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Dovizioso: "I Expected A More Competitive Package"

If you were in the happy position to be able to pick any factory ride you wanted in MotoGP, conventional wisdom says you go with Repsol Honda factory team. Over the years, the factory Honda has historically been the bike to have if you want to become a world champion.

Or at least, that used to be the case until the series switched to the new 800 cc format. When the formula changed in 2007, Honda completely misjudged what was needed to build a championship-winning bike, and the once mighty giant has struggled to be competitive ever since. 2007 was a straightforward disaster, with only Yamaha's misfortune allowing Dani Pedrosa to take second place in the championship, while the rest of the Honda riders struggled mid-pack. 2008 was a little better, but Honda's improvement was mostly undone by Yamaha's progression, with Pedrosa slipping to third in the championship, but Dovizioso and battling further up the order.

If one bad season could be dismissed as misfortune, two poor seasons were bordering on a disaster, and after the big shakeup at the start of '08, it was generally assumed that HRC would not allow this to happen again. Honda's pride would not permit another season of failure.

But the omens are not very good so far this preseason. In testing, the Hondas have been significantly off the pace, with Dani Pedrosa once again the only rider capable of getting close to the top of the timesheets. The rest of the Hondas have not just the factory Yamahas and the Ducati of Casey Stoner ahead of them, but also the satellite Yamahas, and even the Suzukis. This is not as HRC had pictured it.

After landing the plum factory Repsol Honda ride after an outstanding season on the satellite Team Scot bike, Andrea Dovizioso is starting to get worried. In an interview with the Italian sports daily Gazzetto dello Sport, Dovizioso expressed his concerns about the state of the Honda. "I had expected a more competitive package," he told the paper. "But I don't know whether that's down to Pedrosa or down to Honda. From what I understand, he doesn't want too many changes."

According to the Italian, the problems are mostly in the braking zone. The bike has problems with stability under braking, which caused the bike to slide around too much in the cold and damp evening conditions at the Qatar night tests. The 2009 RC212V needs work on the clutch and on the engine power delivery, if it is to be competitive.

Although Honda is still developing the bike, Dovizioso is worried about the pace of progress. "I'm happy about the improvements, but it is all too slow. We are having to wait to see small improvements. We need to be more responsive," he told the Gazzetta dello Sport.

Dovizioso also had a few words to say about his working relationship with his putative team mate Dani Pedrosa. The atmosphere in the garage is a little uncomfortable, according to Dovi. And though they don't exchange information, at least Dovizioso has access to all of the data. As for Pedrosa's manager, Alberto Puig, Dovizioso did not expect to be troubled by the Spaniard for too much longer. "Everyone knows that Puig is trying to exert as much power as he can. I think that when the new president of HRC arrives in June, things will be better."

Witteveen Supplying Parts But No Development For Maxtra

When we ran the story that engine guru Jan Witteveen had pulled out of Sir John Surtees' Maxtra project some three weeks ago, the team, in the person of Garry Taylor, was quick to issue a denial. "Jan is on board," is what Taylor told Motorcycle News. A straight denial to a straight question, and the affair looked to be closed.

But it isn't quite that simple. According to one source who had spoken to Witteveen recently, the Dutch two-stroke guru had lost interest in the project, and didn't want to have any further involvement. And this has been confirmed by the German motorsports website Witteveen spoke to, and told them that although he was still supplying parts for the 125cc two stroke engine, that's where his involvement ended. Witteveen was doing no more development on the engine, but just sending parts to the team when they ordered them. If the engine was being developed, then the work was being done by the Haojue team (as Maxtra is now known) themselves.

And so it turns out that both stories are true, strictly speaking. Garry Taylor's denial is technically accurate: Witteveen is still "on board". But for all intents and purposes, Witteveen is out. He may still be "on board", but what Witteveen is on board as is a glorified spares warehouse. It's a task that the man who helped Aprilia to so many world championships is easily capable of, but hardly one taxing his abilities to the full.


