AMA Pro Road Racing heads to VIR
The 10th Anniversary Suzuki Big Kahuna Nationals will feature all four of AMA Pro Road Racing’s divisions in a jam-packed schedule highlighted by six different races this weekend, August 14 – 16, at Virginia International Raceway (VIR).
At least two 2009 titles could be decided and several more championship scenarios could begin taking final shape at the Big Kahuna, the next to last event weekend on the 2009 schedule for AMA Pro National Guard American Superbike presented by Parts Unlimited, AMA Pro Daytona SportBike presented by AMSOIL and the East division of AMA Pro SuperSport presented by Shoei. The three-day event also includes a two-hour AMA Pro SunTrust Moto-GT event to kick off the weekend’s racing schedule on Saturday at 11 a.m.
The action begins with practice, qualifying and Superpole qualifying on Friday, August 14, and continues straight into the weekend with three races each day on Saturday and Sunday. The SunTrust Moto-GT enduro on Saturday, August 15, will be followed by the first finals for American Superbike at 3 p.m. and Daytona SportBike at 4:10 p.m. Sunday, August 16, will see Daytona SportBike roll off first at 2 p.m., SuperSport following at 3:10 p.m. and American Superbike closing the weekend at 4:20 p.m. The American Superbike and Daytona SportBike races are each 23 laps for 50 miles on the 2.25-mile VIR circuit while the SuperSport race is an 18-lap distance for 40 miles.
The Big Kahuna 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 8 p.m. ET (5 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).
A decade ago, the Big Kahuna was the first event to feature a dual-final American Superbike race format that has now become the standard at the majority of AMA Pro Road Racing event weekends. Even better, most AMA Pro Road Racing weekend’s feature dual finals for not only American Superbike but the Daytona SportBike division as well. The rider in either division earning the most total event points at VIR this weekend will be crowned the 2009 Big Kahuna at the conclusion of the event on Sunday.
AMA American Superbike
Championship points leader Mat Mladin (No. 7 Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000) is a likely lock to win the 2009 AMA Pro American Superbike title and he could do just that at VIR. The tough 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 winning all but six races and capturing seven of nine pole positions.
Mladin – who announced his retirement on the same weekend he opted not to race in the Tornado Nationals presented by BriggsAuto.com at Heartland Park Topeka two weeks ago – 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 comfortable 83-point championship lead, 390 – 307, over Yoshimura Suzuki teammate and nearest challenger Tommy Hayden (No. 22 Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000) and could seal a record-extending seventh AMA Pro American Superbike title as early as the Saturday final if he beats Hayden by more than 11 points. Mladin’s No. 7 Suzuki GSX-R1000 winning mount would also give the Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura team the 2009 American Superbike Team Championship while Suzuki would all but seal the class Manufacturer Championship if Mladin turns in a championship-clinching run this 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 finished in the top three in half of the year’s 16 races. That run includes the Sunday final one race ago in the Tornado Nationals in Topeka where Hayden finished second to that weekend’s double winner Larry Pegram (No. 72 Foremost Insurance/Pegram Racing Ducati 1098R). The Kansas runner-up placing was Hayden’s fifth of the year and he also took second in the Saturday finals at Road Atlanta and Infineon Raceway and both rounds last 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 a threat for his first American Superbike win at every race. His best run of the year came in the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on July 4th weekend 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 which were the Saturday final at Barber, the day before his spill, and Race 2 at Road Atlanta in early April. He most recently hit the podium with a third-place showing in the Saturday final at Topeka.
Pegram dominated the Tornado Nationals and led every lap in both finals from the Superpole for the biggest weekend of his American Superbike career. Earlier this season, Pegram out-raced Mladin and the rest of the field at Road America for his first win in 10 years. The top Ducati rider in American Superbike has finished in the top seven in eight of the last nine 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. His stellar weekend in Topeka saw him jump from fifth to third in the championship standings with 286 points.
