It's presumptuous to call this the off-season when both of the world championships are still in full swing (the MotoGP season doesn't end until November 6th). But, now that the AMA Superbike season has ended, here are some various notes and viewpoint from the season.
Mat No GP
Mat Mladin told me that he had some interest from a MotoGP team for 2006, but instead, he inked a multi-year deal with Suzuki, one which will probably see him ride here in the US for the rest of his career.
Mat is unquestionably the best Superbike rider that the American championship has ever seen, and it's not unfathomable to say that he may be the best Superbike rider in the world right now (I'd pay money to see a two-bike Atlanta FX-style shootout between he and Troy Corser, both on Suzukis, both on Dunlops, anywhere, anytime). For me, I yearn to see Mat on a MotoGP bike, frankly any MotoGP bike in '06, for no reason other than I think that he's a hell of a lot better rider right now than entire rows of the MotoGP grid. Think of what Mat could do on a Yamaha, or a Ducati, or even a Suzuki.
Sadly, it seems we will never see it.
17 = 1
The Road Atlanta FX race was a barn-burner and also so, so telling. As I said moments after the checkered flag flew and DuHamel won the race and the championship, "that's why they pay him the big bucks". When the team is cornered and it comes down to brass tacks, there is one guy that you never, ever bet against: Miguel DuHamel.
Emotions ran high when American Nicky Hayden won his first Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, and it seems few have come down from that Monterey high yet. Even with local hotels now unabashedly attempting to line their pockets with great wads of enthusiast cash by charging abhorrently high room rates for the '06 event, advance ticket sales are reportedly strong, paddock passes are in short supply and the phones at Laguna are ringing off the hook for more. I'm not sure what this says about the USGP-attending race fan, especially with the well-publicized problems from the '05 race. The positives outweigh the negatives, it seems.
I'll say this: it was, again, wonderful to see Nick win that race and set things straight with his MotoGP career, but never in the history of motorcycle racing at Laguna Seca have race fans paid so much to see so little in terms of a quality race in the premier class. What were there, three actual passes, none of which were for the lead? Even the most boring World Superbike race at Laguna Seca contained ten times the actual racing that the '05 USGP did.
But they're all coming back, so what do I know?
Number nine. Number nine. Number nine.
For, literally, years I have laid my head on my pillow each night truly believing that I am the harshest Ducati 999 critic in the world. I repeat: In. The. World. So it is with as much paradoxical fanfare that I can muster when I announce that I have a new vehicular love in my life and she wears the insignia of the triple 9.
Ducati dropped a new 999S off here at the Soup offices a few months back and, after a few weeks of it sitting in my garage, I had no choice but to ride it. Two hours later, I pushed the yellow meanie back in the garage and wasn't really thinking of anything other than how I could simultaneously fill out enough credit card applications to enable me to buy a 999S.
Previously, what bothered me about the 999 was its appearanceand if you ask people what they think of it, it's split right down the middle whether they are soothed by the appearance of the 999 or don't wish to look at it any longer. But now, the '99's appearance seems like such a minor detail. The fact that I am at times not crazy about its appearance seems completely insignificant, especially when I am wearing a mad grin inside my Arai helmet, which is pretty much 99% of the time I am riding it. Powerband to die for, an exhaust note that sounds like muffled Gatling guns and the best front-end I have ever experienced on a motorcycle add upfor meto something very close to the perfect 'Dean' machine.
I am deeply attached to that motorcycle, and I could blather on for hours about it. Perhaps this will suffice: I can ride almost any motorcycle I wish, to due to my occupation. Hence, it doesn't make terrific financial sense for me to own any bike (that said, I do own six of them, no wonder my checking account is near overdraft status so often). But not a day passes by that I don't try to conspire a way to find the money to buy a 999.
I find it both amazing and alarming that Team Roberts is in very real danger of ceasing to race MotoGP. Roberts and company's trials with partner and/or engine supplier KTM have been well documented here on the site, and the KR bike won't be on the grid this weekend in Motegi, or for any of the upcoming "plane races". They will be at Valenciain November. It's not looking good for Team Kenny, and certainly all of America hopes they can make a miraculous turnaround. World Superbike perhaps, lads?
