Cycle News - Archive Issues - 2000's

Cycle News 2005 03 02

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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Page 102 of 103

By CHICANERY HENNY RAY ABRAMS Cover Me Not oday you get to be the editor. Today you get to get to make a decision. Today it's up to you to decide whose picture to put on the cover of the Daytona Bike Week issue. Simpie, right? You do what you've always done - you put the winner of the Daytona 200 on the front. Not so fast. The days of the Daytona 200 meaning something are over. There was a time, not long ago, when Grand Prix stars and American globetrotters started their seasons in Florida. It began, for the most part, in 1973, with a victory by the "Flying Finn," Jarno Saarinen. Saarinen, who died tragically at Monza two months after Daytona, didn't usher in the two-stroke era at Daytona; that honor belongs to 1972 winner Don Emde. But Saarinen, at the time the reigning 250cc World Champion, brought both the excitement of the GP world and a host of fellow world campaigners. The Yamaha TZ-700 came in 1974, followed soon by the TZ-750, and with them, the level of interest skyrocketed. Giacomo Agostini, the most prolific World Champion ever, won the race in 1974, followed by Californian Gene Romero, then Johnny Cecotto, the 20-year-old Venezuelan who finished the race with cord showing on his rear tire. By now, Kenny Roberts was in the mix and soon to win his first Daytona 200. It came in 1978, with two more to follow, in 1983 and '84. In between were wins by world campaigner, grey market Mercedes importer, and pig farmer Dale Singleton (1979 and '81), and Frenchman Patrick Pons (1980). New Zealander Graeme Crosby won the 1982 Daytona 200, the last time the honor went to a non-North American. Freddie Spencer kicked off the greatest year of his career by winning all three races at Daytona in 1985: 250cc GP, Superbike, and Formula One. He followed that with the 250cc and 500cc World Championships, a feat that will never be equaled. It also marked the beginning of the end of the two-stroke era in the United States. Superbike took over as the premier race at Daytona and soon after for the rest of the series. The final Formula One Championship was won by the late Randy Renfrow in 1986. Fellow 500cc World Champion Eddie Lawson followed Spencer's Daytona success in 1986. Then came wins by future champions Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz. John Ashmead won the aberrational 1989 200, with Dave Sadowski getting his lone win in 1990. The next nine years were dominated by three riders: Scott "Mr. Daytona" Russell, Eddie Lawson (again), and Miguel T Duhamel. Russell won five times, Duhamel three, and Lawson his second, in 1993. Russell's final win, in 1998. marked the end of outside involvement in the Daytona 200. By then the foreign interest had dried up, Carl Fogarty's flirtation with success in 1995 being the last hint of international interest. From the lofty heights of the '70s and '80s, it had become just another race on the AMA calendar. Now comes another step. In which direction is open to interpretation. The 2005 Daytona 200 will be the first for Formula Xtreme 600s, in a year in which the Speedway will be the only track to feature FX as the premier class. "I come back and I look at Daytona, the premier event is Formula Xtreme, but then it's not good enough to race here at the Gp," Kawasaki team boss Mike Preston said recently at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. With Honda the only factory involved in the FX class, and therefore the 200, Miguel Duhamel should win his fifth Daytona 200 in a 15-year span. No one else has won more AMA road races at Daytona or over a career, and no one ever will. Duhamel's last 200 win in 2003 was a lesson to young upstarts Ben Bostrom and Kurtis Roberts. The veteran head to do the 200. Given the choice, it's unlikely he'd race the 200. Then again. given the choice, it's unlikely he'd have left MotoGP. Who can blame him? It will be very long (68 laps) and exceedingly dull, the only uncertainty being how far up the field they'll lap and how many lappers they'll hip-check out of the way. My guess is, they'll lap up to fourth, with Attack Kawasaki's Ben Attard likely to be their closest competition and a possible podium finisher if one of the Hondas falters. The Honda CBR-600RR's reliability record is unblemished, and a simple rev-limiter should keep them running for 200 miles. Their pit stops, however many they need, will be models of efficiency that no other team will match. Will the superbike winner lap up to fourth? Not in 15 laps. Preseason testing suggests that the Suzukis will rocket to the front, but they won't be alone. Ducati Austin's Neil Hodgson went well in his return to Daytona, and even better at Laguna Seca, and he plans to stick with Mladin, Ben Spies and Aaron Yates. Teammate Eric Bostrom has all the motivation he needs in the other half of the Ducati Austin garage to head for the front. Privateers Jason Pridmore and Josh 600cc classes at Daytona. But heart will only take you so far. Horsepower and traction are what matter, and the Hondas are still searching for both. So who do you put on the cover? Do you go with tradition and honor the winner of the 200? Or do you go with the premier class in the series, the one the other nine (as of this writing) tracks will feature on the weekend, most of them twice? The choice is simple. It's called the AMA Superb ike Championship, and Superbikes will run at every round, unlike Formula Xtreme, which has a holiday at the Laguna Seca AMA/MotoGP weekend. Daytona chose FX out of fear of exploding tires and riders being injured, though you'll never hear that on the record. They slowed down the track and eliminated the banking for the same reason. These are good things, though half-measures, judging by the reaction of the top riders. Was it a quid pro quo for having FX as the premier class? That's an answer you'll never get. Superbikes, the 1000cc version, remain the premier class and should for years to come. At every other round, the Cycle News cover goes to the winner of Superbike not Supersport, not Superstock, not Formula Xtreme. snookered both on the final lap, and Bostrom never fully recovered. As it was in 2003, the race should be a Honda sweep, with Jake Zemke joining the party in Bostrom's absence. After a dismal, injury-filled half MotoGP season on his father's undeveloped Proton KR V-5, Roberts is back with the Erion Honda Superbike team. The circle on his forehead is from the gun that was put to his Hayes won't want to see the Suzukis disappear, and now we have the Mat Mladin Motorsports-backed Marty Craggill in the field. The kitted American Hondas haven't developed as quickly as they'd hoped, and testing has been rain-plagued. The project started late and will likely be behind at race time, though they shouldn't be discounted. In 1999, Duhamel got off crutches to win both the Superbike and Tradition plays a big part in Daytona. With few exceptions, it's been the first race on the calendar. For years, Daytona kicked off the international racing season. Tradition used to bring the best riders in the world to Daytona. That will never happen again. The safety margins, not the speed, guarantee that. The winner of the 200 traditionally has graced the cover. Like other traditions, its time has passed. eN CYCLE NEWS • MARCH 2, 2005 103

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