Daytona 200 Update

In the aftermath of last night's chaotic Daytona 200, additional information has become available that seeks to clarify the the scoring snafu and finish order. In a press release issued by the AMA, the sequence of events that led to the 6-lap sprint to the finish are as follows:

The lighting system that illuminated the chicane that leads into NASCAR turn 3 experienced a failure on or about lap 36, which brought out the "safety" (AKA pace) car. During this caution an unnamed rider collided with Graves Yamaha's Tommy Aquino, causing Aquino to go down, which brought out the red flag, idling the field for nearly a half-hour.

After a few warm-up laps behind the safety car, racing resumed only to to go back under caution when M4 Suzuki's Kris Turner went down in the Horseshoe. Racing resumed in earnest on lap 49 and did not go back to yellow for the remainder of the race.

""I was eighth (during the caution), then I was fourth," DiSalvo said at the post-race press conference. "I'm not 100 percent on the procedures. I think they need a pamphlet to explain it. I was thinking to myself, 'If I was in the stands right now, I wouldn't have a clue who was where.' "

AMA race director Colin Fraser said that the discrepancy was a mistake and would not make excuses for the foul-up.

Lastly, Paradigm Racing's Barrett Long, after a post-race protest, was given credit for a lap that was not counted during the red flag period which elevated him to 6th place ahead of Chaz Davies.


Pedrosa: I'll Do My Best To Be Ready For Qatar

Saturday morning, at 10am local time, Dani Pedrosa and Dr Xavier Mir, of the Dexeus Institute in Barcelona, gave a press conference on the state of Pedrosa's wrist and knee, after the Spaniard had undergone surgery to fix a distal radius fracture and an open knee wound on Wednesday. The operation had been successful, and Pedrosa was recovering well, was the general conclusion, but the start of his season was still in doubt.

Pedrosa has completely written off any chance of participating at the IRTA tests in Jerez, preferring instead to concentrate on his chances of recovering in time for the season opener at Qatar. "We'll be doing our best to be ready for Qatar, and when the time comes, we will see whether we are ready to race. The goal is to be ready for the first race," he told the assembled press.

On the subject of his preparation for the season, Pedrosa was frank but optimistic. "You don't get to choose these things," he said, "but we have no choice but to keep moving forward. I've fallen off many times, but I always get back up again. We will be fast on a motorcycle again. It's true that we have had problems this preseason, but we have to keep moving forward."

Pedrosa's - and the medical staff's - chief concern was his knee. "The wrist is less complicated, and I will have it immobilized for a much shorter time than the knee," Pedrosa said. "At the start, my knee didn't look good at all, but the operation has gone well, and I'm happy. I imagine it will be hard for the skin and the knee to regain elasticity. I'll have to get some sleep, and let it start to recover."

The Spaniard reflected on the poor start he got to the season in 2008, too. "Last year I had a broken hand, but it happened in January. This time it's a little more delicate, because it will be a while before I can move my knee."

His main objective now was to recover, and get back on the bike as quickly as possible. "I need to get back so I can start working on the bike again. I may not be 100%, but I should be able to ride, and draw some conclusions about the bike." He conceded he will need to develop the bike during the season, instead of during testing. "The more laps you do, the easier it is. I will have to do it in less time." But Pedrosa was confident that he could make the bike competitive. "We have a bike that works, but it's the details that make the difference. I was planning on working on a number of aspects this winter. Now my objective is to think about which have the greatest priority. But I'm confident in the bike, and I'm confident in my ability," he assured everyone.

Melandri Ready To Sign, Hopkins Nearly Free Agent

He said he would wait until the Qatar tests to make a decision, and that's exactly what he's done. According to MCN's Matthew Birt, Marco Melandri has decided to sign to ride the Kawasaki / Dornasaki / Hayate in 2009. Melandri's manager Alberto Vergani told MCN that riding the bike under the lights at Qatar had convinced Melandri that the better option would be to ride, and hope to secure a better seat for 2010, rather than sit out a year, and risk being overlooked for 2010.

The conundrum Melandri finds himself facing concerns whether it is better to ride round at the back on an obviously inferior bike, or hope that people remember what he was capable of when he was on competitive machinery. His fear is that what people - and more importantly, team managers and factory bosses - will regard the 2008 Ducati Desmosedici GP8 as competitive machinery, a bike which Melandri deeply feared, and which he had a miserable season on. And so he would appear to be pinning his hopes on the Hayate team being able to fix the Kawasaki enough to at least allow him to score points regularly, and compete for top 10 finishes.

