Tuesday, April 07, 2009

AMA Pro Racing: Road Atlanta Part Two

Although, of course, we did have a good time at the track on Friday, Saturday it was for real. We made it to the track during Daytona SportBike practice, and although it was early when we pulled in, it was still blatantly obvious that there were far fewer fans than last year and even less than the year before. In complete contradiction though, less than an hour later, an announcement came over the PA that Friday’s attendance had broken the previous record. I somehow found that very hard to believe. We grabbed a Bratwurst in vendor village and walked to the Cycle Nation tent to get Jen a Yamaha sweatshirt (she is now officially a Josh Hayes fan, by the way). I found what I believe to be the last Regis Laconi Fila Ducati 1:12 WSBK model on the planet, and snagged that for my toy collection. We did one early paddock cruise and then caught the shuttle to Spectator Hill for the opening ceremonies while the fan ride was going on. The entire ride up to turn five, I literally had my fingers crossed in the hopes that the Ducati spectacle would be there - flags flying, line after line of Ducs parked neatly together, Troy Bayliss or Carl Fogerty or Mike Hailwood race bikes, polished and waiting to be admired under the red tents. But before we even crested the hill, I knew the economy had taken its toll on that attraction as well, the NPR Ducati tent in the vendor village was the only official Bologna presence around the track.

Although it sucked that the Ducati tent was missing from Spectator Hill, the positive side was the section above the turn 5 esses normally roped off for Ducati owners was wide open, so there was plenty of room to watch the American Superbike opening race. We grabbed some great seats, and the action was great for the first race of the weekend – well, the action for 2nd-22nd position was great as Mat Mladin took an early lead and opened up a 15+-second gap by the checkered flag. Tommy Hayden, Geoff May, Blake Young and Josh Hayes rounded out the top five.

Mat Mladin leads the rest of the American Superbike field up the esses
towards Spectator Hill

We moved back to turn 10 for the SportBike race. It wasn’t a great race, as lap 6-8 were run under a yellow flag and the race was cut short. Robertino Pietri crashed out, and the race ended with Martin Cardenas, Roger Hayden and Danny Eslick on the podium.
We made one more sweep through the paddock, grabbed some photos with Ben Bostrom, Jake Holden and Tommy Aquino before heading back to Tequila Sports Grill to meet Bridget (@Bridget_NewGirl), Ange (@mshawley) and Dan (@cspeedphoto) for dinner and a few drinks before heading back to the hotel. Oh yeah, I think there was a GT1 & GT2 race going on at the track for the last two hours of the day. Saturday left me pretty thoroughly sunburned, so although I was itching to get to the track as early as possible for Sunday’s activities, I decided to take it easy for most of the morning and get there before the good stuff happened.

We again watched the Daytona SportBike race from turn 10, and it turned out to be a great vantage point. Lots of passing up and under the Suzuki bridge, and we were treated to some spectacular crashing by Leandro Mercado and some not-so-spectacular gravel work by Robertino Pietri and Tommy Aquino. All three riders were right up after their incidents, although it was Pietri’s second crash in as many races during the weekend. Jake Zemke held off Danny Eslick for the lead until he low-sided on lap 8, and Josh Herrin picked up the battle for the front after that. The race for the second spot was tight as Chris Peris, Jamie Hacking and Taylor Knapp grinded it out behind the two leaders. Herrin’s Yamaha followed Eslick’s Buell across the line, and Peris, Knapp and Hacking followed five seconds later. Roger Hayden and Jason Disalvo also crashed out, and Race 1 winner Martin Cardenas dropped out with engine problems.

Leandro Mercado goes down in turn 10. He walked away from this crash to win the SuperSport race later in the day

2:30pm brought the first rains of the day, and although it wasn’t too bad in turn 10, turn 7 began collecting moisture. Within the first few laps of the 3pm SuperSport race, five of the top 10 riders went down in the rain. The red flag came out long enough to get the track checked, wait for the sun to break through and allow time for the teams to put their bikes back together. But, when the green flag dropped again, a few of the former leaders’ bikes were still on the stands. Leandro Mercado made up for a nasty crash in the SportBike race to take the SuperSport race, followed by Josh Day and Joey Pascarella.

The finale SuperBike race proved, once again, that there is no heir to the other half of the Spies/Mladin battle. Mat took off from the start and had, at one point, acquired a 12.5-second lead on the number two rider. Mat had time to stop for lunch and a haircut and still claimed the top spot by an 8-second gap. Hometown favorite Geoff May worked his way up from a poor start to swap the second-place spot a few times with Blake Young, but he couldn’t hold on as Yoshimura again put two riders on the top of the podium. Josh Hayes - who earlier in the day looked to be in a bit of pain from a Saturday crash - grabbed the 4th-place points. Aaron Yates and Tommy Hayden rounded out the top 6. May, with two third place finishes, holds third place in the points standings – three more than Young. Tommy Hayden is in second, and Mat Mladin – having won all five races this season – sits at the top of the ranks with a 45-point lead over Hayden.
Jen and I stuck around for the trophy – or should I say medal – presentation, got thoroughly doused by Blake Young’s champagne and headed out for our drive back to Raleigh. I think Jen’s completely hooked, as I knew she would be after her first race. She has picked out her rider – Josh Hayes (a very good choice in my opinion) and we’re already thinking about the Big Kahuna at VIR in August. We haven’t watched a MotoGP race together, but I think there’s a pretty good chance I won’t have to work too hard to persuade her to make a drive to Indy.