After 46 consecutive Superbike victories, the combination of Suzuki, Mat Mladin and Ben Spies had more or less removed any suspense about who would stand on the podium and prompted the troubled AMA to hand over rights to its road racing to Daytona Motorsports Group. As the off season crawled toward March, many of us wondered what the final class rules would be and which factories, if any, would show up to race at Daytona. Certain contracts between teams, riders and mechanics were not finalized until the last minute. So it was with great interest that we watched an injured and limping Mat Mladin take pole on his 2009 Yoshimura Suzuki.
At Sixes and Sevens
Last year Mladin wore number 6, same as the number of Superbike titles he has won. Hope of a 7th title in 2008 disappeared at VIR when his double wins were disqualified for an illegal crankshaft; Spies went on to take his third consecutive title. With Spies having moved on to World Superbike for 2009, Mladin arrived at Daytona with his old 6 on his gloves, but a new 7 on his bike and helmet. Positive thinking for another title?
Tommy Hayden had been the oil that kept the Mladin-Spies machine working and winning in spite of the high level of friction between the elder superstar and the younger. Now that Spies is gone, Hayden can concentrate on his own results.
Josh Hayes in the Big League At Last
After many successful years in the AMA’s lower classes, veteran Josh Hayes finally has a Superbike ride for 2009 on the Graves Yamaha team. The day before the 200, Hayes showed new leathers that unfortunately would be ruined the next evening as he crashed out of contention for the week’s main event.
From Toomebridge to Daytona
Michael Laverty extended his family’s reach into professional motorcycle racing by putting the under-funded Celtic Racing Suzuki on the grid in 8th position, ahead of Superbike veterans Ben Bostrom and Geoff May. It was a remarkable performance for someone riding the single flying lap Superpole format and at Daytona for the first time.
Schawntz Lightens the Mood
The third Yoshimura Suzuki spot was filled by Blake Young, who enjoyed a last minute joke on the grid with Kevin Schwantz.
The front row just before the start, from right to left: Yoshimura Suzuki riders Mladin and Hayden, Larry Pegram on his Duacti 1098R, and Neil Hodgson on his Honda CBR1000RR.
No Suzuki Dominance So Far
Though Mladin led the first two laps, Pegram passed him on the Ducati to lead the next three. Hodgson then took the lead for laps six and seven. Mladin retook the lead for good on lap eight, but we didn’t see what we’ve become accustomed to, Suzukis finished 20 or 30 seconds ahead of third place.
Laverty had some brake trouble that caused him to go wide at the start of the race. He was able to recover and get back to a strong ninth place finish.
A Win is A Win
In the post race press conference, Mladin said, “We won the race. Does it matter if you win by a second or by ten seconds?” It just might, if a one second victory today is a sign that the Yoshimura equipment advantage really is at an end. Only time will tell.
Battle for Second
Hodgson and Hayden had a great race for second place, which was first given to Hayden, then reversed thanks to a finish line photograph.
Too Bright Out Here
Ben Bostrom brought his Graves Yamaha home in sixth place. His glory would come under the lights the following evening.
Four at The Horseshoe
Mladin leads Hodgson, Hayden and Pegram into the Horseshoe.
Nipped At The Line
Hayden never really kept up with teammates Mladin and Spies, but at Daytona he was never out of contention for a victory, and seems to have a bright 2009 in store.
Pegram’s Ducati looked as good as it sounded.
Laverty had a strong race and was left wondering what might have been if the brake problem hadn’t slowed his early laps.
Are We Done Here?
I can’t know what it is like to be any of these very talented and successful riders or how they felt after the race; I can only know what it looked like from the crowd of photographers shooting the podium. Mladin’s well-publicized conflicts with DMG seemed to be the greatest influence on his manner. When faced with the parade of sponsor hats, Mladin allowed only a few moments of photos with the Daytona hat before removing it and tossing it aside. He then gave his bottle of Cook’s Champagne a few shakes and a squirt to get the custom over with.
Hayden seemed similarly unimpressed with the demands of sponsorship, going through the motions with the air of someone mindful of a contract rather than pleased with a good result in the first race of the season.
The Class Act
Hodgson was the only one of the three who seemed happy to be there. He rode a great race and was clearly pleased with the result.
It’s Great To Be Here, Really.
For the final pose before heading to the press conference, Hodgson continued to be the most likeable, as Hayden looked bored and Mladin made a point of holding a silly face long enough for plenty of photographs. I think he kept that face on longer than he suffered wearing the Daytona hat.