The portents for such an outcome are not good, however. It is clear that the Kawasaki will receive little or no upgrades during the season, which would not be so bad if the Kawasaki was a competently handling motorcycle. The trouble is, the Kawasaki is something very far from that, and its problems have a very familiar ring to them. Melandri was complaining of a lack of rear grip on the bike, and Vergani told MCN that the Italian felt the bike could be competitive if they could just fix this issue.

The last time Kawasaki tried to do that was at the end of 2007, when they had exactly the same problem. But in trying to fix it, by altering the balance of the bike, they ended up with the 2008 Kawasaki ZXRR, a bike that lacked both rear end grip and front end feel. This was not so much out of the frying pan and into the fire, as a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire, bringing the frying pan tumbling down on your head and getting trapped beneath it in the process. Fixing the lack of rear grip is not impossible, but it is most likely going to require a complete redesign of the chassis from the ground up. And in the current situation, and with the team's likely budget, that's just not going to happen.

Melandri is likely to start the season a couple of seconds off the pace. At the end of the year, he could end even further back. What that means for his job prospects in 2010 is anyone's guess, but the only thing we are going to be admiring this season is Marco Melandri's courage.

While we have been expecting Marco Melandri to be riding this year for a while now, John Hopkins looked like being being sidelined for 2009 for certain. But things might actually be looking up for the Anglo-American rider. Alongside the Melandri story, MCN is also reporting that Hopper is close to agreeing a contract settlement with Kawasaki.

Hopkins' problem was bigger than Melandri's. Almost as soon as Kawasaki announced they were pulling out, rumors surfaced that a ride would be found for Melandri. On the subject of John Hopkins' future, there was only a deafening silence. The difference is understandable from the point of view of Dorna - Marco Melandri enjoys a huge personal following in Italy, a key market for MotoGP, while Hopper is just another American, and probably the least popular among the fans. Dorna needed to keep Melandri in MotoGP, while Hopkins was, if not surplus to requirements, then at least expendable.

Left out in the cold, there was some speculation Hopkins could go to World Superbikes or the AMA, although Hopper denied most vociferously any talk of a return to racing the US. Hopkins' options were limited, however, by his contract with Kawasaki: any options with other manufacturers would be ruled out as long as Kawasaki held the reigns.

If Hopper is released from his 2009 contract, he could now be free to pursue some of the other options he was rumored to be offered. The most prominent was to take Roberto Rolfo's ride at Stiggy Motorsports Honda in World Superbikes, a move Rolfo vehemently denied would happen. But after the Italian scored just three points in two races, while his team mate got a podium and a sixth place, Rolfo's place must be considered to be in danger, especially as he is still recovering from a shoulder injury that is affecting his riding.

The other destination Hopkins could be heading for is Paul Bird's Kawasaki team in World Superbikes. Neither Makoto Tamada nor Broc Parkes could make much of an impression on the field at Phillip Island, and Kawasaki need a top level rider to develop the bike. Whispers from inside the paddock say that the team would like to replace Tamada with Hopkins, but that Tamada has been imposed on them by the factory. That could leave Parkes vulnerable, forcing him into the situation where he has to completely outclass his team mate if he is to keep his ride. Parkes has yet to show signs of doing that, and as the Kawasaki Superbike looks little better than their MotoGP bike, that could be a very difficult task indeed.

Daytona 200 Results -- Dazed And Confused

On a beautiful spring night in Florida, the largest crowd to attend a Daytona 200 in recent memory left the speedway knowing that Ben Bostrom had won the spring classic, but weren't really sure exactly how he'd pulled it off. They weren't alone. Bostrom himself was somewhat confused about the way events played out.

37 laps into the scheduled 57 lap race, Bostrom's Graves Yamaha teammate Josh Hayes had pulled out to a 5 second lead and looked to be well on his way to erasing the bitter memory of last year's race disqualification that robbed him of his 1st 200 win. 

