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Mat Mladin went a perfect two-for-two in 2009 with a win in Saturday’s AMA Pro National Guard American Superbike presented by Parts Unlimited race while young American-rider Danny Eslick gave Buell its first major worldwide motorcycle road racing victory in the AMA Pro Daytona SportBike presented by AMSOIL race. The co-feature events were the opening rounds of this weekend’s Suzuki AMA Pro Superbike Challenge double header at Auto Club Speedway.
Mladin (No. 7 Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000) started the weekend by winning his second-straight pole in Friday’s single-bike Superpole session but was out gunned at the start by teammate Tommy Hayden (No. 22 Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000). The Yoshimura duo would go on to stage a thrilling race-long battle that featured frequent side-by-side action, three official lead changes and numerous other lead swaps within race laps.
The first came when Hayden made a great start from the third spot on the front row and led the first lap. Mladin was quick to pounce, however, and passed Hayden for the lead through the Auto Club Speedway tri-oval on Lap 2. Hayden took the lead again on Lap 9 and then waged an all-out war for the top spot with his teammate in the race’s closing laps. Mladin took the lead with two laps to go, Hayden moved back to the front on the final lap but Mladin made the winning move in Turn 10 with the checkered flag in sight.
“It was just an out-braking pass down there for the lead,” Mladin said. “I was strong down there all weekend. I was within three or four bike lengths of Tommy on the back straight, so I just got in there deep. Tommy let it roll a little bit, so I let it roll and it got us the lead. It was a good race. If there is anybody up here in this field that I would like to see win one it is Tommy, but I am not going to give him one, I am going to push him hard.”
Hayden had one of the best American Superbike races of his career and joins Mladin as the only riders who have hit the top-three podium in the year’s opening races at Daytona and Auto Club.
“I had a pretty good pace, good rhythm and the laps were pretty consistent but Mat wasn’t going anywhere,” Hayden said. “I was plus zero the whole way. I tried to get through the lappers clean and I felt that I struggled a little bit with those, I could have been a little more aggressive and it would have helped me out. Overall it was a good race and a good start to the season. It’s a little disappointing to be that close but it’s where I wanted to be at this part of the year, to be close to Mat, see what he does and try to learn from him and at least challenge for victories. I feel like I’ve made that step and now I just have to work on closing them out.”
Third-place went to No. 54 National Guard/Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000 rider Geoff May who shook off a disappointing Daytona opener to hit the podium in California.
“Daytona was disappointing, I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” May said. “We sat down and went over everything, figured out what went wrong and worked real hard to figure it out. We found some stuff in the suspension that was wrong, there were some mistakes made that won’t happen again and you’ve seen the results of it. We’ve got the bikes where Aaron (Yates) and I are both comfortable now and we’re back towards the front of the field.”
Yoshimura’s third rider Blake Young (No. 79 Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000) finished fourth to back up his strong fifth-place finish at Daytona. Jake Holden (No. 100 Corona Extra Honda CBR1000RR) hit the top five in a great return to the Corona team in replacement of injured rider Neil Hodgson.
Holden had a race-long battle with factory Yamaha teammates Josh Hayes and Ben Bostrom, who finished sixth and seventh, respectively. David Anthony (No. 25 Aussie Dave Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000), Taylor Knapp (No. 44 Taylor Knapp Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000) and Aaron Gobert (No. 59 Holden Racing Honda CBR1000RR) all had solid runs to complete the top 10.
The scheduled 21-lap race was shortened by two laps after a red-flag incident just after the initial race start. Larry Pegram (No. 72 Foremost Insurance/Pegram Racing Ducati 1098R) started sixth and was in thick of the lead pack when he had a highside incident at Turn 3. The race was stopped as safety crews tended to Pegram, who has been cleared to race tomorrow, and the race was later restarted for 19 laps.
The only other major incident came when Aaron Yates (No. 23 Brand Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000) lowsided while running third. Yates was uninjured and rode his bike back to the pits and ultimately recovered to finish 15th.
Auto Club Speedway race two for AMA Pro National Guard American Superbike presented by Parts Unlimited is Sunday at 4 p.m. local time.
Danny Eslick turned in a dominating performance in the AMA Pro Daytona SportBike presented by AMSOIL race on the No. 9 Bruce Rossmeyer’s Daytona Racing/RMR Buell 1125R and gave the American-made manufacturer its first major victory in international motorcycle racing competition.
Eslick qualified second behind polesitter Jamie Hacking (No. 88 Monster Energy Attack Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R) but quickly took control of the race at the start and never looked back. He led all 21 laps and his winning margin of victory of 2.510 seconds was one of the smallest gaps of the race, but only because Eslick road a wheelie across the start/finish line.
“I was all by myself,” Eslick said. “I kept waiting for Jamie and these guys to come up and move me out of the way but fortunately the Bruce Rossmeyer’s/RMR Racing Buell 1125R just kept us up there. To celebrate I just did a big wheelie all the way down the front straightaway. It was awesome, the Dunlop tires were working great the whole race. It was just unbelievable.”
Eslick joined the Rossmeyer/RMR team just weeks before the start of the season.
“Three weeks before Daytona I got a phone call asking if I wanted to ride it and I said ‘Hell yeah, I want to ride it,'” Eslick said. “From here on out it’s been good and it’s the first win for Buell and Bruce Rossmeyer’s/RMR Buell team and everybody involved. All we can do is go forward from here.”
Hacking fell as low as sixth but battled with eventual third-place finisher Martin Cardenas (No. 36 Team M4 Suzuki GSX-R600) and several other top riders to finish second.
“I had a blast, it was unbelievable,” Hacking said. “My race was pretty much uneventful, just battling back there with everybody and trying to finish as high as possible as we could. Toward the end, the guys ahead of me got in there and bumped each other around and I just snuck up the inside, managed to put in some good laps and finished second.”
Cardenas was in second with three laps to go and held on to the final podium spot despite getting passed by Hacking.
“It was a good race, very tough,” said Cardenas. “I started in 10th and began working my way up and it was tough passing all those guys, then they would pass me back again. I thought that I could finish second but two laps from the end Hacking passed me again and I couldn’t do anything from then on. I tried my hardest, but it wasn’t possible today so we’ll see tomorrow.”
The historic win for Eslick and Buell was part of a strong run of parity in Saturday’s Daytona SportBike race. The three different motorcycles in the top three were part of an overall run of six different bikes in the top eight finishers. The top trio of Buell, Kawasaki and Suzuki were joined by the Honda CBR600RR, Yamaha YZF-R1 and Aprilia RSV1000R.
Auto Club Speedway race two for AMA Pro Daytona SportBike presented by AMSOIL is Sunday at 2:30 p.m. local time.