Along with Hayden and Pegram, 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 Josh Hayes (No. 4 Yamaha Motor Corp. USA Yamaha R1) and Ben Bostrom (No. 2 Yamaha Motor Corp. USA Yamaha R1) rank fourth and fifth, respectively, heading to the Big Kahuna. Hayes joins Pegram as a three time 2009 winner and, like the Ducati rider, turned in a dominating weekend sweep of his own two events ago at Mid-Ohio. He became the first rider other than Mladin this season to earn the top spot in Superpole qualifying on Friday and then went out and won both Mid-Ohio weekend races. Hayes also put a stop to Mladin’s 2009 race 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 VIR fourth in the championship standings with 281 points. Bostrom earned his second straight runner-up finish in the Saturday final at Topeka one race after following Hayes across the finish line in Race 2 at Mid-Ohio. He also finished second in the Sunday final at Infineon in May. Bostrom was riding a streak of six consecutive top-five showings after the first Topeka final only to retire with mechanical problems late in Race 2 the next day. He is fifth in the championship with 273 points.
Aaron Yates (No. 23 Brand Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000) and his Jordan Motorsports teammate Geoff May (No. 54 National Guard Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000) rank seventh and eighth, respectively, in the American Superbike standings. Both riders are looking to rebound at the Big Kahuna after each walked away from separate Turn 8 lowside incidents in the Sunday final at Topeka. Yates did qualify second in Superpole qualifying in Kansas, however, and has similar strong performances recently. His second-place finishes in the Sunday final at Barber and two events ago at Mid-Ohio in Race 1 on Saturday are the best showings of the year for the Jordan team. Yates backed those podium placings up with back-to-back third-place showings in Race 2 at Road America and at Laguna Seca. May’s best finishes were three third-place showings within the year’s first five races, including both rounds at Road Atlanta in April.
Two riders coming off career-best American Superbike weekends complete the top 10 championship standings. Jake Holden (No. 59 Holden Racing Honda CBR1000RR) has been racing his own Honda under Corona Extra colors at the last few events and scored a career-high fourth place finish in the Sunday final at Topeka. He also qualified an impressive third in Topeka Superpole after setting the fastest overall lap of the weekend earlier on Friday in the group qualifying session, two more career milestones for Holden. He is tenth in the championship standings, one spot behind Taylor Knapp (No. 44 Taylor Knapp Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000), who Holden led across the finish line on Sunday at Topeka. Knapp’s fifth-place Kansas finish was the best of his career and is part of a steady run of nine top-10 finishes this season.
Holden first returned to the Corona Extra team when he filled in capably for Neil Hodgson (No. 100 Corona Extra Honda CBR1000RR) earlier in the season. Hodgson has recovered from a post-Daytona motocross training injury to score sixth-place finishes at Laguna Seca and in the Sunday finals at Topeka and Road America. The results were the former World Superbike Champion’s best showings since taking second in the Daytona opener. He has made just 10 race starts this season.
Other riders to keep an eye on at VIR 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 32 American Superbikes are entered for the Big Kahuna.
AMA Daytona SportBike Tight Title Run
While Mladin, Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura and Suzuki have all but sealed the American Superbike championships, the title battles in AMA Pro Daytona SportBike presented by AMSOIL have never been closer. Martin Cardenas (No. 36 Team M4 Suzuki GSX-R600) scored a class-leading seventh win of the season on Sunday at Topeka a day after chief championship rival Danny Eslick (No. 9 GEICO Powersports/RMR Buell 1125R) won his sixth race of the year in the Saturday final. The duo and their teams are now tied at 318 points in both the Daytona SportBike Rider and Team championships with just the Big Kahuna and one more double-header weekend of racing left this season.
Cardenas and Eslick have each turned in respective streaks of domination in 2009 to fuel their title bids. Cardenas has amassed a class-leading run of 10 podium finishes this year, including four wins in row, which he did by sweeping both the Infineon and Barber weekends. The Colombian rider’s victory in Race 1 at Road Atlanta was the first Daytona SportBike victory of his career, and he also won the Sunday final at Road America, in addition the most recent race at Topeka.
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. He also muscled his way to a sweep of last month’s races at Mid-Ohio in addition to his recent victory in Kansas and a Sunday final victory at Road Atlanta in April. In total, the young Oklahoma rider has finished eighth or better in 14 of 16 races this year.
Josh Herrin (No. 8 Team Graves Yamaha YZF-R6) is third in the championship with 261 points on the strength of a recent run of three second-place finishes in the last four races, including both Topeka finals. Herrin also finished second on Saturday at Mid-Ohio and has additional runner-up showings this season in the Daytona 200 and Race 2 at Road Atlanta. He has also has third-place finishes at Laguna Seca and the Sunday race at Infineon. Herrin’s teammate Tommy Aquino (No. 6 Team Graves Yamaha YZF-R6) hit the podium for the first time this year at Mid-Ohio, finishing one spot behind Herrin on Saturday, and backed it up with another third in Race 1 at Topeka. He also crossed the finish line just behind his teammate at Infineon and Laguna Seca for then season-best fourth-place finishes.