Then, Tommy Aquino went down in the chicane as the apparent end result of a lighting snafu which had brought out the pace car. The race was subsequently red-flagged which left 70-plus racers cooling ther heels on pit road for approximately 30 minutes.

By now, readers not familiar with the 200 are probably wondering: Pace car? The Daytona 200 is an odd race, even by US standards. The distance is over 3 times as long as a typical race, necessitating multiple pit stops and when there is a mishap prompting a yellow or red flag situation, racers are supposed to gather behind the pace car, which, theoretically keeps the bikes in order. Unfortunately, theory doesn't always result in successful practice and there have been incidents in the past where racers have been denied their proper position when racing resumes.

On the restart, after a 30 minute delay, the order was Josh Hayes, Bostrom, Martin Cardenas, Jason DiSalvo and Jake Zemke. A couple of crashes and pace car deployments later, Bostrom pits, apparently losing almost a full lap in the process. Still on track, the pace car waves everybody by and they all take off at top speed. But when Bostrum comes up behind the pace car he is held until the rest of the pack catches back up.

After yet another restart, Josh Hayes eventually passes Bostrom to re-take the lead but crashes out on lap 52 of 57.  Bostrom then takes the checkers over teammate Josh Herrin and M4 Emgo Suzuki's Jason Disalvo. But wait a minute, there's more confusion -- the timing tower shows that only 55 laps have elapsed. According to the AMA, there's an explanation for all that -- the timing and scoring sytem was bolloxed up and 200 miles had been run. Honest.

At least that's what this commentator thinks happened. I, like nearly everyone else at the apres-race press conference, including the podium trio, was more than a little baffled by the turns of events.

All of which was unfortunate. As I stated at the beginning of this missive, the weather was lovely, the hundreds of lights illuminating the track made for a striking tableaux, a lot of spectators had turned out and, in between the delays, there was some wonderful racing going on.

Finishing Order

1. Ben Bostrom
2. Josh Herrin
3. Jason DiSalvo
4. Jamie Hacking
5. Shawn Higbee
6. Chaz Davies
7. Dane Westby
8. Martin Cardenas
9. Leandro Mercado
10. Steve Rapp

American Superbike -- Daytona Results

Yoshimura Suzuki's Mat Mladin won the inaugural American Superbike race today at Daytona International Speedway. So what, you say, won't Mladin win them all  this year now that Ben Spies has moved on to World Superbikes? Besides, those bikes they're riding aren't really superbikes, are they? You'd be wrong if you looked at the spec sheet and the finishing order and thought the race was boring.  It's true that Mladin took over on the 7th lap and  won by over a second but the actual racing was a lot more entertaining than that.

Mladin, Corona Honda's Neil Hodgson and  Foremost Ducati's Larry Pegram all led in the early stages of the race and Mladin's teammate Tommy Hayden overcame a poor start that he attributed to an unfamiliar starting procedure to join a lead pack that saw numerous overtaking manuevers behind the leader. Mladin's grasp on the top step on the podium was in peril until he employed a backmarker to gain a bit of breathing room very late in the contest. Hodgson pipped Hayden at the line in a thrilling finish for second place by .001 second when Hayden lost speed after being  balked in the chicane on the last lap. Pegram dropped back to a distant but comfortable fourth when an electrical problem forced him to switch off his 1098's traction control.

Blake Young took fifth place in his debut performance for Yosimura Suzuki after a nearly race-long battle with Graves Yamaha's Ben Bostrom. Bostrom's teammate, Josh Hayes, dropped back after an off-track excursion in the horseshoe. Hayes was sandwiched by Jordan Suzuki teammates Aaron Yates and Geoff May.

While it may be true that the hardware isn't state of the art and the finishing order looks like the same old, the point of racing is close battles and exciting finishes. Today's race delivered those requirements in spades and the series only looks to get better as the season progresses.

