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Two years ago the thought of a private team buying or leasing factory-built AMA Superbikes was nothing more than a pipedream, just ask Michael Jordan Motorsports. Despite being one of the better funded and most prolific teams in the AMA paddock, with Superstock class wins and even a championship to their name, every time the Suzuki-supported team brought up getting one of the factory’s year-old Superbikes they were kindly shot down. But with the régime change and massive rule upheavals that happened going into 2009 as Daytona Motorsports Group bought AMA Pro Racing, everything changed.
True “factory” Superbikes were quickly a thing of the past, the new rules leveling the playing field for teams like Jordan Motorsports and others. And while the first year was rough for many other reasons, there’s no question the racing at the front of the class has improved and everything is heading in a more positive direction for 2010. It has also opened the door for new teams to receive support and compete at the top level, teams like Pat Clark Motorsports.
Originally started just over three years ago for son Chris Clark to go club racing, the team has quickly gone from a father-son hobby to an AMA Superbike team that has already stood on the premiere class podium.
In 2009 Chris Clark decided he would move up to AMA Racing, and he experienced an upsetting season in both the Daytona SportBike class and the AMA SuperSport series.
“In ’07 I began my first year of Novice doing WERA West and some stuff and had a really good time and won, I think, eight Novice championships that year,” says Chris. “So going into ’08 we switched over to Bazzaz (renowned engine tuner who ran the team) and to Yamaha. My first races in the Expert class that year weren’t so good, but by the end of the season I started winning them. Also during the ’08 season they built me a 1000 and I’ve always been a bigger kid. I rode that for four rounds and immediately loved it and at some tracks I was only three seconds off the AMA times.”
After a couple years of club racing with Chris and a host of promising results, the team decided to go AMA Racing in 2009. The kid had a dream and his father was there to do everything possible to make that happen. Unfortunately, last year wasn’t quite what they hoped it would be. Running in the AMA SuperSport and Daytona SportBike classes, Chris and his Yamaha YZF-R6 didn’t gel as they had hoped.
“Last year was tough,” Chris adds. “Riding last year was just no fun with the tire change and all the drama in the pits. After last season I was really thinking about stopping road racing but luckily I got on Josh Hayes’ bike at a test in Vegas and immediately fell back in love with it. That’s what really got me motivated for this season, just being on a bike that works and that is fun and that’s really how I do well. The more fun I have the faster I go. Superbike may have been a bit quick and some people complained about me not having enough points from last year to move up, but look now, I’m top-10 in Superbike points.”
In 2010 the team purchased a pair of factory designed Yamaha YZF-R1 American Superbikes, opening the door for former factory Yamaha rider Ben Bostrom.
With this newfound enthusiasm the team decided to take their program to the next level for 2010. Along with beefing up the crew they inked a deal to buy a pair of factory-built Yamaha YZF-R1 American SuperBikes. Something unheard of in the past, Yamaha was more than willing. One of the bikes would be for Chris, who felt more comfortable on a big bike and wanted to take the next step up. But who would be the other rider? None other than Ben Bostrom. With Yamaha’s factory team outsourcing duties to Graves Motorsports for this year and cutting back to only one rider with Josh Hayes, this presented Bostrom the perfect opportunity to stay on the factory Superbike he was already familiar with from the season prior.
“After last year, with Yamaha cutting back to one rider, I was looking for something and the Pat Clark deal came about,” Bostrom says. “It was an excellent opportunity to ride for a team that was putting together a lot of great guys and it turned out to be a perfect fit. I love this team.”
Coming off a factory team to a private squad is bound to be a big difference. There is continual development that the factory provides along with several other perks of being directly connected to the manufacturer that PCM doesn’t have. But there are also certain perks and freedoms afforded by such a situation. Just ask Ben where he’d rather be.
“I actually like the function of this team better,” says Bostrom in reference to riding for the factory squad last year. “The only problem was that we were so late getting the bikes and the first few races we had a couple mechanical glitches, but basically we’re a brand new team starting from scratch and we knew that was going to happen. But the dynamics of this team are number one.”