I find it amazing that the team went racingat the highest level in the worldbased on agreements that you'd normally only see in dirt track or CRA endurance races. Any former club racers or crew in the reading audience know of what I write: you're going to the track, seem to have a rider, and hope that the issues regarding fuel, tires and who's sleeping on the floor of the hotel room will be worked out, um, later.
That said, I find it alarming that Dorna allowed a team to go racing presumably knowing full-well that there wasn't a legitimate contract between the two parties and that this particular house of cards could collapse at any moment, causing a public relations disaster for the series. Race teams going racing without a formal contract in the pinnacle series of motorcycle racing? This, um, oversight, from a sanctioning body which was ready to throw a veteran member of the press corp out of the Laguna Seca media center because he didn't have an approved lanyard holding his pass around his neck. Not the wrong pass, mind you, the wrong string.
OK, the veteran member of the press corp was, indeed, me (the original lanyard hooked itself on my rental car's steering wheel and was broken, so I substituted another: big Dorna no-no), and while the situation was worked out by a nice fellow from Dorna, I was struck by the irony. Wrong string holding my pass on and I am moments from being escorted off the premises. Yet, on the track, a rider is racing a bike essentially bound by an e-mail exchange. No, really.
Dorna could do well to read and take to heart Kevin Cameron's column in the current Cycle World magazine. To wit: beating up all the little kids on your little school bus doesn't make your school district any stronger.
The "Who Dares Anger The Great & Powerful Oz" Award of '05 Goes To ...
...Brian Catterson. The veteran motojournalist and seeming heir apparent at aforementioned Cycle World up and quit "The World" to join Motorcyclist as a He gave the reason for his boltage: Catterson could no longer stomach all the cruiser and chopper stories in Cycle World.
Senior Executive Editor last July. Those expecting to see Catterson frame his sudden departure from the biggest motorcycle magazine in the world in AMA-speak/terms ('We're pleased to add a track to the schedule, even though it's not even finished yet ...') don't know Cat-Man, and recieved a wake-up call when his column in the freshest issue of Motor' hit the streets.
The ever-mercurial Kurtis Roberts raced AMA Superbike in 2005, but you'd be hard-pressed to find evidence of it. Hell, at two races this summer, I didn't even SEE Kurtis and I assume he and I were on the same plot of land for days at a time.
Anyone see this coming? Anyone? Anyone at all? Without putting too fine a point on it, when you're building a Superbike from parts, Kurtis is probably not the first rider you should call to help develop it. Like his pops, Roberts has a short temper, and an even shorter patience level when having to troll through parts that show little hope of getting him to the front. Also, he will be frankly honest when evaluating these parts. It's not fun, I'm told.
That said, if I were starting a Superbike team with competitive bikes already under the tent, Kurtis would still be on my A-list. He's only 26 years old, and won the last AMA race that he contested on a competitve bike. Second rider on the Austin team, anyone?
Some of his rivals now say that Kurtis' career is over because, you know, starting a media snowball against one of your rivals is a sweet way of hopefully never getting your ass kicked by him again. Note that some said DuHamel's career was "over" after he broke his leg at Loudon. He won Daytona the next year.
Kurtis is said to be mulling over some car racing opportunity in the Bush league (no, really, that's what it's called) for '06. Important message to Kurtis published here because he has never returned one of my phone calls in his entire freakin' life: don't go there, man. Like the song says: car people and really skinny women have no soul.
Live Free & Die
New Hampshire International Raceway (AKA, Loudon) has been in the news of late because Mr. Kevin Schwantz and Mr. Mat Mladin flew over there and had a look around at the former home of the Loudon Classic to evaluate whether Superbikes should return to the place that finished Mr. Tom Wilson's career and almost finished Mr. Miguel DuHamel's.
Some felt that Loudon might be on the '06 schedule. We didn't get invited to the recent Yamaha R1LE press intro in Spain, so there's really no limit to what else we could be missing out on, but has someone been passing around some nasty Kool-Aid concoction that turns rational thinking humans into mindless zombies? Did we miss drinking this? Is this what we miss when we go back to the room and write instead of hanging about at industry functions?