Full results of Superbike race 1 

17Mathew MladinSuzuki GSX-R100015 Laps
2100Neil HodgsonHonda CBR1000RR+1.026
322Tommy HaydenSuzuki GSX-R1000+1.026
472Larry PegramDucati 1098R+10.115
579Blake YoungSuzuki GSX-R1000+16.007
62Benjamin BostromYamaha YZF-R1+16.212
723Aaron YatesSuzuki GSX-R1000+16.362
84Joshua HayesYamaha YZF-R1+28.356
98Michael LavertySuzuki GSX-R1000+28.432
1054Geoff MaySuzuki GSX-R1000+31.582
1119Jeff WoodSuzuki GSX-R1000+47.200
1296Aaron GobertHonda CBR1000RR+57.269
13121Hawk MazzottaSuzuki GSX-R1000+58.856
1418Chris UlrichSuzuki GSX-R1000+58.949
1591Jeffrey TigertHonda CBR1000RR+58.968
1661Scott JensenSuzuki GSX-R1000+1:07.584
1729Barrett LongDucati 1098R+1:07.620
1841Scott GreenwoodSuzuki GSX-R1000+1:07.941
1912Shane NarbonneSuzuki GSX-R1000+1:08.045
2027Mark CrozierYamaha YZF-R1+1:11.554
216Brett McCormickSuzuki GSX-R1000+1:17.905
22616Brad HendryDucati 1098R+1:19.438
2338Dean MizdalSuzuki GSX-R1000+1:33.792
2448Reno KarimianSuzuki GSX-R1000+1:33.942
2511Shawn HigbeeBuell 1125CR14 Laps
26269Johnny Rock PageYamaha YZF-R1+17.135
2758Josh GrahamYamaha YZF-R1+27.725
2855David LoikitsSuzuki GSX-R1000+41.848
29270Davie StoneHonda CBR1000RR13 Laps
3025David AnthonySuzuki GSX-R10008 Laps
3144Taylor KnappSuzuki GSX-R10004 Laps
3259Jake HoldenHonda CBR1000RR3 Laps
3321Ryan EllebySuzuki GSX-R10002 Laps


Daytona Superbike Qualifying and Superpole - The More Things Change

Mat Mladin and Yoshimura Suzuki took up where they left off last year and took the American Superbike  pole today at Daytona. On a sunny, nearly perfect Florida day, Mladin rode a nearly perfect Superpole lap, gapping teammate Tommy Hayden by nearly a second. Hayden, with brother Nicky in the pits for moral support, had set fast time in the qualifying session that set the 10 rider line up in the new to the AMA Superpole. Graves Yamaha's Ben Bostrom had trouble in the infield which ruined his lap, putting him at the bottom of the order. In the pre-qualifying session, 32 riders went fast enough to make this afternoon's Superbike final.

1Mat MladinRockstar/Makita/SuzukiSuzuki GSX-R10001:37.499
2Tommy HaydenRockstar/Makita/SuzukiSuzuki GSX-R10001:38.345
3Larry PegramPegram RacingDucati 1098R1:38.455
4Neil HodgsonCorona Extra HondaHonda CBR1000RR1:38.479
5Blake YoungRockstar/Makita/SuzukiSuzuki GSX-R10001:39.633
6Aaron YatesJordan Suzuki BrandSuzuki GSX-R10001:39.791
7Joshua HayesYamaha Motor CorpYamaha R11:40.117
8Michael LavertyCeltic RacingSuzuki GSX-R10001:40.221
9Geoff MayNational Guard Jordan SuzukiSuzuki GSX-R10001:40.888
10Ben BostromYamaha Motor CorpYamaha R11:41.043


Pedrosa: Out For Jerez, Questionable For Qatar

Dani Pedrosa's luck is stubbornly refusing to improve. Doctors at Barcelona's Dexeus Institute declared yesterday's surgery a success, which was the good news. The bad news was that the recovery period is going to be at least four weeks, ruling Pedrosa out of the IRTA test at Jerez, and endangering the Repsol Honda rider's season start at Qatar in early April.

The problems are not so much from the fractured wrist. Dr Xavier Mir pinned the fracture using a titanium screw, and Pedrosa can expect to start moving the wrist again in ten days or so, although the wrist is likely to stay weak for some time to come. Pedrosa's knee, however, is another matter. Another specialist at the Dexeus Institute, Dr Bartolome Ferreira, used skin and fat from the inside of Pedrosa's thigh to cover the open wound the Spaniard's crash in Qatar had left him with. And because of the nature of the wound, it will be at least three weeks before Pedrosa can start to move the knee, and a minimum of four weeks before he can start to fully bend the knee.

