AMA Pro Racing gets ready to kick off another season as Bike Week descends on Daytona. This year’s schedule got bumped a week later, to accommodate DIS rescheduling the Daytona 500. Now that the NASCAR boys, and girls, are out of the town, the two-wheeled pros take to the high banks of Daytona International Speedway. The Daytona 200 takes center stage during the opening round – once again featuring the Daytona SportBike series, but racing fans will be treated to a pair of American SuperBike and Motorcycle-Superstore.com
SuperSport races, as well as the opening XR1200 event. Here’s what to expect at Daytona.
Josh Hayes (1) won the 2011 title, though Blake Young (79) tallied the most victories (7), including both at Daytona. The front-running duo figure to battle for the 2012 title as well.
The American SuperBike series has opted for a Daytona doubleheader the past two seasons, and ASB doubles up again for 2012. Expect defending champion Josh Hayes to be battling with 2011 runner-up Blake Young in the 15-lap contests, the first on Friday afternoon and second on Saturday morning.
Young got the better of Hayes at Daytona last year, claiming the double at the season opener. The Yoshimura ace went on to win five more SuperBike races in his breakout season. Young is primed to nab his first AMA title, meanwhile Hayes attempts to follow the lead of AMA SuperBike predecessors Ben Spies and Mat Mladin with a title three-peat. The 36-year-old Hayes scored three race wins and nine podiums last season to claim his second ASB championship by a mere five championship points. The title-winning difference came from Hayes’ 16 bonus points, from the pole position and most laps lead, compared with five for Young. So expect the projected front-runners to scrap over every point in 2012.
The Yoshimura and Graves top guns will campaign the new season with new teammates. Josh Herrin moves up to SuperBike with Yamaha, having raced an R6 for Graves since entering the professional ranks in 2006. The 21-year-old Georgia resident has finished runner-up in the Daytona SportBike series twice (2009, 2011) and looks to make an immediate impact on the R1. Chris Clark begins his third season in the ASB ranks, scoring the coveted Yoshimura Suzuki seat after racing last year on the Y.E.S./Pat Clark Motorsports Yamaha.
The Jordan Suzuki team returns with its lineup of Ben Bostrom and Roger Hayden. The team has been traditionally strong at Daytona, with former rider Jake Zemke scoring the double on the high banks in 2010 (then teammate Aaron Yates claimed the Daytona pole). The bad news is those Zemke victories were the last AMA wins for the Jordan squad. The good news is Bostrom and Hayden return closing out 2011 in good form. Both riders were on a podium pace at the end of last season and look to challenge the Yoshimura’s Gixxer hegemony.
Tommy Hayden is MIA from Daytona. Winner of three ASB races in 2012, Hayden lost his coveted Yoshimura seat.
And speaking of Yoshimura… Once again, the Superbike field features a prominent absence as Tommy Hayden is without a ride heading into Daytona. Riding for Yoshimura in 2011, the eldest of the Hayden racing clan was third in the points and winner of three races. With no concrete plans in place for 2012, Hayden faces a now familiar fate, that of a top-tier talent unable to secure a full-time gig in the premier class (i.e. Jamie Hacking, and Jake Zemke in 2011 – though thankfully Zemke is back this season in DSB).
UPDATE: Tommy Hayden secured a last-minute ride for the Daytona 200, replacing the injured Garrett Gerloff on the Y.E.S. Graves Yamaha.
Erik Buell Racing doubles down on its American SuperBike program for 2012. The EBR squad signed two-time Daytona SportBike champ (2009, 2011) Danny Eslick to team with Geoff May on the EBR 1190RR. Buell made headlines by linking up with Indian motorcycle giant Hero MotoCorp in a strategic partnership, and Eslick will pilot the Team Hero EBR, with May sporting a Team Amsoil/Hero branded mount. Buell racer Shawn Higbee is also on the Daytona entry list, the 41-year-old having competed at select 2011 AMA rounds in the XR1200 support class.
AMA veteran Steve Rapp (who also ran the XR series in 2011) returns to SuperBike for the Daytona opener racing the Motorcycle Superstore.com/Big Kauha/LeoVince/Attack Performance Kawasaki. Rapp is a former Daytona 200 winner (2007) and Superbike competitor. Team manager Richard Stanboli has more than wild card hopes at Daytona – expecting a top-five finish and a realistic shot at the podium. Confirmed for the Daytona opener, Rapp and company could be on tap for future rounds as well.
Erik Buell Racing will field two riders for the 2012 American SuperBike series with Geoff May (pictured) joined by two-time Daytona SportBike champ Danny Eslick.
Backed once again by Foremost Insurance, Larry Pegram returns for 2012 to campaign his second season aboard the BMW S1000RR. The long-time Ducati pilot dropped from fourth to seventh in his first BMW season and looks to improve on his 2011 results – which were highlighted by a trio of top-five finishes. Bolstering the Beemer ranks is Jake Holden, who will run a BMW tuned by Tucson, Arizona’s Evan Steel Performance.
Giving the AMA paddock further variety, Chris Fillmore will campaign the HMC-sponsored KTM RC8R. The 2011 XR1200 champ competes full-time this season in SuperBike, after four ASB races aboard the big KaTooM last year. The 25-year-old managed a pair of top 10 results, his best a seventh-place result at Mid-Ohio.
M4 Suzuki’s Chris Ulrich will be back racing the Suzuki GSX-R1000 in the premier class. Sponsored by Broaster Chicken at Daytona, Ulrich marked his best results of 2011 at DIS with a 9-11 byline. Joining Ulrich in the Suzuki ASB roster is Robertino Pietri, who returns after a stint in Moto2 to pilot the Team Venezuela entry. Also in the Gixxer camp is AMA regular David Anthony, as well as Taylor Knapp – the latter rider campaigning Vesrah Suzuki’s ASB mount.
The American Superbike Daytona races are scheduled to air on SPEED, with Race 1 slated for Saturday, March 17 at 1:30 p.m. EST and Race 2 following at 5 p.m. EST.