A total of 51 Daytona SportBikes are entered for the Tornado Nationals.
SuperSport Title Time
Sunday’s AMA Pro SuperSport presented by Shoei sprint is the final combined East/West shootout of the season and it is a certainty that one championship will be decided when the checkered flag drops. Topeka is also the final points race of the year for riders contesting the SuperSport West championship but they will be racing head-to-head with a competitive crop of riders from the SuperSport East division.
Ricky Parker (No. 96 Team Graves Yamaha YZF-R6) leads the SuperSport West championship standings with 88 points despite missing the year’s first pair of races. In the last three rounds, however, Parker has picked up two wins at Infineon and Laguna Seca, one second-place finish and the West division championship lead. He can clinch the SuperSport West title with at least a second place finish, regardless of who wins the race, or any result that keeps his points lead in tact.
Parker is 14 points clear of nearest challenger Tyler Odom (No. 46 Erion Racing/Pro Honda Oils & Chemicals Honda CBR600RR), who won Daytona’s season-opening dual division race and led the championship earlier in the year. Distant yet competitive threats for the West crown include Clint Shobert (No. 26 American Honda/Pro Honda Oils & Chemicals Honda CBR600RR) and Bryce Prince (No. 74 Clawson Motorsports/Arai/NJK Leathers/Cycle Gear Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R). Shobert, the son of AMA Hall of Famer Bubba Shobert, is third in the championship with 71 points and has a season-best finish of third at Auto Club. Prince is fourth in the championship with 70 points and, after missing the Daytona opener, has four straight top-six finishes, including a season-best third at Laguna Seca.
The SuperSport East division will also see its best riders battle for the overall win and their own division points at Topeka. Riders expected to be running at the front include Mid-Ohio winner and new SuperSport East points leader Josh Day (No. 4 Kerker Racing Yamaha YZF-R6), two-time race winner Leandro Mercado (No. 92 Monster Energy Attack Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R), Barber SuperSport winner Garrett Carter (No. 31 Ridersdiscount.com/Woodcraft Yamaha YZF-R6, Russ Wikle (No. 5 Roadracingworld.com Suzuki GSX-R600) and Huntley Nash (No. 15 LTD Racing Yamaha YZF-R6). A total of 21 SuperSport bikes were pre-entered for the Topeka round.
SunTrust Moto-GT Returns
The AMA Pro SunTrust Moto-GT division makes a repeat visit to Topeka after paving the way for AMA Pro Road Racing’s return to Heartland Park last August. That race was won by Higbee and Barnes on an RMR Buell 1125R, which is just one of the competitive motorcycles that will be in the mix in Saturday’s two-hour team race.
SunTrust Moto-GT – which has been renamed this year after debuting at Topeka as SunTrust MOTO-ST – features two classes of bikes racing at the same time for overall and class honors. The faster GT1 class is home to a diverse line-up of motorcycles that includes the Buell and other big-bore bikes from Aprilia, Triumph, Ducati, Kawasaki and Suzuki. The slightly smaller GT2 class features bikes from Kawasaki, Buell, Suzuki and Ducati.
Despite being one of just two winless teams in the top six, the No. 41 Liberty Waves Racing Buell 1125R of Eric Pinson and Eric Haugo leads the GT1 championship heading to Topeka. The Liberty Waves squad has 86 points but the rest of the top five in the championship are all within seven points of the leaders. This competitive group includes the No. 14 Crozier Motorsports Triumph Daytona 675 of Barber winners Mark Crozier and Phil Caudill, the No. 37 Old Pros Racing Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R of Paul Schwemmer and Brett Ray, the Road Atlanta winning No. 69 TeamHurtByAccident.com Suzuki GSX-R600 of Rodolfo Ramirez and Armando Ferrer and the No. 20 El Rey Beer for Kings Ducati 848 of Jeff Purk and Calvin Martinez, which won the Daytona opener.
Other GT1 teams to watch include the Road America winning No. 70 James Gang/Hoban Bros. Racing Buell 1125R of Paul James and Higbee, who will defend his win and is entered in three different classes this weekend. The new No. 13 Westby Racing Yamaha YZF-R6 of Dane Westby and Dustin Meador won in the team’s debut at Mid-Ohio one race ago and could be in the hunt for two in a row at Topeka. The father and daughter pairing of Mark Stiles and Meghan Stiles is also set for Topeka on the No. 46 Team Stiles Yamaha YZF-R6. Meghan Stiles co-rode the Yamaha to a sixth-place finish with fiancé Scott Ryan at Road America but her father Mark is expected to replace Ryan on the entry list at Topeka.
In the GT2 class, championship leaders Frank Shockley and Ryan Elleby made history two races ago at Road America when they finished first overall on the No. 77 Touring Sport Ducshop Ducati PS1000LE. It was the first time a GT2 class bike beat the faster GT1 class machines and Heartland Park could be the type of track where a similar upset could take place. In addition to the Road America win, the No. 77 Ducshop Ducati squad has a victory at Road Atlanta, seconds at Daytona, Barber and Mid-Ohio and no finish below the top two all year. They are first in the GT2 standings with 139 points.
Other 2009 GT2 winners and title contenders coming to Topeka include the No. 9 Pair-A-Nines Kawasaki EX650 of Hall of Fame rider Jay Springsteen and Ryan that won at Daytona and the Barber winning No. 64 TeamHurtByAccident.com Ducati PS1000LE of veteran champion Jimmy Filice and his son Justin Filice. The No. 9 team is second in the standings with 115 points and the No. 64 group is third with 99 points.