If Honda's factory Superbike and Formula Extreme (Daytona 200) team does switch to Ohlins suspension for the 2006 season, one may wonder who they will hire to service their Ohlins equipment. With the team flat-out trying to develop and race a Superbike based on their customer race bike, it's doubtful that they can spare the manpower needed to do so from their existing squad.
Their new suspension person might be well-known Canadian suspension man Dale Rathwell; he was seen standing in street clothes near the Honda pit for most of the Daytona test. Rathwell, whose career has seen him work for nearly every Superbike team in the US (Vance & Hines Yamaha, Muzzy Kawasaki, Harley-Davidson, Suzuki, et al), also spent years working for Team Roberts in Grand Prix and most recently worked for the Kawasaki and Honda teams in Canada.
One thing is certain: Honda's move to Ohlins is a political dish bubbling with behind-the-scenes strategy and intrigue. Why? If Honda doesn't own outright or own a portion of suspension manufacturer Showa, then they do seem to have a close and influential working relationship with them. Showa, a very old and prestigious Japanese company, actually pre-dates Honda. Thus, from a political standpoint, a move away from Showa suspension is most certainly going to be a difficult one for the factory Honda team. To add to the matter, newboy Ohlins is owned, at least in part, by Yamaha, so you can see how this quickly develops into a rather sticky situation.
And, for the two or three of you still alive to remember, Showa, now known predominantly as a component supplier to the car and motorcycle world, once made magnificent, technically-advanced motorcycles in pre and post-war Japan. The motorcycle arm ceased business in 1960 and was gobbled up by none other than ... Yamaha.
Traction control remains a popular subject in the Superbike paddock, with most teams still denying with a straight face that they have anything like that, while at the same time insinuating that all of their competitors do, that they use it all the time, and are now working on launch control. Given the abundance of electronics on Superbikes today, it's hard to imagine that the factory teams aren't using some sort of semi-sophisticated traction control.
One might assume that the track rental fees at Daytona are hugely expensive, but as with most things regarding money, it's all relative. While the per-day fees to rent certain racetracks for a test are now topping $12,000, Daytona remains cheaper than some club tracks at just over $6000 a day to rentand that comes with services: fire truck, ambulance, not to mention the friendly Daytona pit guards. And while $6000 a day for three days would easily max out most consumer credit cards, the cost to the teams isn't really that exorbitant. In part, because they have budgets for these things, but also because the cost for track rental is shared by the teams.
Suzuki Team Manager Don Sakakura said at Daytona that it costs his team, with three riders (two of whom race multiple classes), about $150,000 to take part in the test. If that number seems unreasonable to you, consider that Suzuki flies in riders and crew, burns up race gas at a furious rate, has multiple 18-wheelers at Daytona with drivers, and has to house and feed each team person at the test. All this adds up, even before any actual race machinery costs are thrown in.
And there was certainly something new in the Suzuki engine department at Daytona, at least in the cradle of Ben Spies' Superbike on Monday. It was clear to anyone who listened to the bike on the banking that Spies' Superbike had a nastier growl emitting from it than it did the previous Saturday, on the first day of the test. Come Monday Spies managed to set fastest time on the updated track and will have bragging rights for the Winter. Spies did concede that he had a new spec engine in the Suzuk, but said that the new motor didn't make that much of a difference in terms of lap times. "The bike is just updated," Spies said. "Updated suspension, chassis, you know, more better."
Spies will be inducted into Texas CMRA Hall of Fame this weekend. Spies, along with many other national riders, club-raced at CMRA events as an amateur. It seems just like yesterday that Spies finished just behind John Hopkins in the Aprilia Cup race at Road Atlanta (August 1999) but I digress.
Perhaps the biggest news of the Dunlop Daytona test was that six-time Superbike champion Mat Mladin wasn't there, effectively removing the yard stick the series has enjoyed in recent years. The former Daytona 200 and Daytona Superbike winner (not the same thing, mind you) remained in Australia to let his body heal from a recent op and an aggressive rehab campaign. As when DuHamel broke his leg in 1998 and was absent from the scene, there were hideous rumors at the Daytona test saying that Mladin is "finished" that he's (insert your favorite here): ruptured his Achilles Tendon and can't walk, had a bad operation on his ankle or even injured his back working on his property and won't be returning to racing soon. All very hilarious considering Mladin is as strong as a door.
Oft-heard comment at the end of the Dunlop test with Spies as fastest 'I wonder how fast Mat would have gone?'.
While Mladin's crewchief, Peter Doyle, was on hand at Daytona, there was one most conspicuous face missing under the Suzuki awnings all weekend--that of 1993 world champion Kevin Schwantz. Schwantz called in to say that he's not much help at Daytona, despite winning there in 1988. And although he led the race there many times, as things eventually played out, suffice to say, and he'll agree, he's better suited to helping at other tracks. Like Laguna. No, wait ...