Anyway, just so we're all clear on the subject of Loudon, in a word, no. I say we never go back to Loudon until they steamroll what's there and put in a legitimate racetrack. And I freely admit that I have never seen in first person nor set foot on Loudon property in my entire life. I watched a Loudon Superbike race on television once in the early 1990s and it just seemed so wrong I could never make the trip. I also saw the X-ray from Miguel's leg while the bone was still jammed through his kneecap from his Loudon get-off. Thanks, I'll pass.
Speaking of Neil Hodgson, or maybe not, the Brit's comments about track safety at Road Atlanta in the second race press conference really hit home with me. Hodgson expressed amazement that the ceremony to present injured racer Vincent Haskovec happened just after the Superbikes finished lapping Atlanta's final corner twenty-odd times. The final corner, even in its current configuration, is interesting to say the least.
Photographer Brian Nelson and I drove down to Atlanta in 1993, arriving at the track early Friday morning, just as practice was starting. I had never seen Road Atlanta previously, but Nelson had been driving down for years. He and I stood in the mist on the hill overlooking the final corner just as the bikes left the old pit lane for the first practice of the morning. Bleary-eyed from an all-night driving session, I looked down and around and then asked Nelson, "So where's the track run through here, then?"
Nelson said, "Right there in front of you, um, that's it."
I looked down at the final corner, saw the scant run-off (the final corner was even faster and more, well, interesting back then) and said, 'No, man, that's an access road. Where's the track?'
Nelson pointed up the track to where the old access road once lay, and said, no, the track is on the inside, the access road is on the outside.
Just then the herd of bikes thundered through the corner. I was stunned. With ya, Neil.
Sucks to Be British. Or Not?
In my mind, it doesn't seem possible for James Toseland to retain his ride on the Ducati World Superbike team for 2006. Toseland's 2005 performance, for whatever reason, has been, lets face it, sadly pathetic for a fellow who won the world championship last season. Has there ever been a weaker title defense in the history of the World Superbike championship?
So where does Toseland land for 2006? British Superbike? American Superbike?
Well, actually, rumor has it he has a outside shot at the Suzuki MotoGP ride.
There's a book published yearly by IRTA, Dorna and the FIM entitled "Who Works in MotoGP", and it details, as you might expect, the persons who work in MotoGP.
Actually, a better book might be "How Things Really Work in MotoGP".
The way I hear it, Toseland has an okay shot at the seat currently filled by Kenny Roberts Junior on the Suzuki MotoGP team.
Let's sit back for a moment and let that settle in. A guy who can't cut it in World Superbike this season may possibly get a factory MotoGP ride?! Meanwhile, Mat Mladin and Troy Corser, two men who would
probably wipe the floor with Toseland in any race where the lads are on equal footing (compare Toseland's results this year with Corser finally on a fast bike) seem to have hit the carbon fiber ceiling in their career paths. How's that work?
See, Toseland is British, which is very, very important to the people who run the Suzuki MotoGP team (which has long had its base in England, and had a British team manager); moreover, Dorna has a very high dollar MotoGP television contract with the BBC. British television viewers like to watch their countrymen compete in world championship events when they settle down for a cup of tea, a crumpet and a MotoGP race. So Dorna has an interest in seeing a Brit rider on the grid, no matter how lame.
Of course, the problem is that England hasn't produced a world GP championship-winning rider in at least a generation (Barry Sheene's titles being the last). In fact, the last two times that the Brit-run Suzuki GP team won a world championship in the premier GP class they've done it with, um, American riders. So it's become a very "sticky wicket" for British fans, Suzuki's MotoGP team, the Beeb and Dorna. This situation may require some "rough trade". End result: Toseland gets a look.
Although, if it were up to us, we'd say Suzuki MotoGP should hire Leon Haslam and "Bob's your uncle".
Soup Army soldier/tuner/tech head and rider Rick Matheny recently made a quite profound observation: has the history of motorcycle racing ever seen such an onslaught of domination by key riders in so many disciples as it is right now?
Ricky Carmichael wholly owns both Supercross and Motocross, Chris Carr just wrapped up his fifth consecutive dirt track championship, (making his career total seven), Valentino Rossi, barring a huge error, will wrap up his fifth 500/MotoGP title in the coming days and Mat Mladin nabbed his six AMA Superbike title at Road Atlanta. Basically four guys virtually own all motorcycle racing as we know it. They have a word for this. It's "wow".