Four weeks out of circulation means that Pedrosa is almost certain to miss the official IRTA test at Jerez, and with the season opener at Qatar just over five weeks away, even the very best case scenario would see the Spaniard recovered just enough to race. But even then, Pedrosa's season is likely to get off to a shakey start, requiring a race or two before he is back to anything like full strength.

With rumors persisting that Dani Pedrosa's contract with Repsol Honda is on the line, and only a title will be good enough to ensure a contract extension, Pedrosa's health must be a worry to him. In the years since the Spaniard moved up to the premier class, Pedrosa has shown that he is capable of matching - and sometimes beating - both Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner. But if he is to clinch the title, he needs to make another step forward, and start winning more than just a couple of races a year. That's a tall order at the best of times, but with a weakened wrist and a gammy knee, it's one huge mountain to climb.

Daytona Bike Week Preview - Uncharted Waters

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time we were all wondering who would take over the AMA roadracing program and what direction the new overseers would take it in. Just as a brief recap, here's what happened:

1. Daytona Motorsports Group, a consortium comprised of the France family and Roger Edmundson bought the rights to roadracing and sundry other AMA branded series.

2. The AMA classes, rules and procedures were carried over (mostly) for the 2008 season with the notable exception that tech inspection suddenly became a deadly serious matter with tangible penalties for infractions.

3. DMG, in dribs and drabs, started formulating a new class structure for the 2009 season, which virtually eliminated the racing classes as we knew them. The premiere series was to be something called "Daytona Superbike" which featured dumbed-down Formula Extreme 4 cylinder 600cc sportbikes and a wide variety of other engine configuations/displacements. Superbike, 600 Supersport and Superstock were all to be consigned to the ash heap of history. The only other attraction initially was to be MotoST, a Roger Edmunson-owned endurance racing series.

4. Much complaining and wrangling ensued, with the major manufacturers threatening too either quit racing entirely or jump ship and take their ball(s) and go play somewhere else.

5. A lot of time passed with no firm class structure or rules in place. Time for development of new machinery and hiring talent and technical crews was growing perilously short with not much communication from DMG.

6. Eventually, very late in the figurative day, a new class structure was put into place that most could live with, however out of touch with the rest of the roadracing world it might be.

7. The new classes were to be:

American Superbike -- A hybrid of the old superbike and superstock classes  featuring a near Superbike spec engine in a much more stock-like chassis.

Daytona Sportbike -- Again, a  cross between classes, in this case Formula Extreme and 600 Supersport. Formula Extreme was a 600cc Superbike, with extensive modifications , whereas the 600 Supersport class was much more tightly controlled, with limited suspension,exhaust and fueling mods permissible.

Supersports -- Mostly stock 600cc sportbikes ridden by kids with less than 3 years pro experience.

MotoST -- see 3.above

8. In addition to the new classes, a spec tire and fuel were instituted.

9. Then the markets crashed, motorcycle sales (and nearly everything else) plummeted and funds for frivolous enterprises such as motorcycle roadracing looked to be in dire straits indeed.

10. Eventually, all of the major Japanese manufacturers decided to participate to varying extents.

As one can can see, things are not as they used to be around the paddock. Lots of riders and technical people have moved on or out and some teams that used to be ain't no more or have altered their make-up drastically. Let's take a look at that situation now with a brief overview of the major teams participating in American Superbike. .

Yoshimura Suzuki -- Suzuki was one of the manufacturers that was braying most loudly about rule changes, saying that they couldn't see a place for themselves in the AMA in '09. Later, there were consistent rumors that they would field a team but a formal announcement to that effect was very late in coming. In the saddle(s) will be Mat Mladin, who had a contract in place for '09 and had told anyone who would listen that he'd be riding whatever bike Suzuki put on the grid, no matter what it was; Tommy Hayden, who looks to be in much better physical shape than in the recent past and Blake Young, who is arguably the best young rider in the USA who isn't signed to Yamaha. On the hardware front, Suzuki looks to be perhaps the most affected by the American Superbike configuration. With the 2009 edition of the potent GSXR-1000 delayed until further notice, we probably won't have a definitve answer to that question until a few rounds in.