There is always the fact that the factory team will get the good parts first. That’s just life. “The hard thing is that the factory team obviously has parts that we don’t have so that’s the only tough thing,” Bostrom adds. “But as they get filtered down we’ll get them. We’ve had to take a little bit of a back seat to the factory team for the first half of the season because it’s taken them time to make the parts and decide if they are good and when they do we are supposed to get them. That’s really the only downside, not getting the good parts first.”
After Graves Motorsports cut its team down to one rider, Ben Bostrom was offered the opportunity to race with the Pat Clark Motorsports team.
With open sharing between the two teams the parts are starting to trickle down to PCM and with them they are aiming for improved results for the second half of the season.
“You’re one step behind,” continues Bostrom. “We will get the parts Josh had at Road America at Mid-Ohio a month or so later. But that’s just the way it is. Would you want to get beat by your B team if you are the factory team? But it’s great that they are finding more power and less weight and we will get it and I think our results will only continue to improve.”
Bostrom also has to wear another hat on top of just rider – mentor to Chris. It is his family’s team after all and without Chris there is no team. But it’s a job which Bostrom enjoys. He and Chris have gotten along from the word go.
“Yeah, I’ve been drafted as a coach for Chris and thank God. I love it!” exclaims Bostrom. “Last year I didn’t have anyone to go dirt bike riding with or play around with and then I got with Chris and I was like, ‘Holy crap, how lucky is my position?’ I’m supposed to take him riding and hang out with him and I love it. It’s great for me as well. It’s easy because Chris is more like my brother and we get along really well. I’ve had teammates in the past that I didn’t get along with and that stuff is hard, but here it’s fantastic.”
With Bostrom on the team they got the season off with a bang, finishing on the podium in Race 2 at Daytona with a fantastic late-race charge. He has since scored a pair of podiums at Infineon but has struggled in places as well, which is to be expected for a totally new team. But Ben says he’s re-found his love of racing and the results will come.
“I love racing now more than I have ever loved it in my life,” he says. “Every time I get on that bike I’m excited to run it. As for the rest of this season we will keep getting more parts and our bikes will get faster and, dude, I expect to start winning the rest of these events. We got those big motor tracks out of the way and now we have Mid-Ohio and Laguna and Barber coming up, these tighter tracks, and the Yamaha will be awesome.”
As for Chris, jumping up to a new class with a new level of talent is never easy. Through guidance from Ben and steady improvement he was able to get into the top-10 with a pair of ninth-place finishes at Road Atlanta earlier this year.
In addition to being teammates, Ben Bostrom (left) has been mentoring Chris Clark (right) in his racing career.
“The 600s were always fun for me, other than in ’09, but I’ve always just liked the 1000s so much better,” adds Chris. “I can’t really say why but it’s just so much more fun – spinning the rear tire and doing all this stuff makes riding fun. Definitely this year I need to improve a bit more though. I need to get within two seconds of the leaders’ times every round and finish top-10 every race and that would be great for this year. Then next year improve on that – get into the top-5 and improve on that. And as much as finishing is great if you are improving your lap times that’s what really matters, getting closer to the front.”
But the question remains: Is this something that is merely a fun thing for Chris and his father to do or is there some longevity planned for the squad? “I actually talked to him about this (continuing to run the team after I leave or quit) and he really loves the sport now,” continues Chris. “He only got into it because I did but he also loves the sport and we talked a bit and he wants to create something that when I move on that I still have something here enjoyable for me. So yeah, I think we’re planning on keeping the team going as long as the economy turns around because motorsports is a big black hole of money.”
With a crew made of half ex-factory Yamaha and half ex-factory Honda men, there’s quite an eclectic mix on this team. But with factories unwilling and unable to spend money they way did in the glory days of our sport, teams like Pat Clark Motorsports may be the way of the future. Look at World Superbike, where the motorcycle manufacturer is almost secondary to the team and title sponsors. Support teams are routinely sold year-old factory bikes, something the AMA has never adopted.