Jamie Hacking (No. 88 Monster Energy Attack Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R) is fourth in the championship with 241 points. 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.
Joining Cardenas and Eslick as 2009 race winners are Bostrom, who has gone a perfect two for two in Daytona SportBike cameos on his No. 1s Team Graves 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.
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 year on Saturday. Zemke also finished fourth in the Saturday final at Road Atlanta.
Cardenas partners with the equally quick Jason DiSalvo (No. 40 Team M4 Suzuki GSX-R600) who has five podium finishes and a series-leading five poles so far in 2009. DiSalvo finished third in the Daytona 200, Race 1 at Auto Club and 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 235 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 at Laguna Seca. The British rider also has fourth-place showings at Barber, Infineon and Race 1 at Topeka that have helped keep the former Daytona 200 winner in the top-10 championship standings all season. His fourth-place finish on Saturday at Topeka was his sixth top-five result of the year. Steve Rapp (No. 48 Bazzaz/Pat Clark Motorsports Yamaha YZF-R6) is another past Daytona 200 winner who has turned in some solid performances this season. He scored his first podium of the year at Infineon with a third-place finish in the Saturday final, in addition to four sixth-place finishes this season.
Other Daytona SportBike riders to watch at the Big Kahuna 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 two races ago on Sunday at Mid-Ohio and Paris, who is married to factory Yamaha rider Hayes, is prepping for her fifth event weekend of the season. A total of 54 Daytona SportBikes are entered for the Big Kahuna.
SuperSport Title Battle
Ricky Parker (No. 96 RPR Racing Yamaha YZF-R6) clinched the AMA Pro SuperSport presented by Shoei West division championship one race ago at Topeka and another young rider could take a major step toward a title of his own in Sunday’s East division race. Josh Day (No. 4 Team E.S.P. Racing Yamaha YZF-R6) extended his SuperSport East points lead with his second-consecutive victory at the Tornado Nationals and a third-straight win this weekend would seal the crown one race before the end of the season.
Day’s apparent run to the title received a big boost when fellow two-time race winner and former SuperSport East points leader Leandro Mercado (No. 92 Monster Energy Attack Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R) missed the Topeka event. Day’s 45-point lead over Mercado, 126 – 81, equates to more than a full-race lead and guarantees he will leave the Big Kahuna on top of the standings even if he fails to clinch the crown. Even if Mercado scores all 32 available points at VIR, Day only needs to finish third or better to leave Virginia with the East title.
Russ Wikle (No. 5 Roadracingworld.com Suzuki GSX-R600), Joey Pascarella (No. 25 LTD Racing Yamaha YZF-R6) and Huntley Nash (No. 15 LTD Racing Yamaha YZF-R6) are winless this season but round out the top five in the East division championship standings. Although none of the three riders has a realistic chance at the title, each has made at least one podium appearance this season and all are capable of playing a spoiler role in the year’s final two rounds.
Two more East-division riders do not factor into the championship but do when it comes to race wins. Dustin Dominguez (No. 44 House of Kawasaki/Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R) joined the West division race last March at Auto Club and scored a dominating victory. He also finished second to Day one race ago in Topeka. Garrett Carter (No. 31 Ridersdiscount.com/Woodcraft Yamaha YZF-R6) won in the rain at Barber in May and also finished third at Mid-Ohio.
Other riders to watch this weekend include Parker, who is racing at VIR in preparation for a possible run in October’s SuperSport National Championship Shootout at Daytona. The season-opening event was also at Daytona and that race’s winner Tyler Odom (No. 46 Erion Racing/Pro Honda Oils & Chemicals Honda CBR600RR) is entered at VIR. J.D. Beach (No. 73 Rockwall Performance Yamaha YZF-R6) finished a season-best third at Topeka and will be looking for more at VIR while current AMA Pro SunTrust Moto-GT top gun Corey Rech (No. 7 AB1 Motorsports Suzuki GSX-R600) will be making his first SuperSport start in the Big Kahuna. A total of 23 entries are set for Sunday’s SuperSport final.