Factory/Graves Yamaha -- Take a good look at your 2008 AMA Roadracing media guide. Now throw it away. The two superbike pilots listed for Yamaha are gone, with a semi-retired Eric Bostrom farming mangoes in Brazil and Jason DiSalvo riding a privateer GSXR 600 in Daytona Sportbike. In their place(s) are Ben Bostrom, rewarded for his '08 SS crown and Josh Hayes, long touted as the best rider never to have a factory superbike ride. Those two will be astride the new "cross-plane" R1 with which Ben Spies has shocked the world.

Corona Honda -- Honda was another manufacturer that complained loud and long about DMG's proposed class restructuring and were thought to be the impetus behind the rumored alternative series. Unlike Suzuki, however, Honda did something about it. Sort of. After the tire test at Daytona, which AmHon only half-heartedly particpated in, Honda allegedly pulled the plug on their factory involvement, citing financial difficulties company-wide. Then rumors came that Neil Hodgson (who was under contract through '09) might have a ride with Corona or Erion. Eventually, it was announced that Corona would campaign one Superbike with Hodgson aboard. What wasn't announced was that the crew would be comprised of AmHon team members, who, like Hodgson, were going to be paid anyway.

Attack Kawasaki -- The 3rd best Superbike rider in America in 2008 can't get a Superbike ride in 2009. That's the state of affairs that Jamie Hacking finds himself in. Hacking, along with team mate R.L. Hayden, will be relegated to riding Daytona Sportbikes in a reconstituted Attack Kawasaki team. Which, one could say, is a better state of affairs than it looked like when Kawasaki's red ink woes became widely known. As for Hayden, one could posit that Kawasaki is doing him a favor by not making him ride the ZX-10 superbike. As talented as Roger Lee is, he has never really come to terms with the big bike and spent most of last year lanquishing on the couch from injuries.

Today at Daytona, we finally got to see how all these changes have affected the series. The paddock is decidedly a much more privateer oriented, low-dollar affair. The only teams that seem to be a semblance of their former expensive glory are Yoshimura Suzuki and Graves Yamaha. Attack Kawasaki has appropriated the factory team's transporters and pit equipment and Corona Honda's techs are all familiar faces from the bygone factory effort.

That said, the move toward the private team may help to restore the competitiveness that has been lacking in the era of Mladin/Spies dominance. Mat Mladin was fast today, as usual, but there were other faces near the top that, with a few tweaks and a few more laps, may challenge the 6-time champion. Tommy Hayden, Ben Bostrom, Neil Hodgson and Larry Pegram on the privateer 1098 were all at or near the top of the leader board. In fact, Pegram had the highest trap speed in the afternoon session.

Although it didn't slow him down much or stop him from speaking his mind, Mat Mladin is clearly in great pain from a wrenched back. This reporter followed him down pit lane after he quit the afternoon session 10 minutes early, and it was disconcerting to see the fiery Australian comporting himself like a much older man. It remains to be seen if Mladin can hold up to 15 laps at a demanding track like DIS.

Dunlop techs, at least the ones that I spoke to, are happy with the way that the spec tires are holding up. As far as I know, there were no catastrophic failures or premature wear issues.

A couple of teams representing marques not currently competing in American Superbikes seemed to be intensely interested in AS practice. Let's just say that the countries of origin are Japan & Italy.

A final word from this commentator's personal perspective. The first race of the year is always an intensely exciting time. As the old racing aphorism states,  "When the green flag drops, the BS stops. Everyone I saw at the track, from idols from bygone days like Bubba Shobert and Kevin Schwantz to the Supersport kids to the nameless fans who traveled hundreds, if not thousands of miles, just to watch practice through a chain-link fence, looked to be doing the thing they loved most in the world. From a fan's perspective, I know I felt the same way. It would have been a damned shame to let it go by the wayside because of pointless squabbling.