Jason DiSalvo (40) claimed the Daytona 200 checkers in 2011. Who will step up for the D200 trophy in 2012?
The Daytona 200 once again features the Daytona SportBike class. The D200 always makes for a robust starting grid, and 47 riders are on the provisional entry list. Unique on the AMA schedule as an endurance race, the 200-mile affair requires mental resilience, savvy pit strategy, and good luck. In recent years, controversy at the D200 has overshadowed the racing action. Last year’s race featured multiple red flags and long delays. The latter was from faulty tires, with track officials shortening the race and forcing all teams to pit for a mandatory tire change. There was also a terrifying crash at the finish line… Here’s to hoping the 2012 Daytona runs incident free.
This year’s DSB roster features an interesting mix of seasoned vets and rising stars. While perennial DSB title-contender Josh Herrin and two-time champ Danny Eslick (2009, 2011) graduated to the SuperBike ranks, the talent pool is arguably deeper for 2012. Martin Cardenas returns to DSB aboard the GEICO-sponsored Suzuki, while 2008 Formula Xtreme champ, Jake Zemke, marks his return to full-time AMA racing aboard the Ducshop Ducati.
Jake Zemke returns to full-time competition in the AMA with Ducshop Ducati. Zemke is a Daytona 200 winner (2006) and finished third in the 2011 D200 in a one-off ride.
Cardenas’ off-season move seems a regression, going back to DSB after a promising rookie SuperBike campaign. The Colombian was the only rider to break the Graves Yamaha/Yoshimura Suzuki stranglehold on wins in 2011, but instead of building off that ASB success he returns to battle for the DSB title he claimed in 2010. As for Zemke, the Ducshop 848 represents a title-contending seat for Californian. Unable to secure a competitive full-time ride in 2011, even after snaring the Daytona 200 pole position and finishing third in the race, Zemke’s one-off Daytona ride with the Project 1 Yamaha was followed by a handful of races overseas in British Superbike. Zemke competed in the EVO class in BSB, a special Superbike series that features restricted electronics and a spec ECU, managing some top-10 results even running alongside the top-spec Superbikes. (Stay tuned for an exclusive Jake Zemke Interview for more on his AMA plans and BSB EVO experiences.) Zemke is a former D200 winner (2006) and definite contender on Saturday.
Jason DiSalvo’s 2011 DSB season proved memorable. The Team Latus rider claimed the Daytona 200 checkers in dramatic fashion with a finish/straight drafting maneuver. And that was after blowing the engine on his Ducati 848 earlier in the race, his team managing to swap out motors during the long red flag delay. Having won the first three DSB races, however, DiSalvo tallied some poor results and fell out of contention for the title. The team then switched midway through the season from Ducati to a Triumph Daytona 675R. DiSalvo and the Latus team will start 2012 racing the Triumph, and running a special #9 livery at Daytona to honor legendary road racer Gary Nixon, who passed away last year.
After a solid rookie camaign in American SuperBike, Martin Cardenas returns to Daytona SportBike – the Colombian having claimed the 2010 DSB title.
The Suzuki camp has a trio of young stars, aside from Cardenas, to campaign the GSX-R600. Dane Westby starts his fourth DSB season, and second with M4 Suzuki. Westby saw his D200 end in a controversial crash at the finish line while battling with Josh Herrin for the podium (Herrin was later penalized with a one-race suspension and probation for contacting Westby, which caused the crash). Westby went on to tally his first DSB win at Mid-Ohio in 2011, en route to a seventh-place overall. The Oklahoma native made a name for himself in the 2010 Daytona 200, placing runner-up to Herrin, so expect Westby to be battling for a rostrum spot again on Saturday.
The Vesrah Suzuki team will support Cory West and SuperSport standout Benny Solis in 2011. Finishing fifth in the 2011 standings, West claimed three podiums on the year and a near miss at Daytona – finishing second after getting the short end of the Daytona draft. Solis steps up for his rookie DSB season after finishing second in the Western SuperSport series. Vesrah will also back Bostjan Skubic in the Daytona 200.
Yamaha’s SportBike charge will be led by Graves R6 rider Tommy Aquino. The 19-year-old Californian nabbed his first DSB win last year, three podiums and a slew of top-five finishes. The consistency led to a third-place finish overall. Cameron Beaubier is another Graves rider on the attack in 2012. In his first season in DSB, Beaubier overachieved on a mixture of machinery, with five podiums to his credit. Armed with Graves support, the 19-year-old should only improve in his sophomore campaign.
Another R6 rider aiming for the podium this season is JD Beach. The Flat Track/SuperSport competitor jumped right into the American SuperBike fire in 2011, racing the Cycle World Kawasaki at select rounds. Beach had some impressive moments aboard the ZX-10R, but will look to improve consistency while racing the RoadRace Factory R6 in the 2012 DSB series.
Melissa Paris will compete in the D200 again, also with Yamaha. Paris races an R6 prepped by Attack Performance’s Richard Stanboli, who claimed two consecutive D200 wins with then Attack Kawasaki riders Steve Rapp and Chaz Davies.
The SportBike ranks are packed with R6 entries. Many of the seats will be filled by SuperSport call ups like David Gaviria (LTD Racing), or second year DSB efforts from the likes of Huntley Nash (LTD Racing), Jake Gagne (RoadRace Factory) and Joey Pascarella (Project 1).
And there’s one more Yamaha to watch this week, as MotoUSA’s own Frankie Garcia will be out flogging an R6 on the high banks as well. Our man Frankie has the full force of the MotoUSA camp rooting for him. Go Frankie!!!
The Daytona 200 will be televised on SPEED, beginning Saturday, March 17 at 2:30 p.m. EST.