With factory teams unwilling to spend the money they’re use to, it is expected that teams similar to Pat Clark Motorsports will become more popular in AMA racing series.
“I would like to think this formula is the future for the AMA,” says Bostrom. “If you look at World Superbike that’s the way it is. There’s the factory team and then all the teams under them are buying the factory bikes from the previous year. The support teams know what’s going on and so do the riders, and the factories need to off-load the old race bikes and the series wants more bikes on the grid. It would be great to see the AMA paddock go that route and build more support teams and really fill the grid.”
A rise like the Pat Clark Motorsports team has seen wouldn’t have been possible five years ago. In fact, it wouldn’t have been feasible two years ago. But this is the new age of American SuperBike and with it a new kind of team has emerged. Much of this comes from the support of Yamaha, who even before talking to the PCM squad had entertained the idea of selling and helping maintain factory-built Superbikes.
“We actually talked about doing this for awhile before the Pat Clark deal came about,” says Yamaha’s factory team manager Tom Halverson. “It kind of started with another rider always saying he could go as fast as the factory riders if he just had a factory bike. We were like, ‘Okay, this is the time. We’ll build you a bike just like Josh Hayes.’ It never materialized but even before the end of last season we were thinking about this. So we did kind of have it on the drawing board but Pat Clark was the first team to step up and do it.”
And while most teams in other series with access to factory machines lease them, PCM actually purchased all their bikes and most supplies. Though that’s not to say the factory still isn’t very much involved in the program.
“The PCM team pretty much purchased everything they have,” Halverson adds. “There are still a few things in the software that are proprietary that they are leasing but 99% of everything they have they purchased. Of course it’s all for a
The Graves factory team and Pat Clark Motorsports are actively involved in sharing information together.
good price which is part of the deal. We also still rebuild all the engines. They bring them back to us at a mileage that we specify so we can take them apart and examine the parts and if it’s needed do a major rebuild on the engine. Then we can dyno test them and give them back knowing they make the horsepower we expect them to.”
As for ongoing motorcycle development, both the Graves factory team and PCM are very open in sharing information. That’s not to say the factory doesn’t get the parts first, though the PCM squad has found some developments of their own that have helped both teams and they are quickly in line for new parts as they come available.
“The information is shared very carefully but it’s shared very openly too,” Halverson continues. “The information has to go through the right channels. There is stuff they have come up with that has helped us and stuff we have done to help them so it’s working very well right now. The agreement was that we would work together and everything we did we would share with them and we hoped that if they came upon something they would share it with us, which they have, and that’s worked out really well. Of course, there are some times where we would be a half step ahead of them but that just kind of goes along with normal development.”
Having a top-notch operation and a first-class look was also something very important to Yamaha. They have been more than pleased when it comes to the PCM squad and are hopeful that the Pat Clark Motorsports team will be around for years to come.
“Their operation is totally first-class. They have spent a lot of time and money to make it look as good if not better than any of the factory teams ever have,” comments Halverson. “They’ve got a really good crew and they’ve done a lot to organize it. They have gotten great results for such a new team and I’m really hopeful they do it for the long term. Chris is a good rider. He’s setting a good pace and learning all the time so I really hope they stick with it.”
When asked if Yamaha would like to see this new formula progress and become the future of AMA road racing, Halverson pointed out that to some extent it already has. “I think it’s kind of already going that way; Yamaha with Graves, Suzuki and Yoshimura, the Jordan team,” he adds. “Especially in the Daytona SportBike class it’s very much that way, with Graves running our team for some time now with the R6. He provides pretty much a turn-key R6 package that is similar to what Josh Herrin and Tommy Aquino ride. While it is somewhat expensive upfront, in the long run it saves on the cost of development and it has been proven that others who have bought his package can run at the front. I think Superbike will continue along the same path. I don’t think we could have picked anyone better to start with than Pat Clark.”