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Mat Mladin Wins Daytona 200; Race Bodes Well For Competitive Season

Mat Mladin (Image Courtesy Suzuki)

In the second closest finish in the history of the race, Yoshimura Suzuki’s Mat Mladin edged Honda’s Nicky Hayden at the line to win the Daytona 200. Mladin, the defending AMA Superbike champion and the second place finisher here last year (where Honda’s Miguel Duhamel barely beat him to the line) rode a tactical race, following Hayden for several laps before the finish.

Hayden successfully got behind Mladin on the last lap, however, planning to draft by Mladin just prior to the finish line. Hayden pulled out of Mladin’s draft too early, and, consequently, Mladin came back up on Hayden just in time to win the race.

Kawasaki’s Doug Chandler, who ran as far back as tenth early in the race, rode hard and consistent during the last two thirds of the race to nip Miguel Duhamel at the finish line for third place. Duhamel was fourth ahead of Yoshimura Suzuki’s Aaron Yates.

Australian Troy Bayliss put his Ducati out front early in the race, but, according to Mladin (who observed from close behind) was riding somewhat wildly and crashed entering turn six about half way through the race. Bayliss was unhurt.

Aside from being the most prestigious motorcycle roadrace held in the United States, the Daytona 200 serves as the opening round of the AMA Superbike series. Thus, Mladin is the points leader going into round two.

In reading the comments made by the race leaders following the conclusion of the race, a couple of interesting things came out. Nicky Hayden felt he had the fastest bike (remember, this was the first race ever by Honda’s new v-twin RC51). Mladin also felt his Suzuki had lots of top speed, perhaps even more than the Honda. Mladin felt that the Honda, however, pulled harder out of the corners. This isn’t surprising, because the Honda is a v-twin, and the Ducati’s have always had an advantage out of the corners.

Harley-Davidson was frustrated at Daytona with an uncompetitive bike. Their best finish was ninth place with Pascal Picotte. Scott Russell retired with engine problems. Harley is working with Cosworth in England (a division of Cosworth is owned by Ford — Harley’s main sponsor) to improve its engine performance.

According to Miguel Duhamel, who unsuccessfully tried to hold off Kawasaki’s Doug Chandler near the end of race, Chandler rode the fastest laps of the race near the end. Duhamel felt he was running 1:51 laps (a very fast race pace), but Chandler easily caught Duhamel, and then passed him for third place. This was Chandler’s fourth podium at Daytona, but he has never won the Daytona 200.

Yamaha’s Tommy Hayden carried the team banner following Jamie Hacking’s injury during Friday’s 600 Supersport final. Hayden, who is extremely quick on a 600 (finishing second in the championship last year) has not ridden a Superbike since 1998 with Kawasaki, when he struggled and lost confidence throughout the year. Tommy Hayden finished seventh in the Daytona 200, following a duel with Kawasaki’s Eric Bostrom, who finished eighth.

Troy Bayliss wasn’t the only Vance & Hines Ducati rider to look quick around Daytona. Teammate Steve Rapp finished sixth, and ran near the front throughout the race. Rapp put in some very quick laps, and rode consistently.

All in all, the Daytona 200 indicates that the AMA Superbike season will be very competitive, and filled with close racing. There are some tracks where v-twins tend to dominate but, at least, the Hondas will be there to challenge the Ducatis this year. Furthermore, the in-line, four-cylinders from Suzuki and Kawasaki are obviously well sorted this early in the season, with Mat Mladin and Doug Chandler likely to be challenging the v-twins for victory at most circuits. Yamaha’s R7 is still a bit of a question mark, particularly in light of the fact that World Superbike star Noriyuki Haga is still coming to grips with the machine.

By the way, two huge questions about Honda’s RC51 were answered at Daytona. First of all, the bike handles well and makes competitive horsepower (second place and fourth place in its first race — a whisker short of first place and third place — an awesome debut). Even more importantly, the reliability of the big v-twin was dramatically proven in perhaps the most demanding Superbike race in the world for the machine. Remember, many Ducatis have blown up at Daytona, and Ducati worked many years on the reliability of its big v-twin motor. It is most impressive that Honda’s 999cc v-twin ran with the leaders throughout the 200 miles and finished without significant mechanical problems occurring in either Hayden’s or Duhamel’s bike. The racing RC51 is for real — no more ifs, ands or buts about it.

Final Race Results – Top 10

  1. Mat Mladin (#1 – Suzuki)
  2. Nicky Hayden (#69 – Honda)
  3. Doug Chandler (#10 – Kawasaki)
  4. Miguel Duhamel (#17 – Honda)
  5. Aaron Yates (#20 – Suzuki)
  6. Steve Rapp (#82 – Ducati)
  7. Tommy Hayden (#22 – Yamaha)
  8. Eric Bostrom (#32 – Kawasaki)
  9. Pascal Picotte (#21 – Harley-Davidson)
  10. Larry Pegram (#72 – Ducati)